Bird’s Nest Fungus

Cyathus stercoreus

Dung-loving Bird’s Nest fungus in various stages of develpment

Recently I found two species of Bird’s Nest Fungi growing on wood chips. Although they are small and their brownish or grayish color allows them to blend in with the mulch; they are easily found because they form large groups.

They do resemble a tiny bird’s nest complete with eggs. The egg is a peridiole, its stalk is called a purse, and the nest is called a peridium. Rain ejects the peridiole and shatters the purse exposing an inner cord (the funicular cord) with a sticky pad (the hapteron) attached to the loose end. This pad adheres to a plant or other solid object elevating the peridiole. When the peridiole dries it splits releasing the spores. The peridiole contains the spores and resembles a tiny puffball. The periduim is capped with a lid known as an epiphragm. It disappears as the spores ripen and prevents immature spores from being discharged by rain. I attempted to discharge the peridioles by applying water from and eye dropper into the splash cups. It did not work.

Cyathus striatus

Fluted Bird’s Nest

Cyathus striatus

Fluted Bird’s Nest                                                      R-inside of fluted cup showing peridiole and purse

Cyathus striatus

Fluted Bird’s Nest

Fluted Bird’s Nest (Cyathus striatus) occurs world-wide. The eggs are gray. The inside of the nest is fluted and its outside is covered shaggy brown hairs even when old. The lid is hairy when young and sheds the hairs just before it disintegrates. Dung Nest Fungus or Dung-loving Bird’s Nest (Cyathus stercoreus) occurs around the world. Although the common name is Dung-loving I find it on wood chips. The Latin word stercorarius means of filth” or “of dung.” The eggs are shiny and black. The inside of the nest is gray and smooth while the outside is brown and shaggy on developing fruiting bodies but it becomes smooth with age. The lid is thin and white. Some botanists state that animals eat plants with attached peridioles, and expel the spores in their dung.

Bird’s Nest Fungi in North America north of Mexico comprise approximately 30 species in five genera. All of them are in the family Nidulariaceae. Check out Michael Kuo’s key to the bird’s nest fungi at mushroomexpert.com to identify other species.

Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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False-puffball Slime Mold

Enteridium lycoperdon

False-puffball Slime Mold development and changes in less than 24 hours.

Recently, my friend John pointed out a white blob on a rotting log in Royal Oak’s Tenhave Woods to Mushroom Mary and me. It looked similar to a puffball but not one that I was familiar with. I took a photo with my phone and returned later in the day to photograph it with a better camera. It had already changed shape. It was a slime mold. Mushroom Mary identified it as Enteridium lycoperdon also known as Reticularia lycoperdon. It has the common name of False-puffball. I began a series of photos showing how the fruiting body developed.

Enteridium lycoperdon

False-puffball Slime Mold further development.

Slime molds are an odd bunch. For most of its existence, a slime mold lives as an organism with many nuclei but only one cell wall and is referred to as the plasmodium. During this stage, it moves, feeds, and dispels undigested organic matter. When mature, the plasmodium will form a fruiting body and produce spores. This happens over a period of hours to days, and the change is quite dramatic. Although it is known that exhaustion of food supplies and changes in temperature, moisture, and pH can trigger the change, the process is not fully understood.

False-puffball produces a relatively large, single, fruiting body called an aethalium. When I first saw it, its surface had a defined structure. This surface smoothed over in less than a day.

Enteridium lycoperdon

Closeup of surface of False-puffball Slime Mold showing changes in texture. The left and center images are less than 24 hours apart.

False-puffballs occur around the world with most records coming from North America and Europe. Africa, Asia, and South America also have a few records. (The distributions of all slime molds are poorly known.) False-puffballs produce brown spores. A similar species, Tapioca Slime Mold (Brefeldia maxima), produces black spores.

If you find a slime mold try to watch it for a few days. Some last only forty-eight hours. It’s fun to observe them changing and eventually disappearing. Watch one if you can.

I thank Mushroom Mary for teaching me about slime molds and for identifying this one. I also thank John for pointing out a “white lump” on a log that most people would have just passed by.

Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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What is Killing the Jack Pine?

