Saturday, October 31, 2020

Weird Fungi - 2

 It's Hallowe'en..... spooks are abroad and the woods are filled with scary things....

One of them starts with what looks like an egg pushing up through the ground:

Barely 2" across, it seems to have a slightly crinkled surface. It's white, more or less, and dry-looking. It doesn't change for several weeks. Eventually, one day, it begins to grow:

The top splits and an odd little white process appears. The surface has darkened and split. More days go by. It's getting cold at night, but underground much is happening. Our Egg is preparing itself for a sudden burst of growth:

The Egg splits completely open and a spongy white stalk with a slimy brownish-greenish knob on top elongates:

Unlike practically every other plant (or fungus) in the woods, it grows in an ominous curve. Quickly, almost overnight, it reaches it's full growth:

Growing horizontally across the ground, surrounded by fallen leaves and twigs, our weird Fungus #2 turns out to be a Stinkhorn.

Stinkhorns are so-called because, well, because they stink. Get your sniffer close to the 'knob' and you'll wish you hadn't! The smell, very unpleasant to us humans, attracts flies. The flies pick up spores from the slimy top and carry them to new locations, thus spreading the fungus around. The spores are produced in huge numbers and form the slimy surface of the 'knob'. The 'Egg' was an early stage in the fruiting body's development and, when cut open, shows the eventual structure in embryonic form. It is fairly common, growing on rotting logs or wood chips.

And yes, the man who named it agreed with what I'm sure you are thinking! He named the genus Phallus, and since his name was Ravenel, it's now Phallus Ravenelii, that is, Ravenel's Phallus

His response to this bit of taxonomic teasing has not been recorded.

Have a Happy, Safe, and Spooky Hallowe'en!

Thursday, October 29, 2020


 Mind you, not a lot of it!

Just a dusting so far, but it's coming! 

I guess Hallowe'en is the right time to scare us with that news! Have a good weekend; stay safe!

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Weird Fungi - 1

 I was surprised, amazed, delighted, astonished, gob-smacked to find a fungus I had never seen before but had been wanting to see for a long time, when I was pulling out old Goldenrod stalks this afternoon.

There has been a large plant, or maybe I should say, plantation, of Solidago Altissima at the top of the steps from the driveway to the side door for almost as long as there's been a side door. It's fine until after it blooms, then it is just a big mess and too large for the space it's in. At that point I pull all the stalks, and the following year just as many new ones grow so the patch stays about the same. So that's what I was doing, pulling out stalk after stalk of spent Goldenrod, when I noticed small whitish bumps on the bases of some of the stems.

A quick closer look showed me that the larger bumps were Bird's Nest fungi! Here you see some

of them on one stalk. (I put it on the junipers to make them easier to see).

They are very tiny, only about 1/4" across. And very odd! 

To quote Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada: "The fruitbody of a Bird's Nest Fungus looks like a tiny nest with eggs. The 'eggs' (peridioles) are packages of thousands of spores contained within a hard outer wall. ... the eggs are anchored to the side wall by a structure that contains a long, thread-like tail (funiculus), with a sticky base (hapteron). Falling raindrops cause mini-explosions in the cone-shaped cups and the splash propels the eggs out of the cup. Eggs can be shot nearly 2 m away from the cup, and they attach to a suitable substrate by means of the sticky base."

I'd read about them in my mushroom books, but had never seen them. Here are a side view and a bird's-eye (pun intended!) view:

 How cool is that!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

A Small Peach

 Ate my Peach crop today.

At about 3:40 EST this afternoon. The sky was overcast, with high clouds crossing rapidly from the South West. About 24C. Very little wind. Don't know what the barometric pressure was. Forecast was for scattered showers later, but it was dry at the time.

Things were, of course, happening. Somewhere south of my Peach tree, a minor government official paused in his study of a long report to get a cup of tea. On his way back to his desk he wondered if he'd still have a paycheck tomorrow. With four small children and a wife to support, the question wanted to fill his mind, but he resolutely put it aside and got back to his report. Further south yet, a much younger man surreptitiously reached for a young girl's hand; his heart skipped a beat when her hand met his halfway. A thousand miles to the east of them, a woman quietly removed her hand from the wrinkled hand of her old father, studied his face for a few minutes, not sure of her own feelings, and called the nurse. Further east yet, and somewhat north, a small group of children played a skipping game, oblivious to the war clouds gathering over their elders. Not far away, desert areas were too hot to cross; goats and men stayed in the shade. Despite the heat, two babies were born. In a vast city, far removed from the need to cross deserts, cars honked, men and women scurried and heat radiated up from cracked pavements. In a small town not far away, bargains were made, not always in the bargainer's best interest. Life, everywhere, was happening.

