Recently I went on a hike with my friend Merrillee Malwitz Jipson along a wild section of the Santa Fe River. The riparian banks had not been altered by the hand of man and the river overflowed its banks during heavy rains creating a moist environment ideal for the proliferation of mushrooms, fungi, slime molds, etc. We talked about the importance of mushrooms and their ability to cure many illnesses. When my mother had cancer, she took turkey tail mushrooms to aid with the effects of radiation, and studies also show they help combat cancer itself. Reishi mushrooms were known as the mushrooms of immortality by the ancients for their ability to boost the immune system and promote longevity. www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2013/2/how-reishi-combats-aging/page-01
Though false turkey tail mushrooms are too thin and tough to be edible, they do look beautiful.
False turkey tails parasitize some trees, yet they also play an important function in decomposing fallen trees and breaking them down into organic matter to support other creatures and ecosystems. There is so much to learn about mushrooms and their potential role in improving our health and the health of the environment.
When I saw the complexity of this ecosystem created by the coral fungi decomposing a fallen tree, I was mesmerized. Here was a dead tree with so much going on. New greenery was sprouting, mushrooms proliferated, and I knew it was home to all kinds of insects and minuscule creatures, as well as food for larger animals that might come here to forage. The virtue of leaving trees to fall and complete their full life cycle until they are returned to the earth was clearly apparent.
Here's another example of a fallen tree decomposing with the help of mushrooms. According to the National Forest service, "The decomposing wood of a fallen tree serves as a savings account of nutrients and organic material in the forest soil." A majority of the observable mushrooms are fruiting, but there are many more that are not visible to the naked eye. This fascinating paper goes on to say: "The continuum of a fallen tree is composed of, and driven by, an increasingly complex network of simultaneously developing minisystems-all interdependent. These minisystems are: (1) animal-plant-nutrient, (2) plant-nutrient, (3) plant-plant, (4) animal-plant, (5) animal-animal, and (6) nutrient-plant-animal-nutrient. The cumulative effect of these systems is far greater than the sum of their parts." The biggest takeaway, however, is that "wood decomposition represents a long-term stabilizing force within the forest ecosystem." https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/publications/pnw_gtr164/pnw_gtr164b.pdf
Though many might wish to clean up their properties when trees fall, leaving them to go through their natural life cycles is far more beneficial to the land. They are eerily beautiful as well.
Sometimes floods erode the banks and trees fall into the river as well, providing habitat for turtles and homes for air plants. Everywhere life finds someplace to hang on and regenerate, when we leave nature alone. Mushrooms were also growing right up to the edge of the river bank here. If this property had been clearcut and replaced with grass, biodiversity would have been greatly reduced, and it goes without saying that fertilizers are detrimental to our waterways. Perhaps with awareness our eyes will be retrained to see beauty in gnarly, twisted, tangled vegetation that may appear chaotic on the surface, but has a whole unseen order operating that supports life and naturally eradicates what is no longer healthy helping it to contribute to a new life cycle.
Indeed some mushrooms are beautiful and sought after for both their appearance as well as their taste and/or benefits. Chanterelles are gorgeous yellow-gold mushrooms that are beloved by mushroom hunters due to their excellent flavor. In my house in Micanopy, I frequently found Chanterelles pop up near the base of my live oak trees during the rainy season.
I am actually not entirely sure if this was a false turkey tail or a turkey tail mushroom. I would need to go back and examine the underside to see if there were pores or not, as well as whether it was fuzzy, thin and flexible, etc. The damsel fly that alit shows these mushrooms support the lives of insects.
These mushrooms were so beautiful against the dead leaves, their delicate whiteness with tiny bubbles of water bespoke life in the midst of death in a very poetic way. I just purchased the book "Mushrooms Demystified" by expert David Arora, but it is going to take me a long while to begin to identify all the species that are out there. When it comes to mushrooms, you can still come across ones that have never been seen before too. It is such a fascinating field and it gives me hope for our planet that they are still proliferating.
Tremellales are jelly fungi with beautiful translucency that reminded me of little glass sculptures. Each mushrooom, fungi or slime mold I found had its own unique shape. These fungi thrive on wet wood and like the resurrection ferns that adorned by live oak trees, shrivel up when it is dry only to plump back up when they receive sufficient moisture. Nature teaches us resiliency and adaptability.
When Merrillee and I spotted this mushroom, we were drawn to it instantly. It was so fragile on a tiny whisper of a stem and yet in its sheltered little spot amid fallen branches and leaves, it seemed safe and protected, a little jewel that we would have hated to have trampled on if we had not been treading lightly.
In addition to the mushrooms and fungi, there were interesting slime molds on the ground and on trees. Slime molds are not plants or animals, but single-celled amoeba that are often soil dwelling. They can unite to become more complex reproductive structures and though they have no brains, that can anticipate change, remember, and make decisions. So before you step on a slime mold, remember they too are sentient and can navigate mazes. Biologists classify them as protists, which is a category they throw everything into that we don't understand. Nature is mysterious and often operates by complex mechanisms that we do not comprehend right away. We do better to learn from nature before blindly stepping in to alter our environments. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/brainless-slime-molds/
These tiny white droplets with wispy tails ornamenting a tree covered with lichen. They were so beautiful and delicate. There are mushrooms and fungi classified as puffballs and they are essentially spore cases, which is what these appeared to be. However, I am no expert. This mushroom walk showed me just how much biodiversity I am unaware of and it will likely take years to learn. It was fascinating to crawl around on the ground or look in all the nooks and crannies of trees. So many little miracles everywhere waiting to be discovered if you look closely enough.
Speaking of looking, these were very strange looking, like an alien colony of eyeballs congregating.
And when you find fungi and mushrooms, it is so interesting to get down at eye level and see how these organisms grow. Their tiny branches forming clusters like a miniature forest. As below so above, as they help support the entire ecosystem.
The rich red Russula that so many animals like to eat is always eye catching to humans as well. It reminded me of mushrooms in fairy tales. Though there was only an insect on its stem, I could imagine wood nymphs making there home underneath it.
If you take a log with oyster mushrooms on it home and keep it moist, according to oyster expert David Arora, it will likely produce crops regularly and they are edible and delicious. The way these seemed to grow around the tree in a band made me think of a cuff bracelet. They are quite elegant in their scalloped edges.
I don't know what this type of mushroom is but it was very delicate and beautiful. Partially translucent with many radiating ridges, it reminded me of a Chihuly glass sculpture. It was lovely to find it woven into its habitat.
These white shelf mushrooms found a wide enough crevice in the tree bark to take hold. Almost anything in nature can provide a home for something else whether it is alive or dead. Next to the mushrooms is an interesting orange spore. This walk in the woods showed me that you can look at any small area of a thriving ecosystem and stare for hours, seeing more and more things the closer you look. And then to think there are all the levels are eyes can't even see.