Fungi


Full moon maples over 111 years old at Harkness Memorial State Park

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The end of September is here- today marks the autumnal equinox- so we are past the point of no return as far as summer goes. To be sure, this summer was excessively hot and dry, and I am not going to miss it too much, but I do love the colors of flowers, foliage textures and bird and animal activity that make summer an especially lively time. A favorite place to visit for me is Harkness Memorial State Park- shoreline, marshes, gardens and interesting buildings and plants can be found here.

Salt marsh fleabane – a late summer bloomer in the salt marshes of Harkness memorial State Park

Recent rains have brought on the appearance of wild mushrooms and other fungi. On a recent hike in the deep woods, may sister and I came across several trees that had their trunks covered with icicle-like new fruiting bodies of some sort of toothed fungi. Perhaps they are the bear’s head tooth fungus Hericium americanum or the Hericium coralloides, also known as comb tooth or coral tooth fungus. Time will tell which ones they are when these fruiting bodies reach maturity. We will check on them periodically.

Hericium ssp. toothed fungus mass not yet mature on a living tree
Close-up of Hericium ssp. mushroom showing developing teeth

Boletes, that have pores rather than gills, and puffballs, which have neither structures, are good finds now. I bring a small mirror that I can slide under caps to see if the mushrooms have gills, pores or teeth. This is helpful when trying to identify most capped fungi.

Bolete showing yellow pores under cap and reticulated stalk where it joins the cap.

Tobacco is being harvested now, and the tobacco barns have opened boards on their sides that help the leaves to dry slowly. As the leaves dry and turn yellow, the smell of unlit cigars fills the air surrounding these barns, and it is actually not a pungent but rather a sweet aroma that almost makes me like cigars- long as they are not lit up.

Tobacco barn and water tower

While checking out one of my gardens last week, there was a not so sweet smell that led to the discovery of a stinkhorn fungus among some perennials. While they are distinctive looking and colorful those attributes cannot overcome the fetid aroma of these fungi.

One species of an aptly named stinkhorn fungus

In the same garden was a monarch chrysalis that should have a its butterfly emerge any day now. This is the first chrysalis I have found in any of my gardens although many monarch caterpillars have been  here. They just pupate somewhere else, except for this fellow.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis

On a trip to Milford, there were quite a few yellow-crowned night herons, most of which were juveniles. Normally denizens of the Southern areas of the Atlantic coast, they do stray north as far as Minnesota. Also in the area was a Jetson- era- like apartment complex for purple martins, which by now have flown the coop.

Jetson era- like purple martin houses in Milford

Apples are abundant at farm and fruit stands, as are pumpkins, winter squash and other wonderful things. The peanut pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima ‘Galeux d’Eysine’) is an heirloom pumpkin easily identified by its outward appearance that looks as if peanuts have been glued on its pink-toned rind. These growths are caused by the excess sugar that has built up in its flesh. The peanut pumpkin is believed to be a cross between the Hubbard squash and an unknown variety.

Galeux d’Eysine peanut pumpkin

Dragonflies that migrate will be gone as temperatures start to permanently drop. Day trips like going on the Chester ferry across the Connecticut River and seeing Gillette Castle on the hillside are fun. As foliage starts to change, hiking and country drives can get a little more interesting. Migrating birds give a little action to the landscape, especially where fruits and seeds are abundant. Soon it will be time for slowing down a little bit, but not yet.

Native Virginia creeper berries are a favorite of migrating birds
Dragonfly, perhaps Aeshna species
Gillette castle as seen from the Chester-Hadlyme ferry looks similar to a soupy sand castle

If you visit farms and farm stands, there may be some interesting signs- sometimes painted on an old pick-up truck.

Pamm Cooper

Woodland Stream in January

“January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow.”

 – Sara Coleridge

Living here in Connecticut offers a lot of variety in interesting places to go outdoors in the winter. From the shoreline to the hills and farmlands, to the forests and major rivers, there are always things to pique one’s interest. The main thing as I see it is to dress for the elements and then to enjoy the crisp, invigorating winter air and anything you happen to venture upon.