Sphaeropsis shoot blight

Sphaeropsis shoot blight

Last Fall, my friend Trapper Dave contacted me and asked what was killing the Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) in a Kirtland’s Warbler planting near his cabin in Oscoda County. This planting was the subject of an earlier blog post. Needles on branches and entire trees suddenly turned brown. We checked other plantings and found dead trees several other places in Oscoda, Crawford, and Montmorency counties. Several of these stands were two year old Kirtland’s Warbler plantings and we became concerned about the impact this die-off might have on this endangered bird.

Trapper Dave contacted the DNR and a helpful Forest Health Technician replied that, “We have had several reports from roughly a four county area of this type of mortality. The pictures you sent are consistent with other pictures we have received from this area… I’ll be sure to send you a some more information once we are able to make a diagnosis.”

Later we received a report from the Diagnostic Services at Michigan State University. They identified Sphaeropsis canker (Sphaeropsis sp. or spp) as the cause of the die-off. From the limited sample, submitted by the Forest Technician, they could not identify which species it was or even if more than one species is involved. The genus is poorly understood and probably has many undescribed species.

Sphaeropsis shoot blight

Jack Pine needles showing Sphaeropsis shoot blight

I looked up the fungus in Tree Maintenance (6th edition) by Pirone, Hartman, Sall, and Pirone. They list another newer generic name, Diplodia but use Sphaeropsis. They write that the fungus “overwinters in infected needles, twigs, and cones. In spring, the small fruiting bodies release egg-shaped, light brown spores… The fungus grows down through the needles and into the twigs, where it destroys tissues as far back as the first node.” (page 425).

Sphaeropsis shoot blight

Close-up of needle showing Sphaeropsis shoot blight spores

Several sources state that the spores overwinter in the cones but I could not find spores in the half-dozen cones I checked. The fungus kills the branches quickly. Die-off appeared over a two-week period but the trees must have been infected for most of the summer.

A USDA Northeastern Area Fact Sheet states, “Sphaeropsis shoot blight, formerly called Diplodia shoot blight, is worldwide in distribution and can infect many conifer hosts. Although many pine species are reported hosts, this disease causes severe damage only to trees that are predisposed by unfavorable environmental conditions. …Other predisposing environmental factors include poor site, drought, hail or snow damage, compacted soils, excessive shading, insect activity or other mechanical wounding. In the north-central United States, the most common hosts are Austrian, Scotch, mugo, red and jack pines grown in ornamental and windbreak plantings.”

We need to monitor the extent of the shoot blight damage in the Grayling area. It is a native fungus attacking a native tree that should have defense mechanisms. It was a dry year in the Grayling area so this may have made the trees more susceptible to infection. I am concerned that the USDA lists Jack Pine plantings, which of course is what we do for Kirtland’s Warbler, as being more susceptible to the infection. I did not find the fungus in the half dozen naturally occurring Jack Pine stands that I checked. If you find this fungus please report the location in the comments section of this blog post.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Spots on Maple Leaves

Rhytisma acerinum

Silver Maple leaves with Tar Spot

Several people have shown me maple leaves with quarter to three-quarter inch (5 to 20mm) diameter black spots. They are caused by a fungus Rhytisma acerinum aptly named Maple Tar Spot. They occur commonly on Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) and Norway Maple (Acer platanoides). However, they can infect all of our native and introduced maple species.

Rhytisma acerinum

Silver Maple – L                 Norway Maple – R         Leaves showing Tar Spot

Maple Tar Spot is becoming common in southeastern Michigan. A Michigan State University Diagnostic Facts publication from 2011 states, “Historically, significant outbreaks of tar spot occur infrequently. In Michigan, however, we have seen severely infected trees for the last three years.” This trend is continuing. Individual trees are sometimes infected for a single year.

Stomata are produced on the surface of the spots and release spores into the air. Maple Tar Spot does no real harm to the tree. It overwinters on fallen leaves so raking and removing these leaves will help to control the infection.
Copyright 2015 by Donald Drife

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Michigan Morels

Morchella esculenta

Common Morel in natural habitat

First, do not identify morels solely from information on this blog. It is best to learn them from an experienced collector of mushrooms or by going to one of the Morel festivals. Two good guides are A Morel Hunter’s Companion: A Guide to True and False Morels,” by Nancy Smith Weber and James A. Weber. It is a Thunder Bay Press publication. Also, May is Morel Month in Michigan by Heather Hallen, Tom Volk, and Gerard Adams is a Michigan State Extension Publication available on line.

