mushrooms

Asters "Pink Cloud" and "Monch" with a few last flowers of Rose Campion

Autumn Asters and Fall Fungi

I heard something recently about the two words used for this time of year (in the northern hemisphere). It’s the only season with two words to describe it. “Fall” is most commonly used in North America and “autumn” in Britain.

“Fall” is a one-syllable word that does the job of indicating the time of year when a lot of leaves hit the ground. Okay, there’s the additonal implication of failure and downgoing, as in the Fall of the Roman Empire. But think of “fall fair”–prize vegetables, flowers, and livestock. Deep-fried things to eat. Bales of hay. Fiddle music. Fall is fine.

“Autumn” sounds poetic and nostalgic. It actually works better in written form, at least in North America. People from the Old World, with suitable accents, can get away with using it in conversation, but for most of us it sounds hoity-toity and uber-refined. And of course it has that silent “n,” which adds a certain mystique.

I generally say “fall,” but sometimes I write “autumn.”

However you describe it, October is THE month. It’s not really cold, days have not yet been cut brutally short by the return to Standard Time (for which the mnemonic is “Fall back”), and the leaves are in a state of glory before they (yes, sadly) fall.

maple leaves, orange leaves, yellow leaves
Aster frikartii "Monch"
Asters are the thing to see in the garden right now. This is Aster frikartii “Monch”
Late-blooming purple aster (variety unknown)
These asters (variety unknown) don’t start blooming until October, and are sometimes flattened by early wind and rain storms.
Boletus mushroom October 2020
Mushrooms sprouted when warm days followed a week of rain. This is some sort of Boletus, probably edible. I didn’t nibble it, but something else did.
Amanita muscaria button
Amanita muscaria button. Cute, but definitely not edible.
Amanita muscaria mushroom
A week later, it’s all grown up, looking a bit out of place among hardy cyclamen flowers.
Allium christophii seed head
Another Covid-19 lookalike, otherwise known as a seed head of Allium christiophii
Fallen maple leaves and Geranium "Anne Folkard" October 2011
More beauty in decline–flowers of Geranium “Ann Folkard,” fading foliage, and fallen leaves.
Yellow rose; photo taken from living room window
What may be the last rose of the year; photo taken from a window.
Orb-weaver spider and web
Orb-weaver spider. They’re still with us…

I hope everyone is having a fabulous fall. Or an amazing autumn.

And a splendid spring to those in the southern hemisphere!

Mystery mushroom; turned out to be Battarrea phalloides, July 28, 2019

Mushroom Mystery Solved!

Remember that strange mushroom I posted about back in early October?

After searching the internet, I concluded it was an Amanita that had been parasitized by another fungus. Rationale: it had a volva, like many Amanitas, but the spores were rusty brown, not white. And Amanita muscarii has appeared in my garden nearby. Searching the internet, I read that Amanita can be parasitized by a species of Hypomyces. That had to be it, I thought.

About the same time, I saw a poster announcing a mushroom show for the general public by the Southern Vancouver Island Mycological Society on November 3rd, with experts available to help with mushroom identification. It wouldn’t hurt to get another opinion, so I went, with phone photo of the mystery mushroom in hand.

It’s been a great mushroom season here, due to lots of rain in September and October, so many different specimens were on display, including a truly impressive King Boletus, more than a foot tall, with a cap nearly a foot in diameter. I didn’t know they could get that big.

Giant specimen of Boletus edulis at SVIMS Mushroom Show Nov. 3, 2019
The star of the mushroom show: a giant specimen of Boletus edulis, aka cep or porcino.

I had interesting chats with various fungophiles. After looking at one of the photos in my blog post, one of these folks concluded that it was a specimen of Battarrea phalloides, also called the scaley-stalked puffballsandy stiltball, or desert stalked puffball. The description and photos here match my specimen exactly.

Battarrea phalloides mushroom, July 2019
My specimen of Battarrea phalloides in July.
Mystery mushroom, Battarrea phalloides, October 10, 2019
And in October, dug up for inspection.

According to Wikipedia, it grows in “dry, sandy locations throughout the world.” That certainly describes my place, especially in July. It’s also found among sand dunes on the west coast of North America. Someone at the mushroom show mentioned that one had turned up on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

It’s not a zombie mushroom after all, just a weirdo.