Underside of a polypore fungi showing partially broken down pore structure

Crepidula fornicata, the American slipper limpet- like snail, is native to the Atlantic coast of the U.S. Females can lay anywhere from 10- 20,000 eggs four times a year. After winter storms, thousands of these creatures can be washed up on beaches, sometimes in piles that are over two feet deep. Winter visiting shore birds like ruddy turnstones and sanderlings can be found feeding on these creatures where shells have washed up recently. Any mollusks or crustaceans washed on shore are discovered by flipping rocks, seaweed or other shells out of the way. They can easily pull out the snail- like animals from the slipper shells. Both the ruddy turnstone and sanderlings will dodge among small waves as they search for prey. Sanderlings are often in large groups that seem like synchronized surf runner formations, and I give them a 10…. Both species breed as far north as the tundra.

Ruddy turnstones
Sanderlings on piles of American slipper shells

Knobbed whelks (Busycon carica) are edible marine snails that are carnivorous scavengers and predators of shellfish. Their native range is from Massachusetts to Florida. Large casings are released in strings by the female whelks and are then anchored to the sediment. The tiny whelks hatch nine months later. If you find a sting of these egg cases washed up on the beach, shake them and see if any tiny whelks are inside. There is a hole in the egg case top where the little whelks would have exited through, hopefully before the whole string was deposited on the shore.

Stringed whelk egg cases are full of tiny whelks
Knobbed whelk with barnacles

While walking through the woods after a recent snowfall, I came across a hermit thrush, a native thrush that has a rusty red tail, brownish olive body and a white chest speckled with dark brown. Normally, they migrate south for the winter, but I can usually find one every year near woodland steams and boggy areas that do not freeze over.

Very hardy hermit thrush

In mixed deciduous woods, especially where oaks are found, there is often evidence of deer in the neighborhood. Deer will scrape off snow with their hooves to find acorns to eat. Later, the deer may bed down nearby. Look for small areas where the snow has melted- that is where the body heat of the sleeping or resting deer has melted the snow.

Melted snow where three deer had rested or slept

On a yellow birch tree deep in some woods, there was a new burl being formed by abnormal cell enlargement from an unknown cause. This rounded, woody swelling has an interesting surface pattern and grain, and may have been caused by a wound or pathogen as there is a gummy excretion surrounding the base of the burl. In the same area of the woods there was a tree with a fist-sized rock growing into two forked trunks.

Burl
Rock with tree trunks growing around it

In a small brook nearby there was a waterfall that had partially iced over. The patterns in the ice struck me as similar to lines in a topographic map, tiny lightning bolts. Natural designs are often temporal, so I take pictures of things like this as tomorrow, or even in a few hours, it could be gone.

Interesting patterns on small waterfall ice

Every winter day will have its own surprises.  For instance, I wonder if a young white-tailed deer made this tiny snow deer along a woodland trail…

Tiny snow deer

Pamm Cooper

Fox in the backyard seen through a screened window

“January is the quietest month in the garden. But just because it looks quiet, doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.” – Rosalie Muller Wright

Beautiful gills

Nature alone is antique, and the oldest art a mushroom.
– Thomas Carlyle

This fall while I was hiking through woods and woodland trails, for some reason a little light seemed to go off in my consciousness that directed my eyes toward the mushrooms that seemed to be growing everywhere. Because of the rains and warm temperatures, mushrooms seemed to have popped up all at once – in lawns, leaf litter on and around trees, on logs and stumps, and on bare soils. I was never terribly interested in fungi before, but that has all changed now. I bought a good mushroom field guide (Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America) and I have been on a tear ever since.

Cauliflower ruffles Sparassis spathulata mushroom

I had no idea that mushrooms can have pores or teeth rather than gills, so that is now the first focus when trying to narrow down the field in identification. Now the first thing I look for is if the cap has gills, pores, teeth or is just a capsule with spores inside, as with puffballs.  I have a little mirror that I can slide under the caps to see the reproductive structures without having to damage the fruiting body in the process. I learned that boletes have pores, Amanitas and fly agarics have gills,  and if a mushroom has gills, for instance, it cannot be a bolete. It narrows the field right away for identification purposes.

Pepper Bolete Has Pores
Distinctive gills of the viscid violet cort

There are several gill types- decurrent, attached, open, in relationship to the stalk and widely spaced or tightly spaced. Some can be waved at the edges of the cap. Pores can be small, large, rounded or angular, and both gills and pores can have distinctive colors, both of the tissue itself and the spores.  

