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The Fungi of Fall (What Time is it in Nature)

November 1, 2014

Fall has finally started in earnest, and now is a great time to look for fungi! A walk through the woods can often yield dozens of species of fungi if you keep an eye out for them. Today let’s explore some of the fungi you might find at Prairie Ridge.

If you arrive early in the day on a wet morning, you may see dozens to hundreds of these little beauties growing in sunny mulched areas:

Trooping crumble cups

Trooping Crumble Cups are small mushrooms that start off white and turn grey. They are very fragile and often break apart if you handle them (hence the “crumble” part of the common name), and they don’t last very long. By midday, most of the Crumble Cups above ground have shriveled up and new mushrooms will appear on the next wet morning, springing up from the underground portion of the fungi. These mushrooms grow on decaying matter, so you’ll often see them along the mulched areas of the grounds. They are common in the summer and persist into the early fall, but their numbers will decrease with the arrival of the cooler weather.

Another mulch loving mushroom is the Bird’s Nest Fungus:

Birds Nest Fungus

Like the Trooping Crumble Cups, you can find many Bird’s Nest Fungi growing together on top of mulch. Unlike the Crumble Cups, these mushrooms are less fragile and are visible much longer. Birds’ Nest Fungi get their name from the shape of the cup that forms the bulk of the mushroom. Inside the cup are the “eggs,” filled with many spores. When raindrops fall into the cups, the “eggs” break open and spores are released into the environment. These are small mushrooms, less than a centimeter across, so prepare to get down on your hands and knees to get a closer look! We often spot them on the north side of the upper paved portion of the Forest Trail.

The stinkhorn mushrooms are a good sign that fall is coming:

Dog phallus stinkhorn

These mushrooms get their name from the pungent odor they emit, an odor that attracts flies. The flies feed off the spores at the tip of the mushroom and spread them to new areas. This particular stinkhorn is commonly called the Dog Stinkhorn and is an unmistakable member of the group. They tend to appear in late summer and persist into the fall. A second, larger, grey and white stinkhorn often makes an appearance a little later in the fall. Both are commonly observed after rains in damp mulch, often in shady spots. These have a very distinctive smell, so take a whiff when you see one! Once you’ve smelled one, you can often find the mushrooms by following their scent.

Some fungi are hearty and remain visible throughout the year:

Turkey Tail fungus

This is likely a Turkey Tail or a close relative, a type of bracket fungus that grows outward from dead woody surfaces. These mushrooms grow in dense colonies of overlapping brackets on dead wood, which they help decompose. You’ll see these on rotting logs in the Nature Playspace and in many other areas of the grounds.

We’ve got dozens of fungi species at Prairie Ridge and many of them are quite active now that the days are getting shorter and cooler. On your next visit, take a stroll through the woods and see how many mushrooms and other fungi you can spot. You might be surprised by the variety of shapes, colors, and textures you’ll see!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Musuem’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photos by Chris Goforth)

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