That weird mushroom

Not foam rubber and not Geopora or Hydnocystis either but a Gyromitra (false morel) infected by another fungus.


That weird fungus I found last year in June turns out to be two fungi. It, or rather they, were growing from a mossy decomposed log in my woods. The whole thing looked a bit like a chunk of old foam rubber. Not being an expert in fungi I started searching images with queries like “globular fungus” and “tuberous fungus”. This soon led me to truffles and their kin. Then, after seeing cross sections of these globular fungi with their layered interiors, I was steered towards the truffle relatives Geopora and Hydnocystis. By that time I was way off the path to the right identification especially after I saw an exterior shot and cross-section of Geopora cooperi which has a fuzzy exterior and distinctly convoluted interior. (See more photos of Geopora and Hydnocystis here on the Asociacion Vallisoletana de Micologia web site. But G. cooperi, as far as is known, does not grow in Minnesota. Some species of Hydnocystis are reported to grow here, though. I was close, in the right family (Pezizales), but was looking at the wrong genera and missing a very important microscopic feature.

One night I was browsing the internet about another fungus (Datronia scutellata) and came across a very informative site called Weird and Wonderful Wild Mushrooms. Going through the archives I happened upon a post on false morels. The picture of Gyromitra gigas in cross section reminded me of what I had found last year. After some communication with the blogger it turned out that this foam rubber fungus is neither Geopora or Hydnocystis but a Gyromitra, most likely G. esculenta, very common here, that has been infected by another fungus called Sphaeronaemella helvellae. The fuzz over the fungus surface was S. helvellae and not, as I first thought, a coating soft hairs on its surface. So, this is another infected mushroom!

Infection by S. helvellae does more than coat the Gyromitra with fuzz. It also deforms it and this globular deformity and the layered interior led me in the direction of truffle relatives. There are many parasitic fungi that infect other fungi. One genus, Hypomyces, contains some 53 different species that infect a huge range of gilled mushrooms including Russula, Lactarius, Suillus, and Amanita. The mushroom Psathyrella epimyces infects Coprinus, the inky caps, and there are several species of Cordyceps that infect truffles.


Gyromitra esculenta
An uninfected Gyromitra esculenta showing its normal form which I found this year in the same woods.

Springtail swarms


I bought a set of extension tubes this year to get more detail in my close-up my photos. I have tried them out on my camera’s 100 mm macro lens sometimes with good results. It’s a learning process with lots of duds, but I like the increased magnification on the shots that do turn out. With the extension tubes I’ve been taking many photos of lichens, mosses, fungi, bark, and wood grain. As the seasons move along I will be looking at the finer details of leaves and flowers.

Last month I saw hundreds springtails swarming on an old spruce log and decided to go in for some closeups. The shots taken with 31 mm and 21 mm extension tubes added to a 100 mm macro aren’t as sharp as I’d like but good enough considering how small (about 1 mm) they are and how fast they move. If they sense danger they can jump 100 times their body length which would be 10 cm.

A springtail that caught my attention was the larger (about 1.5 mm) light brown hirsute one with darker brown markings on its body segments. I’d seen this type before crawling in lichens on trees on warm the winter days. Named Entomobrya nivalis, it is a springtail that normally lives in the canopies of forest trees. Taxonomically they are placed in the family Entomobryidae in the order Entomobryomorpha one of the three orders of the hexapods in the subclass Collembola.

The other springtails with the black bodies are probably a species of Hypogastrura a genus with 169 species, 112 of which occur in the US and Canada, in the family Hypogastruridae also in the order Entomobryomorpha. These look similar to ones in photos of H. tooliki but without observing specimens under higher magnification it is only a guess. Hypogastrura are common inhabitants of leaf litter and soil. While there was plenty to eat on the surface of the log (spores, algae, fungi) the springtails weren’t there for eating. Instead, large swarms like these in the early spring are mating swarms. You can see these on mild days after snow melt when hundreds or even thousands of springtails find each other and congregate on damp wood, moss, leaves, twigs, and fungi. When a mass of springtails is large enough you can here hear the clicking sound they make as they jump. All you need to do is get close to to ground and listen.


Devil's urn and springtails
Springtails (Hypogastrura sp.) on devil’s urn fungus (Urnula cratarium). This shot was taken with the 100 mm macro lens and no extension tubes.