Cantharellus cinnabarinus cinnabar chantertelle has decurrent gills that run down the stalk

Amanita mushroom with typical membranous veil on the stipe

Toothed mushrooms are least common, I think, and they are very interesting as well. Teeth can be flattened, pointed, or somewhere in between. The stacked tooth fungus Climacodon septentrionalis, is a parasitic fungus that can grow quite large in the space of a few months. They form a tight stack like pancakes on trunks of living trees like maples.

Stacked tooth mushroom on a sugar maple
Yellow teeth of the stacked tooth mushroom with brown spores on left

Some mushrooms have strong associations with particular tree species, such as the Leccinum scabrum– birch scaber stalk. Stems of the birch scaber stalk bolete have wooly scales and base can have blue- green stains. Pores are white, then age to gray-brown and the cap is brown. The chunky false tinder conk Phellinus tremulae is associated with aspens and resembles a horse’s hoof.

False tinder conks have killed this aspen

The most spectacular mushroom, which I saw for the first time, was the bear’s head tooth fungus, which looked like a mass of tiny icicles dripping down the side of a living tree.

Hericium americanum bear’s head tooth fungus

Another first find for me were the diminutive Calostoma cinnabarineum puffballs, which have a cap like an acorn atop a thick stalk. The whole fruiting body is covered with a cinnamon-red gel which slowly slides off. Inside the capsule is a mass of dust-like white spores.

Calostoma cinnabarineum puffball is on a gel covered stalk

Lycoperdon perlatum puffball

Coral mushrooms do not have caps, but they have branches or a clublike form. Spores form on the surface of these clubs or branches and fall off. Cup mushroom have concave caps which may be curled or wavy

Orange Ascomycete Cup Fungus

Coral fungi

Stinkhorns are often smelled before they are seen. They usually have a stinky slime on the top that contains the spores. Flies are attracted to this offensive mess and spread the spores when they leave. Ravenel’s and the dog stinkhorn Mutinus caninus have a definite phallic form and stalks with a styrofoam or spongy texture.

Ravenel’s stinkhorn
Stinky squid

There are so many mushrooms yet to encounter, and I can’t wait until warmer weather arrives again next year. In the meantime I will dream of finding fairy inkcap crumble mushrooms and red and white fly agarics.

Pamm Cooper

False turkey tail bracket fungi
November sunrise on Horsebarn Hill UConn

November comes and November goes with the last red berries
and the first white snows.
With night coming early, and dawn coming late, and ice in the bucket
and frost by the gate.

-Elizabeth Coatsworth

While driving along country roads, walking in the woods, or simply getting up early in the morning and stepping outside, any day can offer an opportunity to come across interesting or unusual sights. Fall is the time of bird migrations, splashes of leaf color and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. November seems like a last hurrah with some lingering warm days before the cold settles in for the winter. On a recent morning bare treetops in the pre-sunrise light looked like they were full of leaves, but it was actually thousands of blackbirds. One bird must have started something because the whole lot of them began at once to make a terrific noise, and then they took off in unison. I remeber the day when it could take several minutes for these flocks of blackbirds to pass over the morning sky.

Blackbirds taking flight just before sunrise

This November has been unusually warm, but leaves have finally fallen or changed color as in the case of our dawdling oaks and dawn redwoods. Fallen leaves can cover the ground for a while to restyle a scene with winsome texture and color. Things hidden by foliage in the summer are now revealed- wasp and bird’s nests, fruits and other things.

Dawn redwood fall color before needle drop

Sometimes something that was dull can suddenly get interesting when light and visibility change in what seems like an instant. This happened when a dingy looking shelf fungus growing on a sugar maple had the sun strike it just as I was driving by. Getting my attention, I got out and took a closer look. It turned out to be a stacked tooth fungus, a mushroom new to my experience. They form a tight stack like pancakes and instead of pores or gills, they have fine teeth from which spores are released.

