Wednesday, October 7, 2015

A friendly reminder - Go Outside!

Between school programs and preparing for the upcoming MAEOE conference, this week has been very busy.  I have had very little time to write anything substantial for this blog, but I wanted to remind everyone that fall is upon us.  In Northern Michigan, fall colors should be at or near peak this weekend and next.  Make the time to get outside and enjoy the beautiful colors and the fabulous fall weather - sunny with temperatures predicted in the sixties.

Here are a few photos from past October weekends.


Monday, October 5, 2015

Native Species Profile - American Fly Agaric Mushroom (yellow variant)

Recently I have written profiles of two species of edible mushroom: the Bear's Head Tooth (Hieracium americanum) and Coral Tooth (H. coralloides).  Although many species of fungi are edible, many others are toxic.  Unless you are an expert, it is never a good idea to eat any mushroom that you find in the woods. There are many look-alike species, with some being edible and some toxic.  Even if if you see it being eaten by animal, that does not mean that it is safe for human consumption. 

One fungus that fits into the toxic category is the yellow variant of the American Fly Agaric Mushroom (Amanita muscaria var guessowii).  This species is found in deciduous and coniferous woodlands.  It's mycelium (root-like structures) are found in the ground and have a symbiotic mycorrhizal relationship with the roots of trees.  This means that the mycelium form a coating around the hair roots of trees and help the trees absorb water and minerals.  In exchange, the fungi receive sugars from the trees roots.

This variant of the American Fly Agaric has a yellow to orange cap with pinkish, tan, or white "warts" on the top.  These warts have a cottony or felt-like appearance.  The underside of the cap has white gills.  This mushroom emerges from the ground as a "button" or "egg".  To the inexperienced mushroom hunter it may appear to be a puffball.  This mistaken identity has probably resulted in many cases of poisoning.

Egg or button phase of Amanita muscaria var. guessowii
Egg or button phase of Amanita muscaria var. guessowii - this one was bright yellow

Eventually the outside edge of the cap spreads out to a width of up to 9 inches.  This cap rests atop white stalk with a bulbous base.  There is a fragile skirt-like ring part of the way up the stalk.

American Fly Agaric (yellow variant) - note bulbous base, white gills, and warts
This species is found much of eastern North America and is particularly common in the Great Lakes region.  Because this species is associated with the roots of trees, Fly Agaric mushrooms are often found in large groups and sometimes form arcs or "fairy rings".  It is most commonly seen in late summer and fall.

Amanita muscaria var guessowii - note the cottony warts

Part of a large colony of yellow American Fly Agaric

Basic Information


American Fly Agaric (Yellow variant)
Amanita muscaria var. guessowii

Size:  up to 9" wide by 12"tall
Habitat:  found on the ground under evergreen and deciduous trees
Color:  yellow to orange cap with pinkish, tan, or white "cottony" warts; white gills; white stalk
Bloom Time:  late-summer to fall


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Why the "eighth month" is our tenth month...

Happy October! 

October woodland (2014)

The word October has its origin in the Latin root word octos which means "eight".  To the Romans October was known as October mensis, translated as "eighth month". 

Wait a minute?  When I look at the calendar it shows me that October is the tenth month of the year, not the eight.  What is going on here?

In the earliest Roman calendar, October was indeed the eight month of the year.  The original Roman calendar revolved largely around agricultural and religious cycles and began in March - the month that Spring arrives.  March is named for Mars (the god of war) and was the traditional beginning to not only the agricultural cycle (planting) but also the military campaigning season.  If we begin the calendar in March (Martius mensis) then October is really the 8th month of the year.  This calendar is attributed to Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome.

This first Roman calendar only had 10 named months.  The period from the end of December (decem for "ten") and the beginning of March did have names on this original calendar - there was not much going on in the realm of agriculture (or warfare) during this period.  Around the year 700 BC, the calendar was reformed by the Roman king Numa Pompilius who added the months of January and February and moved the beginning of the year from March to January.

Even though it was no longer the "eighth month", October retained its name, as did the months of Quintilis mensis (fifth month), Sextilis mensis (sixth month), September mensis (seventh month), November mensis (ninth month), and December mensis (tenth month).  Quintilis was later renamed in honor of Julius Caesar as Julius mensis, meaning the month of Julius", which became our month of July.  Sextilis was renamed after Augustus Caesar (the first Roman emperor) as Augustus mensis, the "month of Augustus". 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Native Species Profile - Coral Tooth Fungus

 A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the Bear's Head Tooth Fungus (Hericium americanum).  Today I want to share a few photographs about a closely related species, the Coral Tooth Fungus (Hericium coralloides).  This species is saprophytic, meaning that it breaks down dead and decaying organic matter for its food source.  Like the Bear's Head Tooth, the Coral Tooth is most commonly found on deciduous logs.