So while the internet may be useful for identifying mushrooms, it’s always best to ask an expert, especially if one is foraging for edible specimens. In case you’re wondering, Battarrea phalloides, while not poisonous, does not appear to be edible.

Mystery mushroom; turned out to be Battarrea phalloides, July 28, 2019

Mystery Mushroom

In July, a big mushroom popped up close to my garden shed. That was weird, because July isn’t a month in which mushrooms are expected. While not as dry as usual, this July wasn’t exactly rainy, and this fungus was in an especially dry spot. I never water this area and it’s under the shed’s eaves so isn’t exposed to rain. There are odd bits of lumber stashed under the shed, and who knows what might be buried underground. (I know for sure there’s a dead crow a couple feet over and down. I buried it there after finding it one morning. But that was at least ten years ago.)

Looking the mushroom over without disturbing it, I thought it was some kind of Boletus. I saw no gills on the underside of the cap. When I tapped it, rusty brown spores flew out. I checked my mushroom ID books but failed to pin it down to a specific Boletus. I took a picture of it on July 28th (the one at the top of the post) and left it alone.

Usually, mushrooms last a few days and vanish. Not this one. It has remained, looking much the same for more than two months. Finally, a few days ago, I pulled it up. Weirdly, the stipe was attached to a great big cup (called a volva by mycologists) that had been lurking below ground level.

Mystery mushroom, possibly Amanita infected with Hypomyces hyalinus? October 10, 2019
This is how the poor thing looked when I pulled it up on October 10th. Note the cup at the bottom.

Well. This really made me wonder. I wasn’t aware of any Boletus that starts out with a universal veil, a kind of egg-like covering from which some mushrooms grow. The bottom half remains in the ground as a volva and the top part sometimes forms white spots on the mushroom’s cap.

White spots on the cap. Everyone’s seen red mushrooms with white spots, if only in storybooks. Last fall, I had one in the garden, under the birch tree nearly 50 feet away from the shed.

Amanita muscaria mushroom at foot of birch tree
Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), fall of 2018.

But that’s an Amanita, not a Boletus. Amanitas have gills, not pores. My mystery mushroom certainly didn’t have gills, and if it had pores, they were invisible. The underside of the cap was pure white and smooth.

Forget the books, try Google. I started thinking maybe this mushroom was actually an Amanita that had been parasitized by another fungus. I was aware of the so-called Lobster Mushroom, which is a Russula infected by an organism called Hypomyces lactifluorum. So I started with that and eventually found Hypomyces hyalinus, otherwise known as Amanita mold. Bingo!

Amanita mold “obliterates” the gills of its host and is described as “pallid when old, or tinged with pink, yellow, or brown.” That certainly describes the mystery mushroom. The strange thing is how it’s managed to retain a recognizable shape for more than two months. Perhaps the invading Hypomyces organism replaces the original structures, turning the Amanita into a kind of fungal zombie?

Nature never ceases to amaze.

The Garden in October

After 148 mm. (nearly 5 in.) of rain in September, 93 (3 in.) of which occurred in the final week of that month, October was curiously dry and foggy. From the 11th to the 27th, there was widespread fog nearly every day, sometimes thick and persistent, to the point that flights were cancelled, both short hops from Victoria Harbour and regular flights from Victoria International Airport.

I love fog, but didn’t enjoy it as much as usual because I was scheduled to fly to Toronto on October 23. Early that morning, things looked very thick here at home, but the fog thinned out around the airport and I departed without delay. By the time I returned on the 29th, it was gone. I came back to a garden full of fallen leaves and late blooms finishing up — blowzy is the word. I still haven’t reconnected with the garden, regarding the mess with detached unconcern from the window. That will change once the rain stops and I get out there.

The garden I left 11 days ago was quite a different place. Most of the leaves were still on the trees.

October 6, 2013

Asters were in glorious bloom.

October 12, 2013

Graceful decline prevailed in the herb garden.

October 6, 2013

There were interesting fungi, including a giant black mushroom.

October 12, 2013

October 12, 2013

The garden shed was re-shingled with artisanal hand-cut cedar shakes.

October 12, 2013

And the autumn crocuses were at their best.

October 13, 2013

October 13, 2013

But now we’re in November, a less frivolous month. Grab that rake, tote those leaves. Pens to paper, fingers to keys, noses to the proverbial grindstone!