Climacodon septentrionalis stacked toorh fungus
Underside showing the teeth, or spines, of the stacked tooth fungus

On the same ride where I saw the amazing tooth fungus, there was an old Lincoln Zephyr on display in someone’s front yard. Down the same street was an old farmhouse with an impressive front porch and a remarkable sugar maple whose leaves covered the ground around it. In the same area was a grain storage building with old trains and their cars cluttering the tracks, perhaps some still used for transport, and some obviously no longer in service.

Lincoln Zephyr
Old Lincoln Zephyr

Old Farmhouse
Trains at a grain storage facility
November is also the time of final hay cutting and baling operations

There is a home in Glastonbury or Portland that has the most bee hives I ever saw in one place in Connecticut. According to the owner, the hives near the house were requeened this summer and will form a new colony. When queens no longer produce enough eggs, a new queen is introduced and the old is, sadly, released from her earthly duties. Some of these hives are used at a local orchard in the spring, while a majority are placed along the Connecticut River where food is very abundant.

On hike through a nature preserve woods early this month there was the remains of an old car which was probably from the 1930’s and dragged here when the area was a field. This car was almost 20 feet long and had a folding luggage rack on the trunk. Headlamps must have been the size of dinner plates.

On the trunk of a dead aspen along the side of a country road, it was clear what had killed this tree. On the trunk were false tinder conks Phellinus  termulae shelf fungi . No other fungi with this characteristic fruiting body are found on aspen. The woody conks are hoof-like, brown to black, and have a cracked upper surface. Pores are tan or white. The spores of P. tremulae are blown through the air and can enter fresh wounds on aspens, where the fungus attacks the heartwood and causes white trunk rot.

False tinder conks Phellinus  termulae shelf fungi

Still out and about are praying mantids and some dragonflies and bees. This female mantid was on a sidewalk near a flower garden. Her eggs have been laid, so she will perish shortly.

t is the time of warmer jackets, bleaker vistas, perhaps, and chilly days. I am not by nature a puddleglum, so all this is not a deterrent to enjoying the shorter days and the coming cold. There will still be spectacular sunsets and sunrises, snowy landscape coverings and bluer skies that will cheer my heart on occasion. Now is a also good time to read all those books that there was little time for when the outdoors beckoned strongly for all the attention. Maybe I’ll put on a colorful scarf or something…

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

-Emily Dickinson

Maybe I’ll just light a sparkler.

Pamm Cooper

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.” – Emily Brontë

Late September and early October signal the end of summer, but the weather has been warm enough for pleasant excursions that do not require a heavy coat. Lots of insects and flowers are still around, and not too many migrating birds are coming through so far. I am not a big fan of pumpkin spice anything, but I do enjoy leaf colors and cool, crisp mornings with a clear blue sky backdrop.

Light streams early in the morning in autumn 2021

Keep your eye on cedar trees with an abundant amount of berries on them for yellow-rumped warblers passing through, and other year-round birds as well. Crabapples, viburnums and hawthorns are also good food sources for birds late in the year. Today there were bluebirds, phoebes, white-throated sparrows, cardinals, mockingbirds and blue jays on a Cornus florida in my backyard.

Yellow-rumped warbler eating a cedar berry

Ludwigia alternifolia, also known as alternate leaved seedbox is a North American perennial wildflower found in wet areas- swamps, stream banks, edges of ponds and other places with damp soils.  Leaves resemble willow- slender and alternate along the stems. Yellow flowers resemble those of moth mullein and appear in summer for 2-3 months only blooming for a day. Seed capsules are a quarter of an inch square and rattle when they are shaken. Flowers of rattlebox are pollinated primarily by bees. 

Rattlebox seed pod flanked with sepals.
Tiny seed box of Ludwegia alternifolia

Wolf Eyes Kousa dogwoods are included as specimen plantings in many landscapes for good reason. These small trees have a nice form and attractive variegated foliage that is an outstanding backdrop for the strawberry- like fruit that appear in late summer.

Wolf eyes Kousa dogwood

Chickweed geometer moths are small, yellow with pink bands and markings. Caterpillars are inchworms and host plants include chickweed, smartweed. Because lawns may contain some of these plants, the small moths are often spotted resting on blades of grass.

Chickweed geometer moth

Stacked kites look like a lot of fun to launch and enjoy. Recently someone had several kite stacks flying at Harkness Memorial State Park, where the offshore winds are ideal for this hobby. This park has many things of interest including a cutting flower garden, 111 year old full moon maples, gardens, buildings and expansive grounds. There also is a very fragrant heliotrope garden that is worth a visit just past the main building.