As with any wild food, the first time you eat it you should keep an uncooked sample. Some people are allergic to an otherwise non-poisonous plant. Peanuts are not poisonous but many people cannot eat them. Caution is always needed when eating wild foods. Never eat a raw wild mushroom.

True Morels have a hollow stem and cap. The cap is pitted and the lower edge is joined to the stem in most species. In Half-free Morels the stem attaches to the cap about a third of the way up the cap.

False Morels often have a stem that is filled with fine cotton-like structures. The stem and cap join at the top. False Morels have wrinkled caps. They are poisonous.

Michigan has three main true morel species. Common Morel, Yellow Morel and Gray Morel are all common names for Morchella esculenta. This might be a complex composed of several species.  M. crassipes is sometimes split from it. See the webpage Morels of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I do not have enough experience with this species to have an opinion as to its validity. I found Common Morel last weekend (May 9th) northeast of Grayling, Michigan. It was in an Aspen stand. This species appears when the White Trillium (Trillium grandiflora) is flowering.

Morchella esculenta

Common Morel in ground, and sectioned showing hollow interior

Common Morel varies in color from a pale, dirty yellow to gray. It is normally 5 to 15cm (2 to 6 inches) tall but much larger individuals are known. Its cap ridges are the same color as the bottom of its pits.

Morchella elata

Black morel

Black Morel (M. elata) normally has a narrow, more pointed cap. Its cap pits are lighter than their ridges, at least when they are mature. I often find Black Morels on higher ground in White Cedar (Thuja) swamps. It must be a location that dries out in the summer. Also I find them under Wild Black Cherries (Prunus serotina).

Morchella semilibera

Half-free Morel

Half-free Morel (M. semilbra) is our smallest true Morel. The other true Morel species have the cap fused with the stem for most of the caps length. Half-free Morels have their caps fused for only the top portion.

Now is the time of year to go looking for morels. Have fun, but be careful. Happy hunting.

Copyright 2015 by Donald Drife

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Weeping Fungus

Fomitopsis pinicola

Red-banded Polypore weeping September 2014

After a rainy day last September, on a standing dead Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) trunk, I notice a cream colored blob that looks as if someone has rolled a chunk of modeling clay and stuck it to the tree. Droplets of crystal clear, tasteless, non-sticky liquid are collected in slight recesses on the surface of the fruiting body. It looks as if the fungus is weeping but I observe no liquid falling. Ten blobs, probably connected by mycelium, grow on this tree but only the four largest weep. Maybe they are the most developed. They vary in color from cream to tan to a faint reddish-brown. A few hours later, the droplets are gone and I can see the surface covered with dry pits. On the following day they are weeping again.

Fomitopsis pinicola

Red-banded Polypore not weeping, showing pits in surface September 2014

I learned that some fungi regulate their moisture content by secreting liquid via a process called guttation. Several heavy rains had fallen resulting in puddles of water on the Grayling Sand (a rare occurrence). Ample water was in this ecosystem.

Fomitopsis pinicola

Red-banded Polypore developing red coloring October 2014

I could not identify the fungus until I saw it the following April after it had further developed during the winter. It proved to be a common northern fungi, the Red-banded Polypore (Fomitopsis pinicola).  Open pores for sporing on the underside of the fungus were visible.This is a perennial fungi and should continue developing. I hope to make further observations and will report if I do.

Fomitopsis pinicola

Red-banded Polypore April 2015

Note: These photographs are of the same fruiting body taken in September 2014, October 2014, and April 2015.
Copyright 2015 by Donald Drife

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The Bog Big Three

In the Great Lakes Region the bog big three are Swamp Dragon (Arethusa bulbosa), Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides), and Grass-pink (Calopogon tuberosus). You can sometimes find all three in an undisturbed bog or fen. They are all sun-lovers and their colonies disappear if they become shaded. Swamp Dragon flowers first and Rose Pogonia is the last to flower but their blooming times overlap. I have seen Swamp Dragon and Grass-pink in flower on Memorial Day. Grass-pink and Rose Pogonia flower during July in the Upper Peninsula. Flowering time varies with the season, location, and genetics of the population.