A Loafer

Halysidota tesselaris on aspen
A tussock moth (Halysidota sp.) caterpillar on aspen


I try to go for a walk every day in the woods and swamps on my land even if only for an hour. I often bring a notebook to jot down the things I see and my camera to take photos of what I have seen. Saturday, I was walking along the edge of the woods and marsh where I had seen a very unusual aster late last year that I think might be Aster modestus. I didn’t find it, not this time, but maybe later next month.

While working my way back through a thicket of willows and aspens I saw a gray and black fuzzy caterpillar on the trunk of a small aspen. Looking directly at its head I was reminded of a furry terrier dog. I’m not sure to what species of insect the larva belongs but am confident it is in the Arctiinae (also known as the Arctiidae), the family of moths that includes the yellow bear and woolly bear moths and fall webworms. My best determination is that it may be a larva of a moth in the genus Halysidota or “tussock caterpillar” which are named for the clumps of hairs (tussocks) on their bodies.

There were other interesting insects seen that day including the gaudily colored caterpillar of the hooded owlet moth which contrasts sharply with the drab adult that could be mistaken for a flake of bark. Fanleaf clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) plants with fresh bright new leaves were abundant. In the forest openings starry blue asters and glowing spires of goldenrods signal the coming end of Summer and one last feast for the bees.


“If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.” Life without Principle by Henry David Thoreau

Vegetables, apples, and little things among the flowers


The Summer is moving along quickly. There are just six weeks until Autumn so time is getting short. Many vegetables are ready to harvest. I’ve dug some potato varieties, but others can stand to grow some more. The first broccoli can be cut tomorrow for fresh eating while the rest will need more time to grow. They won’t be ready until September. There is a massive amount of kale to harvest, clean, cook, and freeze for winter and harvesting of this will go on for weeks. Fresh kale will be on the menu every day now. Summer squash are producing about five pounds a day, more than I can eat so much of that is also going into the freezer. A new variety I’m growing this year is called “zuchetta rugosa friulana” and is extremely flavorful with a dense texture.

The tomatoes are still green but will ripen nearly all at once if the warm weather goes on for another week. My beets are growing again, too, after sitting still for most of July. Today, when walking through the patch, I saw beets pushing up out of the ground. The first thinning should yield a few pounds. I will need to go check the other beet patch and the rutabagas, too.

Apples are ripening but not all at once. Some apple varieties are early, some late which makes processing them into sauce and dried slices less of a chore. There should be a good crop of wild plums but not as great as last year. Cool spring weather during flowering reduced pollination.

Wild berries are ripening. There are raspberries, rowan, viburnums, dewberries, bunch-berries, black elderberries, and red, gray, and pagoda dogwoods loaded with fruit. I have planted many of these in hedgerows between gardens and along fences for the birds to eat. Right now catbirds are making the most of the fruit but as more fruit ripens vireos, robins, and waxwings will come and eat. The waxwings are especially fond of the rowan berries. Tiny fruited ornamental crab-apples are loaded this year. Robins and ruffed grouse feed on these in the late fall. There are also many wild tall sunflowers and cut-leaf coneflowers planted along fences and wherever there is some open space. The seeds are favorites of goldfinches. Patches of goldenrod and aster provide late season nectar for bees into September and seeds for birds in late winter.



Everywhere in the fields and hedgerows the sounds of crickets, cicadas, and katydids can be heard. Bees work feverishly at flowers collecting pollen and nectar to feed young that will continue the species into another year. Concealed in the wildflowers are crab spiders, some disguised in white, others in yellow waiting for some hapless bee or syrphid fly. The spiders are not without their own dangers. Searching for them are mason wasps who paralyze spiders with a sting and take them back to dried mud nests where tiny wasp larvae will feed on the numbed carcasses.

Our summers are short in northern Minnesota yet each year there is what seems to be an explosive abundance of life, whether in the garden or in the woods and meadows, in our few months of warmth and long days.

Rambling in the woods in the late afternoon

Many afternoons after working in the garden I put on my rubber knee boots (it’s swampy out here), grab my camera and go for a meandering walk in the woods. Or sometimes I canoe downstream and prowl in the willows or head to the western side of my property. These walks have turned up some interesting finds such as an odd fungus that looks like some piece of discarded foam rubber. Below are some of my other recent finds.