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It’s in your nature: Mushrooms and their kin

When I was a high school student, way, way back when, my biology books listed two kingdoms of living organisms. They were the plant kingdom and animal kingdom. Fungi have a cell wall surrounding their cells so therefore they, at that time, were classified as plants. Today, of course, they are classified in the Fungi Kingdom. Kingdom Fungi contains yeast, molds and, of course, mushrooms.

My nature outings in mid- to late summer made me more aware of the myriads of mushroom species present, not only in the Times News area, but throughout our state. I will include in my column some information on fungi structure, reproduction, importance, but nothing about edibility.

Fungi do not contain chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that allows them to capture and use the sun’s energy to produce their own food. That doesn’t mean though that they don’t respire. All living things, including plants, respire. Respiration is the process where organisms combine food with oxygen to produce they energy they need to survive and grow. Fungi, for the most part, are saprophytes. Saprophytes obtain their food from dead organisms, or dead organic matter to be more specific.

I don’t keep mushroom records as I do bird records, but I think this summer with more than ample rain produced “tons” of mushrooms. On one late July morning on a trail in Penn Forest Township I couldn’t walk 3 feet without seeing a mushroom or other fungi type. Maybe you noticed this, too. The variety amazed me. Some mushrooms reached 8 or 10 inches in height and 7 or 8 inches across. But I also found some species that were about 1 inch high with a cap diameter of about ½ inch. The abundance of dead chestnut oaks (from gypsy moth damage) and fallen hemlock and ash tree trunks offered them even more feeding sources. Remember, it is important to have saprophytes, like mushrooms, to release the trapped elements and energy in the dead organic matter so that it is available for continued life on earth.

I hope you find some of my photos of fungi types interesting and I’m hoping that not only on your nature trips will you look up for the birds but also glance down to see the variety of life at your feet. Enjoy nature!

The hard, fruiting bodies of bracket and shelf fungi are called __. A. conks, B. sori, C. horns, d. patellas

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Broad-winged hawks migrate early primarily because their migration flight is so far, and one of their chief prey animals is the garter snake, which hibernates as it gets colder.

Contact Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com.

Fly amanita mushrooms have “warty” projections on their caps and are usually found in late summer/early autumn.
A mushroom has some basic parts; the cap, the stem, and mycelium (hair -like structures that get food,) and some have an annulus
Giant puffballs can be as large as 8 or 10 inches in diameter.
Bracket fungi, also known as shelf fungi, growing on an ancient white oak tree.
Some mushrooms don't have gills, but have small tubes or pores under the cap that produce the spores.
Bolette or Suillus mushrooms, like this one, are often brightly colored and have a shorter, thicker stem.
Black knot is a fungus that feeds particularly on cherry or plum trees. Usually you see warty growths encasing a small branch but they can reach about a foot in size like this specimen.
Most, but not all mushrooms, have gills under the cap, protected there like an umbrella. They produce the spores.
Even mushrooms as small as a 1/4 to 3/8 inch in size help recycle nature's materials.
Brown jelly fungi can be found growing on living or dying oak trees. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Stinkhorns are found in various shapes, but capless. They feed on rotting wood underground, and as the name implies, smell like rotting flesh to attract insects for spreading their spores