Water tower and cutting garden

Stacked kites

This weekend along a forest trail, I was delighted to find two diminutive puffball species that were new to me. Both had stalks, and were on bare soil, and the stems had a gelatinous film covering them. From directly above, the caps looked like acorns with the tip side up. The aspic puffball Calostoma cinnabarinum had a red cap and the ghoul’s eyes puffball, Calostoma lutescens had a yellow- ochre cap with a red apical mouth resembling, I guess, the eyes of a ghoul.

Aspic puffball
Ghoul’s eyes puffball
Hericium americanum bear’s head tooth fungus looks like a tight cluster of tiny icicles

Some late blooming plants are providing food sources for pollinators that are still active. Lespedeza bush clovers, asters, some goldenrods and lots of annuals like lantana and salvias are important nectar and pollen sources for native and non-native beetles and bees.

Bumblebee on an aster flower
Pink flowered Lespedeza bush clover

Recently the gardener at the golf course and I were delighted to find an eft of the red spotted newt and a very small spotted salamander under some bushes being removed from a neglected landscape. After making sure they were okay, they were returned to a safe place. The excitement never ends…

Juvenile spotted salamander

We also discovered a small spicebush along a cart path that had 5 spicebush caterpillars on it. By the time all had left to pupate, there were only two leaves left uneaten.

Checking a small spicebush
Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar

As the weather cools and leaves begin to drop, many of the little creatures that brightened our day will soon head for a protected spot to overwinter. Although gray treefrogs are still hanging out on leaves, they will retire under leaf litter or other places until next spring. Hardy insects are slowing down to do the same. Sunsets may be more spectacular in cooler weather, but I will miss those surprise encounters with living things in the garden and the wild landscape.

Besides the autumn poets sing, a few prosaic days, a little this side of the snow, and that side of the haze.

Emily Dickinson

Path in the autumn woods

Pamm Cooper

Sunflowers along the edge of a field

“By all these lovely tokens, September days are here. With summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.” – Helen Hunt Jackson

September arrived with a splash this year, and a big one at that. Hurricane Ida may have spared us her winds, but not the heavy rains and the flooding that came with it. Temperatures at least have dropped and people  have a reprieve from watering gardens and lawns.  

Saturated soils resulted in the standing water on this turf area.
Flooding and strong currents here at the Glastonbury ferry entrance ramp on the Connecticut River has stopped ferry service temporarily

The extended hot, humid weather has led to a burst of stinkhorn fungi in mulched areas and woodlands. These fungi have spores in a slimy material that is visited by flies attracted by the putrid odor. After visiting this stinky slime and getting nothing for their trouble, the flies move on, dispersing the spores as they go. The stinky squid fungi are small, orange and have three or four fingerlike “arms”. Spores are often in mulch that was added to gardens earlier in the year.

Stinky squid fungi in images above

I found a little 4-toed salamander far from its woodland domain the day after a rain- just missed it with a mower. This is Connecticut’s smallest salamander being only 2- 3 ½ inches long.  These salamanders are found found in both moist and dry woodlands and in wooded swamps. Sphagnum moss is usually present nearby and is often used by the female for nesting.

4-toed salamander

On a woodland trail, a female American pelecinid wasp flew by and landed on a leaf. They have a long ovipositor that they use to inserts eggs with especially where grubs are in the soil. These black wasps diet consists primarily of nectar, perhaps supplemented by some pollen and water.

Female American pelecinid wasp

Three weeks ago I came across an elm sphinx caterpillar on slippery elm. This caterpillar has four horns on the thorax and one on the rear, like most sphinx caterpillars. it can be green or brown, but this one started off green and then just turned brown this week. Food is exclusively elm.

Travelling through tobacco farmland this past week, there was a lot of harvesting activity. Drying barns are filling up with sun grown broadleaf tobacco leaves. Tobacco sheds are vanishing as the land is bought up for development and houses..