And I ate the edible portion of the only peach to ripen on my accidental Peach tree.

It was delicious.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Fall Is Here

 Well, what can I say? It's been a summer. Hot, very dry, no rain here from early May until the end of July. Tons of bugs. Never seen so many chewed up leaves, or so many butterflies. Some kind of nasty yellowish caterpiller ate an entire Mugho Pine. The weeds got ahead of me by June and it has stayed that way. 

Fall arrived last Sunday, about 8:30 pm. I was at the road making my weekly donation to the Garbage Gods and watched a fog develop over the Marsh. It started as a small white cloud hovering above the cattails, and grew bigger as I watched. In the morning there was fog high in the trees while on the ground spider webs captured some of it as dewdrops.

In the fields and my Hillside Garden, the Goldenrods are blooming.

As are the Coneflowers.

And the Japanese Anemones.

In the Beaver Pond I found a Bur Reed I have never seen before. It took me a while to find its name, but I'm pretty sure now that it is Sparganium angustifolium. From a slight distance, it looked like an orchid blooming in the shallow water, but closer up it seemed to be a Sedge. Bur Reeds are similar, I guess.

After a rainy August, the woods are full of fungi. Mushrooms and lichens literally everywhere! I took Rosie for a walk to the back of the property yesterday and came home with 409 images on my camera's memory card! Closer to home, here are some of the fungi that have appeared on some old wooden rounds I've been using as stepping stones (stepping woods?) in the Sampler Garden. They are all quite small - the rounds are only about 12" across - and I was down on my stomach photographing them.

Since I was back at the house, I let the kittens out and they joined me exploring the stepping stones. Yes, kittens. Since I was on the ground trying to focus on the tiny fungi, this meant they were walking on my head. What happened was, a friend called and asked me if I wanted a kitten, she had to find homes for four of them, and since my old cat Pepper passed on last year and I've been having a problem with mice in the house, I said I'd take one. When I got to her house to pick it up, somehow she managed to convince me I should take both of the last two... they'll play together, she said. They'll catch more mice, she said. They don't eat much, she said. Well, of course she's right, but I'd forgotten the 'kitten phase', which is when they basically trash everything they can get onto, into, or under. Which is everything. But they're cute and they'll grow out of it. So here, drum roll, please, are the two new members of the Team. Tiger is slightly smaller than Fred and has a few white hairs.

Rosie thinks they're great, something to chase, something to lick until it's soaked, something to carry around carefully when Mom isn't watching. 

She expects to get her favourite sleeping chair back when they're a little older.

Friday, April 17, 2020


Some observations from a late Spring over-shadowed by a world pandemic.


It's still cold and wintery here. In the woods, winter takes a bit longer to arrive, and a lot longer to leave. Other gardens, those in open areas or in the City, already have blooming daffodils; I have snow piles. I did have the idea of getting started on the Spring clearing up one day last week when the sun shone and the air was warm. Didn't last long. The ground was still frozen.


There seems to be a squirrel family setting up housekeeping in the top of the hydro pole. This miserable pole is in the corner of my Herb Garden, near the house and visible from my office. Given all the rock here, burying the hydro line was pretty well unaffordable, but if I ever win a lottery, I'm getting rid of that pole. Meanwhile, I practice not seeing it. Anyway, all day a squirrel has been running up to the top of the pole with suspiciously fat cheeks, and coming back down clearly cargo-less. Crazy place for a nest. One year a small black bird lived there.  How do I get the top of a pole closed off to wildlife?