Arethusa bulbosa-Flowers-Leaves

Arethusa Flowers & Leaves

I learned about Swamp Dragon as a boy from a Kodachrome slide my dad had taken. I saw my first one in 1974 during a family vacation to Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. I jumped across a roadside ditch and over a dozen blooming plants.

I have found plants almost every year since then. They send up a single flower in late spring or early summer and the leaves develop just after the flower fades. A given population varies in size from year to year. One that I know in the eastern Upper Peninsula has fluctuated between 5 plants and 10,000 plants. Fred Case observed that individual plants are short lived, usually less than 5 years. If an early frost occurs, and plants fail to set seed for a couple of years in a row then the population drops.

Arethusa bulbosa

Arethusa Flowers

Morris and Eames in their classic Our Wild Orchids write, “To us it has always been, quite startling, a face watching and aware. We shall never forget the moment when our eyes first fell on its blossom in the lonely depths of a sphagnum bog.” I will always remember the first time I found this plant.I love this plant and currently have three colonies under annual observation. However, it is becoming rarer, because of habitat loss from invasive species such as Glossy Buckthorn (Frangula alnus)and wetland development.

Calopogon tuberosus

Grass -pink

Grass-pink is the largest of the bog big three. Under good conditions it can reach 60cm (2-feet) in height. It is normally easy to spot this plant. It is Michigan’s only non-respuinated orchid, meaning that the lip of the flower is uppermost. Other Michigan orchids have a 180-degree twist to the ovary. I find more Grass-pinks than Swamp Dragons. The Grass-pink populations fluctuate less than Swamp Dragons and are normally longer lived. I know of one station that my father photographed in the 1940s that still exists.

Pogonia ophioglossoides

Rose Pogonia

Rose Pogonia is the easiest member of the big three to find but it is not common. I don’t remember my first colony but it was probably the old station at Hart Lake in Bald Mountain Recreation Area that has since been overgrown. A tall plant of this species is 15cm (6-inches). It spreads by rootlets so when you find this plant there often are several hundred plants. It has a single leaf on the stem.

The big three are flowering now. Get out, get your feet wet, and have a look.
Copyright 2014 by Donald Drife

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Poison Ivy Rust (Pileolaria brevipes) in Michigan

Pileolaria brevipesToxicodendron radicans

Poison Ivy Rust

When I found this growth on a poison ivy vine in Tenhave Woods, Royal Oak, Michigan, I did not know if it was an insect gall, a fungus growth, or a rust. Because it was growing on Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans sensu stricto) , I did not closely examine it. I searched the internet for “rust Toxicodendron radicans,” “rust Rhus radicans,”  and “galls” using both names with no luck. I studied the growths during the remainder of the summer and I was fairly certain that it was a rust.

I recently revisited the photos. Winter months are spent sorting and identifying photos. After searching the Internet for “rust poison ivy,” I found what looked like my poison ivy rust on Iowa State University’s Ada Herbarium website. It was under the name Pileolaria brevipes. This name lead me to an article by David Senchina titled “Fungal and animal associates of Toxicodendron spp. (Anacardiaceae) in North America” with photographs of my poison ivy rust.

Poison IvyPileolaria brevipesToxicodendron radicans Flowers  Rust on flowering Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy Rust on flowering Poison Ivy

Rusts are a small group of parasitic fungi consisting of approximately 7000 species worldwide. Somewhere around 175 species occur in Michigan. Rusts are so-named because their spores are often orange or reddish-brown. They can cause severe damage to important agricultural and timber crops.

Rust fungi have fascinating and complex lifecycles. They can have up to six different spore states during their lifecycle and may need two distinct host plants during their lifecycle (heteroecious) or a single species (autoecious). A rust species usually grows on a specific host species or group of species.