Drying shed with hanging tobacco leaves
Hay bales in a barn with green doors

There are so many native plants that have fruits now- viburnums, filberts, shrub and tree dogwoods, black cherry, winterberry and spicebush just to name a few. Along with many herbaceous plants like pokeweed and goldenrods, these fruits are valuable to all kinds of wildlife including migrating birds.

Arrowwood viburnum
Red osier dogwood fruit

Tansy, an introduced member of the aster family, is blooming now. Its yellow, button- like flowers have a striking pattern. The plans has a long history of cultivation for its medicinal qualities.

Of September, who can say it better than this?

“…there is a clarity about September. On clear days, the sun seems brighter, the sky more blue, the white clouds take on marvelous shapes; the moon is a wonderful apparition, rising gold, cooling to silver; and the stars are so big. The September storms… are exhilarating…”
— Faith Baldwin, 

Pamm Cooper

Waning Moon in September
American Lady on Viola Flower

“In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different.” – John Steinbeck

June is always a month when there is an explosion of the new and a little fading away of certain things. Spring wildflowers have had their day and now the flowers and fruits of summer are arriving to take their place. Viburnums that just a little while ago were lending the air a sweet fragrance are now full of developing fruit. Crabapples and wild cherry are full of green fruits while flowers like yarrow, June blooming magnolias, winterberry, milkweeds and whorled loosestrife are just in bloom. Trees are full of leaves and the sky is a clearer blue so when foliage and skies meet, it is a striking contrast.


June blooming magnolia flowers appear after the leaves are fully out
Native tulip tree

American cow wheat, Melampyrum lineare, is a native annual wildflower that has interesting tubular white and yellow flowers. This small plant appears along dry woodland edges and is partially parasitic, stealing nutrients from the roots of certain tress, especially native birch.

Cow wheat flowers

Yarrow, an introduced wildflower, is attractive to many pollinators and butterflies. After years of not seeing a variegated fritillary, last week I finally came across one in a power line right-of-way that was exclusively feeding on yarrow flowers that were abundant there.

Variegated fritillary on yarrow flower

Whorled loosestrife, Lysimachia quadrifolia, also native here in Connecticut, has leaves that are whorled around the stem, and star-like yellow flowers that dangle in between. The leaves are covered with small dark pits on the upper sides.

Whorled loosestrife

Whorled loosestrife flower

On the home front, lantana, salvia, petunias and violas are among the annuals that draw a lot of butterfly and bee activity plus hummingbirds visit lantana and annual salvias as well. A golden northern bumblebee, Bombus fervidus, visits certain flowers including the flowers of a new variety of Buddleia called ‘Miss Violet’.

Spiffy golden northern bumblebee

On a hike I came across a colorful geometrid moth called the hollow-spotted plagodis. Caterpillars of this moth are large loopers and can be found feeding on several trees but preferring Betula species like sweet birch.

Hollow- spotted Plagodis moth

On the same hike there was the sound of a newly fledged bird calling for some food from its parents. I tracked it down among a large stand of invasive mugwort to see what kind of bird it was. Closest guess- pine warbler. I left it alone so mom or dad could give it its next morsel.

Fledgling warbler-likely a pine warbler

On a walk along a land grant property in Manchester, there was an old  Carpathian or English walnut Juglans regia featuring a stout trunk with striking deep, vertically fissured bark. The bark was light colored and the dark fissures made it appear outlined.

English walnut

Dog vomit slime mold can be found on wood chips or mulched areas, usually after heavy rains. Usually it seems to appear overnight as the fruiting stage begins and can be a yellow or orange color.

Aptly named dog vomit slime mold on top of wood chips

Gray tree frogs can be heard trilling day and night. They are frequently found here at home resting on patio furniture, trees, shrubs, water faucets, inside watering cans and many other places they have found suitable for hiding during the day. They often rest on leaf upper sides on trees or shrubs. The one below was on a grape leaf.

Other things of interest are galls of all types on tree leaves and twigs, including the oak apple gall made by a small wasp. The larva feeds inside the gall and emerges as an adult from there.

Oak apple gall
Very tiny oak apple gall wasp just emerged from its gall

There are so many interesting things going on for those of us blessed enough to wait or look for them. The excitement never ends. I agree with the sentiment of Henry David Thoreau, who loved observing and becoming part of his surroundings in nature- “This is June, the month of grass and leaves . . . already the aspens are trembling again, and a new summer is offered me.”

