Beautifully Unexpected

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Beautifully unexpected,

Bejeweled with dew,

A gift found growing

In the garden.

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Not planned

Not planted

Not paid for, but

Not unnoticed …

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A mysterious, 

Magical manifestation, 

Mycelium

Rising silently from Earth,

Fleetingly fragile,

and

Quite nearly undetected.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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Small Scale

July 18, 2015 fungus 009

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It can be interesting to watch nature’s processes play out on a small scale.  That is one of the attractions of gardening in containers, for me.

This large container sits in a shady area of our deck.  It was planted as a moss garden through the winter, but by June it required some major rehabilitation.

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November 25, 2014 moss garden 013

Last November, when this garden was newly made. The ‘pond’ did not work out very well to hold water. I removed this feature and planted a hardy Begonia in the space. The moss turned brown in our warm spring when it dried out on sunny days.

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Since I had some tiny potted ferns and Begonias which needed a more permanent home, I’ve been re-working this little garden by adding new plants.  Several volunteers, from airborne seeds, or possibly from the patches of moss, are colonizing the garden as well.  It is endlessly interesting to watch what grows here.

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July 18, 2015 fungus 008

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And now, there is a golden yellow mushroom growing right under the little tree!  Who knows whether the spores which started its growth were already in the potting soil, came with the moss, or blew in on the breeze.

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July 18, 2015 fungus 007

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Whatever the case, the mycelium which supports this fruiting fungus is alive and well in the pot, connecting the roots of one plant with another.  The tiny tubular filaments of the mycelium, networking through the soil, help distribute nutrients and water from one plant to another, just as they do up in our forest.  All of the plants benefit from fungi in the soil.

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bouquet and environ

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And what next, for this tiny garden?  Some of the Begonias are hardy.  I’m looking forward to them blooming as the season progresses, and their roots will survive here to grow again next summer.

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July 18, 2015 fungus 005

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A dwarf Begonia, and some of the little ferns, are tender and must be dug this autumn to survive.  Perhaps then I’ll bring fresh moss to carpet the soil through winter.

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July 18, 2015 fungus 002

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As dynamic as any part of the larger garden, this little space allows us to watch the seasons come and go in small scale.

Woodland Gnome 2015

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July 18, 2015 fungus 001

The same fungi have begun to grow in a nearby pot. Perhaps their spores came with the potting soil….

Woody Flowers?

Shelf Fungus

Shelf Fungi

“What are they?you might ask.  “Are they woody flowers?” “Are they sea shells?”

My partner found these while repairing the deer fences, and suggested I go find them with the camera.Octob 14 shelf fungus 014

At the bottom of the hill, in the edge of the ravine, where the garden is always in shadow; their whiteness glowed in the twilight,  a beacon to lead me in.

Octob 14 shelf fungus 005

 

A vast pile of branches lives just beyond the fence, supporting it.  They are the broken remnants of our orchard, destroyed by a neighbor’s trees falling across our garden during Hurricane Irene.  The crew  cleaned up our yard by piling them all, trunk and branch, into the ravine.

And there they sit, decaying now, barring access to hungry deer; and, sprouting, flowers?

These beautiful fungi growing from the wood are called “shelf fungi” or “bracket fungi”. Octob 14 shelf fungus 007 There are hundreds of species.  They are related to mushrooms, but different in some important ways.  Stemless, their spores are released from pores rather than from gills on the underside of a cap, like on many mushrooms.  They are also much harder than a mushroom.  In fact, these half-moon shaped “shelves” are often quite hard and woody.  Shelf fungi may also be perennial, forming “growth rings” during the seasons of active growth each spring and fall.  You may be able to count the growth rings, just as you would in the trunk of a tree to tell how old a particular growth might be.Oct 14 lichens 008

Like most fungi, their purpose is to help decompose old growth.  They will help these branches rot and become rich compost.   Hyphae from the fungus release various enzymes, chemically decomposing the tree’s cells.  Once the fungi enter the wood, they usually spread, affecting more and more of the tree.   During the process, they create a beautiful habitat for spiders, mites, and insects.  Many will find homes in their pores; especially beetles.  Found on already dead branches, these shelf fungi are beautiful.  If found on a living tree they would signal that the tree is under stress.  Eventually, they would most likely kill it.  An arborist could remove them and try to correct whatever problem the tree was experiencing to prolong its life, but without intervention the tree would soon die.

Octob 14 shelf fungus 020

This peach trunk still stands where it once grew. The tree is dead, but life still colonizes the bark. Do you see the “Granddaddy Long Legs”?

Oct 14 lichens 012 Fungi need moisture to grow, but are not photosynthetic, and so grow just fine in deep shade. Neither plant nor animal, fungi inhabit their own kingdom.   Shelf fungi can survive dry spells without suffering any harm, and will simply begin to grow again when the rains come.

Do you plant them?  We didn’t.  Although one can order spore for edible mushrooms to grow on fallen logs, I’ve never seen spore for shelf fungus offered for sale.  These just naturally colonized the dead wood in our ravine.  They are a gift of nature; airborne spores which settled on dead moist wood where they can grow.

The individual “shelves” are extremely hard.  Most are difficult to break off of their host branch.  They are hard to cut, and too tough to eat.  Artists have used them as canvas for their artwork.  When you etch a design on them, the design turns dark.  Very intricate designs can be etched into the surface of a large shelf fungus.  One can also paint on them as one would paint onto any wood.Octob 14 shelf fungus 016

They have been used in making jewelry.  They can be carved and whittled to form beads, or can be used as collected as a pendant or brooch.  Ground into powder, some varieties have been used as an herbal Chinese medicine and for tea.

And, if you find yourself in the woods needing light, shelf fungi can serve as a wick in an oil candle.  Pour oil into a container, and stand a shelf fungus on end, supported by some stones.  The fungus will turn dark when it has absorbed the oil and can be lit for a long lasting flame.Oct 14 lichens 006

Not only beautiful, these living organisms are also quite useful, and serve an important role in a forest garden.

Mushrooms.  These are different from shelf fungus because they are soft, have stems, and release their spores from gills, located under their caps.  These are growing nearby at the base of a Hellebore.

Mushrooms. These are different from shelf fungi because they are soft, have stems, and release their spores from gills, located under their caps. These are growing nearby at the base of a Hellebore.

All photos by Woodland Gnome

click on any photo to enlarge it

With appreciation to Tyler Pedersen for his collaboration on the biology of shelf fungi

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