Fall Showers & The Fungus Among Us

Gilled Mushrooms

Tall brittle stems – photo by H. Valey

This fall has been unusually wet for us in the Texas Hill Country.  We’re going on our 4th week of showers.  Our hot 90 + degree weather has nicely evened out in the low 80’s and the plants that didn’t get much of a chance to flourish in the summer due to our unusually dry spring are now making up for lost time.  Everything is green and pretty.  The extended moisture and warm temperatures are also bringing with them a host of interesting mushrooms almost everywhere you look.

The mushroom is much maligned.  As children we are taught to not touch them and definitely do not eat them.  There are only about 70 to 80 species of fatally poisonous mushrooms, but a lot of them look a lot like ones that aren’t poisonous, so if you are going to forage for mushrooms you have to know exactly what you are looking for.   However it isn’t going to hurt you to look for mushrooms or touch them for that fact… just don’t put them in your mouth or smell them.  Don’t let this scare you into not taking the time to appreciate them visually.  These organisms can be useful, beautiful, weird and extremely interesting.

In The Sidewalk Crack

In The Sidewalk Crack photo by H. Valey

The mushroom is the fruit of fungi.  The fungi live in soil (or in their food source: wood, leaves, etc. ).  When a mushroom sprouts up, it will then spread its spores out into the air and surrounding ground.  Most of the spores will die, but some will land in an area where there is nutrients and they will become fungi in the soil thus starting the process all over.

Some basic mushroom anatomy.  The cap is known as the pilious and the stalk, the stipe.   Mushrooms are typically either gilled or polyporous.  Most mushrooms have gills.  Polyporous mushrooms have pores or little tubes.  (see picture below).

Here are some links to more information on mushrooms:

 

Here are is a fun gallery of some of the mushrooms I’ve seen this fall. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

The Garden As A Teacher

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Sometimes I find teachers in my garden.  The garden is never the same from day to day.  It deserves a good look at least once in the morning, because what is there then may not be there when I get home in the evening.  Sometimes I tell myself, when I see a flower and want to linger on it, “You don’t have time, You can do that later.”  But almost always when I come back it is not the same. Something has changed… either the flower is completely gone, or the light is hitting it differently, or maybe its been chewed on.  What I’ve learned in the garden is this.  Every moment is unique.  Nothing is permanent, so if you see something special, honor the moment and let yourself stop and drink it in.

Caterpillar01_sig.jpgThe garden also teaches non-attachment.  One such example happened recently with Monarch caterpillars.  One day there were 2 happily munching on milkweed.  They looked like they were in their 5th instar and I was excited to see them form into chrysalis’.   The next day they were still there and I took more pictures.  Any day now I should see chrysalis’.  The day after I went out to look for them, and they were gone.  I looked all over the area the milkweed was planted.  I felt disappointment, perhaps even a bit of grief for the Monarchs.  Then I stopped and noticed that what was making me feel bad was attachment.  I had grown attached to the idea of seeing them turn into butterflies, so when the world presented me with something different I felt disappointment.  The lesson is that I can choose to feel bad, or I can accept what has happened.  I can then make wise choices in the future… like perhaps next time I find caterpillars on my milkweed I’ll put them in an enclosure while they are still vulnerable.  Or maybe I just accept that sometimes in nature things don’t go as planned.

The garden is a good place to learn mindfulness lessons with subject matter that isn’t as overwhelming as a lot of personal situations, especially impermanence and acceptance.

What has your garden taught you lately?

Adding Datura To My Butterfly Garden

Datura Bloom- photo by H. Valey

So somewhat cautiously I bought a Datura plant (Datura wrightii) and put it in the Butterfly Garden section of my backyard.  Cautiously, mainly because it is very toxic, and also it is considered a weed to some folks.  To me, the term “weed” usually means it has a spreading habit.  Having a small yard, I, unfortunately, don’t have a lot of room for plants with wanderlust.  However I was won over at the thought of hosting Sphinx Moth (AKA Hawk Moth for some) caterpillars and the big showy night blooms of the plant.  Having a moth pollinator plant seemed like a logical addition to the butterfly garden.  Also, I have a friend who is crazy about these plants, she keeps buying more of them for her yard.  So heaped with a good dose of peer pressure, I thought, “sure, I’ll give it a go”.