Pamm Cooper

I have to admit I get somewhat excited when I see the first fuzzy powdery mildew spots of the season appear. It’s almost like playing the plant pathology lotto, betting when the environmental conditions (warm, dry days followed by cool, humid nights) are just right for the fungi to cause disease. This year, I saw the first spots on roses in mid-June. I had just received a photo from a client with a strange white growth on her rosemary transplant, and I initially thought it was too early for a powdery mildew diagnosis. But alas, I was wrong.

IMG_0547.jpg

Powdery mildew on rose. Photo by A. Beissinger.

Powdery mildew is a disease caused by several different species and genera of fungi. Though you may see powdery mildew on herbaceous perennials, vegetables, and woody ornamentals, each species of powdery mildew fungi is usually host specific. The powdery mildew on your cucumber plant is not causing powdery mildew on your maple tree. Instead, you hit the powdery mildew jackpot and happen to have more than one species in your yard. In the lab, we identify the fungus to genus based on characteristics of their chasmothecia, or overwintering structures.

19-608_English oak_Powdery mildew B

Black chasmothecia, overwintering structures on English oak. Photo by A. Beissinger

 

19-608_English oak_Powdery mildew_Microscope A

Powdery mildews are identified based on the morphology of chasmothecia. Pictured here is Microsphaera sp. Photo by A. Beissinger.

One of the most common questions we get in the Home & Garden Education Center is about chemical treatments for powdery mildew. Due to the biology of powdery mildew fungi, we don’t usually recommend spraying anything for woody and herbaceous perennials and here is why: powdery mildew only causes aesthetic damage and will not jeopardize the health of your plants. The fungi are obligate parasites, meaning they require a living host plant to grow, obtain nutrients, and thrive. As such these fungi have a biological incentive to keep their host plant alive; if they kill their host plant, they would not survive. It’d be more useful for you to save money and not spray a product  into the environment that will have very little success at controlling the disease.

The answer about chemical controls is a bit different for fruit and vegetable crops such as apple, grape, and cucurbits. While powdery mildew doesn’t necessary kill the host plants, the disease can present challenges for fruit quality, consistency, yield, and taste. Fruit can be deformed, have blemishes, or other markings that render them unmarketable, and produce far less than normal. In these cases, we may recommend a sulfur, neem oil, triforine, or potassium bicarbonate product. Always read the pesticide label before applying any product, and please note that chemical controls are usually only effective when appropriate cultural controls are taken as well.

Apple (Malus spp.)-Powdery Mildew | Pacific Northwest Pest ...

Apple powdery mildew. Photo by J. Pscheidt

So, what are these cultural controls?

  • Start off with resistant cultivars. Selecting plant varieties that have resistance to powdery mildew is one of the most important strategies to help prevent infection. There are many options to choose from, and require you to plan ahead before you begin planting. Garden centers and seed catalogues can be very helpful.
  • Space plants adequately. Dense plantings can increase humidity, which can in turn increase disease development. Remove plants to improve airflow.
  • Avoid overhead watering. Using a soaker hose, drip irrigation, or watering plants only at the base can help decrease humidity in the planting.
  • Thoroughly clean up all infected plant parts at the end of the season. Many herbaceous perennials are left by gardeners to maintain fall habitat for pollinators. However, removing all infected plant parts at the end of the season will decrease the inoculum able to overwinter and infect plants the following year. Do not compost infected plants as at-home compost systems do not reach temperatures high enough to kill the fungus.

One other note about diseases in the garden: powdery mildew mycellium (a mat of fungal growth; the “fuzzy” growth you see) typically grow on the upper leaf surfaces of plants, and unlike other fungi, will not grow when a film of water is present on the leaves. Occasionally mycelium will grow on the lower leaf surface, but that is less common. If you’re seeing powdery white-grey spots only on the lower leaf surface, more than likely you’re seeing downy mildew, which is a far more serious disease. These diseases are often confused for each other because of their name and appearance. Downy mildew is caused by an oomycete rather than a fungus, and spreads when water is present. Early action is required to save your plants.

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Downy mildew on grape. Note the spores are present only on the lower leaf surface. Photo by A. Beissinger.

