Monday, September 28, 2009

Mysterious Mushrooms

Early yesterday morning my husband and I went birding at the Elm Fork Nature Preserve in Carrollton, Texas. It is a city-owned preserve with wetlands and a pond, and it hosts a wide variety of plants and animals. A small center on the site hosts nature walks and classes for children and scout groups, and a nice mulch trail enscribes a circle through the park. In the past we have seen several types of snakes along the trail.

Unfortunately for us this weekend, the birding was rather lousy, and we couldn't get good looks at any birds. So instead of looking up, I started looking down.

And what do you think I found? Mushrooms!

The Dallas area is just drying out from a week of very cool, wet weather, which was generally welcomed because we were in a drought. A surprise result of this damp weather seems to be an explosion in the local mushroom population. I had already noticed this to some extent in our suburban yards, but that was nothing compared with what I saw Sunday at the nature preserve.

I was excited to see many different varieties of mushrooms almost everywhere I looked. I am not a mycologist, nor am I a mushroom hunter. I don't know the names of most of the mushrooms, nor which ones are safe to eat, so I just look at them and don't touch. Some can be quite poisonous.

Actually, I love to take nature photos, and I think mushrooms are often quite picturesque. Something about them is cute and whimsical, not to mention downright magical in the way they sprout suddenly and then die seemingly overnight. Much folklore has grown to surround mushrooms, from tales of fairies' dancing among them to stories about their use as toadstools. One of my favorite sayings is that mushrooms look like umbrellas because of the wet places they grow!

This one, in fact, does look like a little gnome umbrella.

This round white one looks like a supermarket button mushroom.

These large brownish-yellow ones weren't that attractive, but they were among the largest mushrooms I saw.

I love these three grouped together on a tree like a little family.

Oops! Don't touch that! I think it's poison ivy, which is rampant in north Texas.

This little yellow mushroom was bent over but rather cute.

I think these odd little ones are a type of Bird's Nest fungus. Some look as if they have tiny eggs inside their little brown cups. There were round patches of this fungus dotting the mulch footpath almost everywhere.

These mushrooms had lovely flared edges.

This one looks like a little Art Deco lamp.

Isn't this cozy pair just adorable?

This delicate white one looks like a sea urchin skeleton.

This shiny yellow one reminds me of the big banana slugs in the Pacific Northwest.

This one was luminously white.

I like the spots on this one.

These two look like little flowers.

I even saw this rather ugly but well-camouflaged slug tracking his way through some Bird's Nest fungus. He looks just like some kind of slimy animal dropping.

One severe handicap I faced when taking my fungus photos Sunday was the swarms of mosquitoes that were resting thickly on the shady forest floor. Unfortunately for me, damp weather brings out the skeeters as surely as the mushrooms. Every time I bent down close enough to smell the earthy scent of the mushrooms and try to focus my camera on one, the mosquitoes flew up and started buzzing around my face and landing on my nose.

The hazards of nature photography!

Oh, look ... a swamp! No wonder there were so many mosquitoes!

Next time, we're bringing the industrial-strength bug spray.

For more information about mushrooms, try visiting The Fungus Among Us.

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