Here is a simplified Wheat Rust lifecycle. It is a heteroecious species with Wheat and Barberry serving as hosts. Wheat Rust over-winters in the soil as a thick-walled spore. They germinate in the spring and produce other spores of two strains (or sexes) that are carried by the wind to the upper surface of Barberry leaves. These grow and produce another type of spore that infects the lower surface of the leaf. From this growth, spores are produced that the wind carries to Wheat. When the rust grows on its Wheat host it produces spores that can directly infect other Wheat plants and then in the fall it produces the over-wintering spores. For a detailed life-cycle of the Wheat Rust and more information on rusts see the University of Hawaii’s Botany Department website.

Poison Ivy Rust’s lifecycle is simpler having just three spore types and a single host plant. It is widespread across most of North America.

There is no popular field guide for Michigan’s rust species. George Cummins and Yasuyuki Hiratsuka produced an Illustrated Genera of Rust Fungi allowing the identification of rust to genus using microscopic characters. My research for this blog has taught me that I see more rust species than I have previously noticed.
Copyright 2013 by Donald Drife

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Split Gill Fungus

Schizophyllum commune Split Gill Gills Dry (l) Gills Wet(r)

Split Gill Gills Dry (l) Gills Wet (r)

Split Gill Fungus (Schizophyllum commune) is one of the world’s most widely spread fungi. Occurring on six continents (except Antarctica), it grows anywhere that dead wood is found. John Raper of Harvard studied this fungus for many years and tried without success to divide it into additional species. The genus does contain a few other local species.

Schizophyllum commune Split Gill upper - lower Wet

Split Gill upper – lower Wet

The fruiting bodies are long lived and –in spite of their delicate appearance–can last several years. The gills roll back in dry weather, protecting their spores. David Arora in his book Mushrooms Demystified reports that a specimen was rehydrated and shed spores after being stored for 50-years in a tube. The split gills are distinctive, changing color and shape as they dry and are rehydrated. They radiate from a single point on the undersides of the small shelf-like fruiting bodies. The white to light-brown, hairy upper surface appears to be leathery and inrolls the lower surface.

Schizophyllum commune Split Gill upper - lower Dry

Split Gill upper – lower Dry

Split Gill fungus has over 28,000 different sexes. This encourages crossing with non-relative fungus. See Tom Volk’s excellent “Fungus of the Month” page for more details.

Schizophyllum commune Split Gill Dry

Split Gill Dry

I have seen this fungus in several locations in Michigan, and it can be found throughout the winter. Look for it on you winter walks. I thank “Mushroom Mary” for showing me my first specimens.

Schizophyllum commune Split Gill

Split Gill (ul) wet to (lr)dry

Copyright 2013 by Donald Drife

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Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold

Slime Molds are bizarre life forms that were classified as fungus but are now placed in their own kingdom. At one time, every living thing was placed in either the plant or animal kingdom. Currently, most scientists recognize six kingdoms: Plants, Animals, Protists (slime molds and algae), Fungi, Archaebacteria (bacteria found mainly in thermal vents), and Eubacteria; the remaining bacteria.

Wolf's Milk Slime Mold, (Lycogala epidendrum)

Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold, Cummingston Park, Royal Oak

Slime molds belong in the phylum Myxomycota. John Tyler Bonner writes, “[Myxomycetes are] no more than a bag of amoebae encased in a thin slime sheath, yet they manage to have various behaviors that are equal to those of animals who possess muscles and nerves with ganglia—that is, simple brains.”

The life cycle is complex. An over simplified description of the life cycle is that the spores develop into single cell organisms that then congregate into a fruiting mass producing spores. (If you desire a technical description of the life cycle see the UBC Botanical Garden Website)

Lycogala epidendrum, Wolf's Milk Slime Mold

Lycogala epidendrum, Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold

Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold (Lycogala epidendrum) is also called Toothpaste Slime Mold. It is circumpolar in the northern hemisphere, ranging throughout Michigan. The fruiting bodies congregate on logs (epidendrum means growing on logs), normally in the fall in Michigan. This is a slow moving slime mold taking days to change shape.

The small size of this slime mold makes it easy to overlook but its bright orange color draws your eye. It is easy to mistake this slime mold for a developing fungus of some kind. After a few days this bright orange color becomes chocolate brown and the slime mold disperses spores. Get out and look for it before the days get too cold.

Lycogala epidendrum Wolf's Milk Slime Mold

Wolf’s Milk Slime Mold