Speaking of wildlife, I've been having a dickens of a time with mice this year. I'm too soft-hearted (or maybe just too squeamish) to kill them, and every time I catch one and remove it to the far end of the driveway, another one moves in. I finally convinced myself they were coming in through the opening around the breaker panel, so I blocked them from leaving the laundry room. Worked, except there must still be one or two loose in the house because I occasionally still find signs. A leaf on my Hoya nibbled... a hole dug around a geranium's roots... mouse spoor in a desk drawer. I'm getting a cat. Just as soon as the humane societies are open again.


The winter was long, but not particularly cold. I'm very surprised, though, by the amount of lichens on the trees and shrubs. Sumach branches are covered. Every fallen branch I pick up is covered. I have never seen so many lichens before.

There seems to be a resurgence of interest in vegetable gardening. 3.76M chipmunks are delighted.


On a short walk along by the marsh yesterday, I was surprised to come across a small patch of False Morels. We had just had a flurry of snow pellets and they collected on the top of the larger one. They're often in or near that spot, but I've never seen them so early.

The next image is a tiny tiny fraction of the millions and millions of Springtails we had in the snowbanks a few weeks ago.

I always figure that lots of Springtails means lots of bugs all summer. So prepare yourself, the mosquitoes and blackflies are going to be fierce this summer.

Unless they aren't.


Let's look at Snowdrops instead. Why aren't my clumps spreading? Oh well, at least they aren't shrinking.

Now if the air would just warm up a bit, maybe we could get this Spring business on the road.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Bleah.... February

Half-way through February, which is good, but still 13 days left, which is not so good. February is the nastiest, dullest, most tedious month of the gardening here are some tricks to get you through it.

1. Do some dreaming. Dream of daffodils moving gently in a warm breeze, dream of a tiny brook trickling among the roots of blue irises, dream of the sweet smell of roses early in the morning....

2. Work on your excuses as to why your main perennial border is a dud in August. Write them down because you are going to need them.

3. Sow some fern spores. It's such a tiny job - a tiny pot, a tiny lid, a tiny bit of soil, teensy-tiny spores, but if you do it right it can take half an hour and give you a real sense of achievement. And maybe, eventually, some ferns.

4. You can order seeds. Way too many seeds.

5. You can remind yourself that you are warm, you had a nice dinner, the dog is behaving herself (more or less), and a little bit of snow isn't that much of a problem. I know, doesn't work, but you can try.

6. You can start an argument with a friend about what is a native plant. If you win the argument, start another one with another friend. Just for fun, take different positions with different friends. No two people agree, so this a great February waster, and can get your blood pressure right up.

7. Forget to water your houseplants. You're bored with them, you can't remember when you last watered them, and who wants 18 pink geraniums anyway. Then when they wilt you can feel bad, which makes a change.

8. Make impulsive decisions about the garden, such as deciding to plant carrots and beans in the suddenly-about-to-be-former herb garden. And decide to put some asparagus roots into the fence row garden because that's the only place in your whole garden that gets sun all day and the daylilies are a dead bore anyway.

9. Collect all the garden pictures on Pinterest into a new board called 'Antidote to February'. Look at them a lot. Actually, collecting all the garden pictures might take the rest of the month at that.

10. Dream some more.

Let me know if any of these work for you.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Looking Back Some More

Mind you, not everything went well in 2019. Gardening can sometimes seem like lurching from one disaster to the next: the squirrels eat all the Basil plants you put out yesterday... raccoons dig up and bite apart the 10 large Peonies you planted in a carefully colour-shaded row, leaving you a mixed-up pile of much smaller plants... the puppy romps through the clump of Ladyslippers that is finally blooming... you plant a group of rare dwarf shrubs and it doesn't rain for 8 weeks... you know, the usual stuff that happens in a garden.

Then, there are the gardening mysteries. Two of them in my garden stand out for 2019.

Early in the year I bought a beguiling little plant of Leadplant, Amorpha canescens.  A prairie plant, it has lovely soft grey-green leaves composed of many tiny oval leaflets arranged in a ladder formation, sort of like one of the Jacob's-ladders or a tiny Sumach. Mid-summer it has spikes of soft blue-violet flowers. I saw it growing at Beaux Arbres, where it made small shrubs at the ends of several of the garden beds. Naturally I had to have one, in spite of the fact that I most certainly don't have a prairie.

