More than three months of overflowing rivers around the Twin Cities finally ended this month, leaving debris, tree trunks stained by muddy water up to above my height, and a sprout and seedling explosion around the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington. I took a walk there yesterday to see if the mushrooms and slime molds were more active yet. The answer was yes. This system of wetlands goes hand in hand with flooding, even months of it, so life carries on.
I’m not kidding about the seedlings. Maples a few inches tall and other young plants were as thick as turf grass on much of the Minnesota River floodplain after millions or billions of seeds carried by the flooding settled down and germinated. They’re a record of the flood as much as the lines on the trees: Thicker bands and patches of sprouts echoed the water’s direction and speed. Down in the marshier area, creeping plants regrew to their former size.
To cap off the hike, one last peek in a little ravine near the trail revealed the biggest crown-tipped coral fungus I’ve yet seen. Almost always, somehow, there’s some kind of prize at the end.
Some real warmth is finally here, and warmth plus rain means hidden networks of tiny fungus filaments in the forest floor are popping out mushrooms. I’ve already paid tribute to the variety and strange, sometimes slimy beauty of these little toadstools here and here, but still the Ozarks have new kinds to show me, including the above beauties at the entrance of a Devil’s Den State Park cave.
I hope you had a good Memorial Day weekend — thanks for stopping by.
We have a complicated relationship with fungus. We eat some kinds of it and bake or ferment with others, while other types are lethally poisonous. Even the name “fungus” sends my mind straight to gross and slimy. Fungi are an essential group of life forms — perhaps millions of species that keep nutrients flowing through entire ecosystems — and because of their work, they’ll always be connected to disease and death. Besides all of that, they can be too inconspicuous to notice. But they’re always there.
I drove down today to the old standby hiking area, Devil’s Den State Park, hoping to see if the rivers and waterfalls would be high and fast from the deluge that has soaked Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas in recent weeks. The streams here were fairly strong, but a day or so without the constant rain had calmed them down. What caught my eye instead were dozens of mushrooms — sparks of color in the otherwise constant green, if you can find them.
Fungi are neither plant nor animal, though they’re closer to the latter. Some disturbing varieties get their energy from living things, but most absorb nutrition from leaf litter and whatever else settles to the forest floor. What you can see in these photos is the proverbial tip of the iceberg; a much bigger network of threads and tendrils lies in the log or dirt beneath, occasionally sending up the visible segments to release spores. This lattice can carry on for thousands of years in some cases, just doing its thing unbothered by the surface world.
Outside of the world of fungi, it was a good day for a hike, and I wasn’t the only one out there.