Fruiting bodies of the Coral Tooth Fungus

For most of the year this fungus is invisible to us, residing inside a decaying log as root-like mycelium.  The fruiting body is only seen in late summer or fall when the fungus is ready to reproduce by sending microscopic spores into the wind.  The spores from the Coral Tooth are white colored. 

A close-up of the fruiting body showing the branching coral-like structures

The fruiting body of this fungus grows as a thick white stalk that branches into structures that greatly resemble coral - as its species name coralloides suggests.  This fruiting body can grow as large as 12 inches across by 12 inches tall.  A log that contains the mycelium may have several of these fruiting bodies growing from it.  As the fruiting body ages it fades from white to a yellowish or brownish color.

This log had more than a dozen separate fruiting bodies - ranging in size from a couple of inches to a foot across

This species is also known as the Comb Tooth and was previously classified as H. ramosum.

Basic Information

Coral Tooth Fungus
Hericium coralloides

Size:  up to 12" by 12"
Habitat:  found on deciduous logs in woodlands; rarely on living trees or conifer logs
Color:  white; fades to yellowish or brown
Bloom Time:  summer to fall

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Monarch Migration

We spent this past weekend near Manistee, MI.  Manistee is located about thirds of the way up the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan.  Like all of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan is a major obstacle for migrating Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus).  When they hit a large obstacle such as this, they tend to fly along it rather than attempting to cross over its width.

Monarch circling back into the trees at Lake Bluff Audubon Sanctuary, Manistee, MI (26 SEP 2015)

Over the course of the weekend, we frequently saw Monarchs flying southward along the shoreline of the lake.  On Saturday night while watching the sunset we counted approximately 20 Monarchs fly past us over a 30 minute period. 

Monarch heading south along Lake Michigan at Lake Bluff Audubon Sanctuary, Manistee, MI (26 SEP 2015)

The peak migration period for Monarchs in Michigan is probably over, but there is still a steady stream of them heading south out of the state.  I managed to get three photos of Monarchs as they passed by our position.

Monarch migrating south at sunset - Lake Bluff Audubon Sanctuary, Manistee, MI (26 SEP 2015)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Upcoming Event - Mid-Michigan Rock Club Annual Show (31 October - 01 November 2015)

On Saturday October 31st and Sunday November 1st, the Mid-Michigan Rock Club will be hosting its annual rock show at the Great Hall Banquet & Convention Center in Midland.  This is a new location from previous years.  Adult admission is only one dollar, youth admission (ages 12-17) is fifty cents,  and children under twelve are admitted free.  This is a great place for any rock hound or aspiring rock hound to add to their collection.  Visit the Mid-Michigan Rock Club website for more information at

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Project R.E.D. in Isabella County (22 September 2015)

I spent all day yesterday at a local Project R.E.D. event.

What is Project R.E.D.?

The R.E.D. in the name stands for Rural Education Day.  This is an event hosted by the local chapter of the Michigan Farm Bureau in locations around the state of Michigan.  This project is designed to expose 3rd and 4th grade students to various aspects of rural and farm life to which they may not have been exposed.

For these events, the Farm Bureau brigs in local experts to talk about various aspects of farming and natural resources.  Experts may be farmers, government employees, veterinarians, etc..  As an employee of the Isabella Conservation District, I was asked to come in and talk about soil.

Talking to students about soil types - photo by Leigha Shoaf

With the exception of a group of home-schooled students, the students that participated in the Isabella County Rural Education Day were 4th graders from schools in the Shepherd, Mt. Pleasant, and Beal City area.  I had worked with almost all of these students when they were in 3rd grade (and will visit most of their classrooms again later this year).

Students examining soil profiles - photo by Leigha Shoaf

Each group of students rotated through a series of stations, with only eleven minutes at each station.  At the conclusion of the eleven minutes, the horn on a semi-truck was sounded to indicate that it was time too rotate.

I missed this.  This student appears to be biting a lump of rock-hard clay - photo by Leigha Shoaf

Eleven minutes is not a long time.  It is barely enough time to give an introduction to soil, but because most of the students had already studied soils with me when they were in 3rd grade we were able to treat it as a review.  We talked about the various components that make up soil (minerals, organic matter, water, air, and microorganisms), the different different sizes of soil (sand, silt, and clay), and how the various combinations of those components and soil sizes either help or harm plant growth.  We also looked at soil profiles and handled samples of soil dug on site.

Explaining the properties of loamy soil - photo by Leigha Shoaf

I had a great time at this event and look forward to participating again in 2016.  Thanks to Leigha Shoaf for taking the photographs.  Leigha is an Outdoor Recreation major at Central Michigan University and is volunteering her time this semester to help me with classroom programs and gain some experience at the same time.