Datura Flower – photo by H. Valey

Datura, also known as Jimson Weed.  (There is a great story about this I’ll tell later) has greenish grey foliage and will form a mounding shape.  If its in an area where it doesn’t die back in the winter, it can get up to 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide.  So if you live somewhere with warm winters make sure you give it room.  The flowers are trumpet shaped and open up in a bloom about the size of an adult’s hand.  They bloom overnight and in the morning, but by afternoon the bloom is gone.  What grows after the bloom is a thorny seed pod, sometimes called a “devil’s apple” or “thorn apple”.  I let these stay on for awhile, because they look pretty cool, but ultimately I remove them because I don’t want Datura seeds all over my small garden!

Devils Apple – Datura seed pod

The nickname for Datura is Jimson Weed, which is a truncation of the original nickname “James Town Weed”. The story goes, that in 1676 some British soldiers  who had been sent to James Town to stop Bacon’s Rebellion, had harvested some young Datura leaves and made a salad of it for one of their meals.  They spent the next 11 days in delerium, effected by the toxicity of the plant.  Below is a description of their behaviour from a book written by Robert Beverly Jr. about the History of Virgina.

“The James-Town Weed (which resembles the Thorny Apple of Peru, and I take to be the plant so call’d) is supposed to be one of the greatest coolers in the world. This being an early plant, was gather’d very young for a boil’d salad, by some of the soldiers sent thither to quell the rebellion of Bacon (1676); and some of them ate plentifully of it, the effect of which was a very pleasant comedy, for they turned natural fools upon it for several days: one would blow up a feather in the air; another would dart straws at it with much fury; and another, stark naked, was sitting up in a corner like a monkey, grinning and making mows [grimaces] at them; a fourth would fondly kiss and paw his companions, and sneer in their faces with a countenance more antic than any in a Dutch droll. “

Robert Beverley, Jr.The History and Present State of Virginia, Book II: Of the Natural Product and Conveniencies in Its Unimprov’d State, Before the English Went Thither, 1705

Abstract Close Up Datura Petal – photo by H. Valey

Here in zone 8, this plant is a perrenial.   The native species for the Texas Hill Country region is Datura Wrightii.  Like most weeds, its not to particular about soil. It does take more water than most native Texas Hill Country plants.  It would do best in a boggy area or a place that gets regular water.

Here’s some more information on Datura:

Datura profile in the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlflower Database

Growing and caring for Datura

An account of using Datura as a drug

About Jimson Weed – Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension 

Michigan Nature Fix

Red Oaks – photo by H. Valey

I’m in west Michigan on a business trip. I’ve never been here before. I must admit I imagined the whole state to look like Detroit. It does not. Where we are is quite beautiful. I thought I’d be stuck indoors with AC air the whole week but I managed to get out for awhile last night and this morning. The Red Oaks tower to the sky, Raccoons fished among the cattails and swallows glided across the small pond.

Bandit In the Cattails- H. Valey

Cicadas whirred and bees flitted from wildflower to wildflower. It was hard to return back to my group of co-workers.

Gardening For Wildlife

28225581807_431293b5c4_oI’ve been spending a good portion of my time this spring working on my wildlife garden in my backyard.  We started out 3 years ago with just a backyard full of St. Augustine grass, now I have over 25 types of native plants in the backyard and about half the grass.  Do I have more wildlife? Yes and no… When I wasn’t out fiddling in the yard all the time I did notice that we had more lizards. When I wasn’t taking such good care of the compost bin, we had raccoon visitors nightly.  Now, not as many lizards, although that might change now that there are more shrubs growing in the yard and rock piles that I won’t be mucking about with anymore.  The compost bin has been switched out from an open frame style to a closed drum, so no more raccoon salad bar, but perhaps that’s ok. I didn’t mind the raccoons, but I never got any compost because they ate all the green bits!