I planted it, but in the general rush of things, didn't pay it a lot of attention. It didn't have a label, gardening disasters happening in other people's gardens as well, and I was in too much of  a hurry to go and get one.

Come July I was kind of wondering where it was. I looked around for it, no longer quite sure of what it was supposed to look like, and with no clue as to where I might have planted it. I thought I'd run into when weeding, but I didn't. A few weeks later, well into August, I was dumping some weeds on a compost pile far at the back of my Sand Hill garden, and used the garden fork to tidy the pile a bit, and what did I find when I turned over a big forkful of old raspberry canes? Yes, one Leadplant, growing nicely although somewhat contorted due to having had to stick its head up through the prickly canes. What I'd like to know is, how did it get there, given that I had not used that compost pile all summer?

I re-planted it, and this time I make a good mental note of where, and checked on it regularly. Last I saw, before the snow came, it was growing just fine and beginning to recover from its right-angled posture.

The second garden mystery hasn't had such a good ending, at least not yet. Back in September of 2018, I was given a plant of New England Aster, 'September Ruby'. It was incredibly root-bound, and had only one bud, which never opened, but it was a variety I didn't have and I wanted it. I would have purchased it, but the nursery owner kindly gave it to me. I took it home, carefully teased the roots free (as much as I could, anyway), and planted it near a couple of other colour forms of New England Aster. I figured I could keep an eye on it there, and also the colours might be interesting together. 'September Ruby' ought to be darker and redder than the type, if the name is anything to go by. The plant stayed green and appeared healthy into the fall.

In 2019, not a sign of a darker, redder, form anywhere. Now, did it not bloom and the plant is still there? Did it bloom but in the same colour as the other ones? Did I pull it out thinking it was a weed? Should I have checked all the other compost piles? I couldn't believe it, and for days I'd go out there and check every Aster in the garden to see if any had darker flowers than the rest.

I know my garden is rather wild and rather out of control and rather weedy.... but really? Two mysteries in one summer?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Looking Back

A rare pleasure, only to be indulged in occasionally, is looking back at the gardening-year-that-was. And 2019 had a few good moments...

For example, I feel a smug sense of satisfaction that I planted my bulbs at the right time. Most years I either plant them too early, which means tulips being fooled into sticking their noses above ground in the middle of the mud season, or else I'm out there planting daffodils with an axe. This year I was lucky enough to have a sunny day in November which was warm enough that the ground actually thawed and it only needed a trowel. It had been very cold for several weeks, but I said to myself, 'just wait, there will be a warm day yet' and for once there was.

One thing I'll tell you right now: you don't have enough bulbs. You don't have enough tulips, you don't have enough daffodils, you certainly don't have enough crocuses, and we won't even mention the small Irises, the Pushkinia, the Muscari, the Eranthus... Don't bother arguing, it doesn't matter how many you have, or how small your garden is: you don't have enough bulbs and you know it. None of us do.

Not that my Hillside garden doesn't have a lot of daffodils in it. I planted many different varieties of them about 15 years ago, and they have done very well. They like the clay soil and the good drainage, and every small group of bulbs I planted has now become a substantial clump. From one or two bulbs, they have become clumps of several dozen. But it occurred to me this Spring that it was all too yellow and white! It needed some red to perk things up.

Being, as always, sadly short of shekels, I wasn't able to order all that many but I think what I got will make a fine show next April. I got two tulips: Abba, a short early double red, and Apricot Delight, a medium sized mid-season pinkish/yellowish. Not having a clue as to where the daffodil bulbs were lurking, I just spread small clumps of these two tulips all over the Hillside. It doesn't really matter anyway, because wherever they bloom there will be daffodils nearby and it will all look good.

Abba is short and early and should make a fine contrast with the many Tete-a-Tete daffodils which, by the way, have seeded themselves around most prolifically.

Apricot Delight will, I hope, be delightful a little later when the many larger, and often paler, daffodils bloom. Somehow the main season daffodils don't have the same bright glowing spectrum yellow of the earliest ones, but by then our eyes are searching for more subtle colour anyway.

And crocuses, purple ones. Lots of purple ones! These I  mostly put lower down and nearer the house so I'll see them as the snow goes. The last package of them I put in the  woods at the top of the Rockery. That should be nifty when I take the path to get the newspaper!