42843548601_7c85524141_oI have noticed more birds, as I have more native bugs in the yard with the native plants.  I’ve noticed more wrens gleaning bugs off of our dwarf Yaupon bushes, which  is quite entertaining to watch.  Plants with berries, such as the Beauty Berry bush and Pigeon Berry bring in Mocking Birds and Doves, not that I needed more Doves, but still 🙂 We also had a Painted Bunting in the yard this year, and a Red-Breasted Grossbeak last year which is a little unusual in a suburban neighborhood.

We have more hummingbird visitors now that  I have more Salvias & Batface Cuphea planted. My milkweed is doing really well this year so I’m hoping to get some more Monarch visitors at some point as well. We definitely have more spiders… jumping spiders and wolf spiders. They are quite fun to watch.  We have more ants too, which I’m not that excited about though.

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I’ve had a lot of fun picking out the plants and planning the garden, although its taking more iteration than I ever imagined.  I really enjoy just sitting and watching the animals in the yard.  I’ll be adding a butterfly garden addition soon.  We just pulled out more grass in a sunny spot, so this fall I’ll plant some pollinator annuals. I also have some plans for a new water feature for next year to replace the utilitarian bird bath.

We don’t have a big yard.  I envy the folks with an acre or more to work with, but I’ll do the best with what I have. Now that it’s summer and over 100 degrees everyday, I’ll just wait until the fall to do some more work in the yard.  Its worth it to me to have a place to escape to, to forget all of the craziness in the world.

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Plant Resources for Texas Wildlife Gardeners:

What kind of plants and critters do you have in your backyard?

This Snake Freaked Me Out…

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Texas Rat Snake – photo by H. Valey

…until I realized it was a Texas Rat Snake, also known in some parts as the Chicken Snake. The scientific name is aphe obsoleta lindheimeri.

The Texas Rat Snake looks a little scary at first sight, mainly because they can grow to be very long (3 to 6 feet) and their defense mechanism is to freeze when they see you.  They also are known to shake their tails similarly to a Rattle Snake. This can be misinterpreted as the confidence of a venomous snake, but these snakes are constrictors and non-venomous. They do have a reputation for biting when cornered, but the bites are reported to be on the mild side and as mentioned non-venomous.

They are found primarily in Texas, but their range extends to Louisiana, Arkansas & Oklahoma.  No matter in what state you find them, their preferred habitat is one with Oak trees present.  Although I have seen them in parking lots before, and I saw one slither in through a mail slot on a mailbox once, most likely giving the mailbox owner a bit of a shock!

Their diet consists of rodents, and undoubtedly bird eggs and nestlings.  They are fantastic climbers and can find their way into birds nests pretty easily. An adult can take rodents as large as a fox squirrel. They are also good swimmers.

They are not considered threatened, but they are often the target of humans who come across them and kill them because they don’t know what kind of snake they are.

The picture up top was taken at a nature preserve.  The snake was in a pile of limestone rocks near many full grown oak trees.  The snake below, I spotted in the parking lot of an office complex.  Again, many full grown oak trees around, as well as leaf litter and limestone.  You can get a feel for how long these snakes can get in the video below!

For more information on Rat Snakes, visit these sites.

 

Banding Golden-Cheeked Warblers – Photo Essay

I tagged along on a Golden-Cheeked Warbler bird banding session with biologist Julie Murray from the Travis County Balcones Canyonlands Conservation office in Austin, Texas. The endangered birds are banded and re-sighted every year during breeding season to help scientists understand how many birds are returning each year, how long they live and how big their territories are, among other things.

Below is a photo essay of the banding experience.

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For more information on the BCCP and the Golden-Cheeked Warbler, check out these resources below:

  1. The Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan
  2. The Golden- Cheeked Warbler