For more information on powdery and downy mildew, visit our website for fact sheets.

-Abby Beissinger

 

bloodroot

Native bloodroot started to bloom March 26 2020

 

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.”

– Anne Bradstreet

This year, the winter here in Connecticut was warmer than usual and had little snow, but plenty of rain. Plants like star magnolias, forsythias and hellebore started to bloom early- here on the UConn campus a Hellebore bloomed the first week of March. A small snowstorm on March 23 brought two inches of snow in central Connecticut and was followed by enough rain to melt any snow cover off by the following day. Bloom progress on the star mags and forsythia came to a halt, but it should resume as flower buds were generally not damaged.

march snow 2020

March 23 snowstorm

Resident birds like turkeys are making their presence known as they go about the serious business of attracting mates. Their fanning of tail feathers and stomping around makes them hard to miss. Woodpeckers are also drumming to attract mates, and red-bellied woodpeckers send out their familiar call advertising what they deem the perfect nesting holes for potential females to check out. They often are inside these holes, just poking their heads out to call.

male turkeys fanning

Male turkeys fanning

Wood frogs and spotted salamanders have laid their eggs in vernal pools and they should be hatching any day now. Wood frog eggs tend to float to the water’s surface, while the salamander eggs are stuck on underwater stems. Both the eggs of wood frog and spotted salamander are sometimes invaded by certain symbiotic algae whose cells are transferred to the hatching generation of their amphibian hosts.

wood frog eggs floating on the surface of a vernal pool March 19 2020

Wood frog eggs masses on the surface of a vernal pool in March

An Eastern garter snake was encountered yesterday deep in the woods. This native snake can mate in March- early May and gives birth to live young in late June- August. This snake can tolerate cold weather and is commonly seen where there is an abundance of most vegetation where it will feed on toads, frogs, worms and other creatures.

garter snake in deep woods near a strem MArch 26 2020

Eastern garter snake in the woods

Lichens are an example of a symbiotic partnership between a fungus and an algae or a cyanobacterium. The fungal part depends upon the other component to survive. The rock tripe is a lichen that resembles dead leaves and is found living on rocks. Umbilicaria mammulata is the most common rock tripe. Soft and pliable like leather in moist weather, when conditions are dry these leaf-like lichens will shrivel and become quite brittle.

rock tripe lichen Umbilicaria

Rock tripe lichens on a boulder in the woods

Bracket fungi, or shelf, fungi comprise numerous species of the Polypore Family in the class basidiomycete. These fungi obtain energy through the decomposition of dead and dying plant matter. The visible fruiting body can be long- lived and hard like wood adding a new layer of living fungal matter at the base of the structure every year. Fungal threads are within the dead or dying woody host where they obtain nutrients.

Phellinus robiniae shelf fungi on decaying tree trunk

Phellinus robiniae shelf fungus are hard like wood

Wooly bear caterpillars, Colletes ground nesting bees and mourning cloak butterflies are a few insects that are active in March. Often seen crawling across lawns in late March, wooly bears are looking to pupate soon, while the Colletes are looking for pollens and nectar sources to provide food for their young, which hatch singly in nesting chambers that resemble ant hills. From the ground level.

Early flowering plants are a good source of pollen and nectar for bees. These include the Japanese andromeda, native bloodroot, spring flowering witch hazel native spicebush, willows, daffodils, crocus and dandelions.

spring witchhazel flowers

Spring flowering witch hazel

As you hike about, check out stalks of plants and small branches of shrubs for mantid eggs cases. These eggs masses resemble tan styrofoam and Mantids should hatch by mid-May, depending upon weather.

mantid egg case keeney st pl March 22 2020

Egg case of a praying mantis

Native sweet ferns, Comptonia peregrina, are blooming and leafing out. These aromatic small shrubs are members of the bayberry family and can be found in dry open woods where there are sandy, acid soils. They are a good spreading plant for difficult dry soils and slopes, and they are one of the host plants for the gray hairstreak butterfly.

sweet fern flowering and leafing out March 22 2020

Sweet fern catkins and new leaves

 

The days are warming up and soon the landscapes will be full of color. But even when it is not so bright and cheery outside, as Charles Dickens wrote ‘ Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own”

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

new year new start

The start of the New Year is a good time to start new in the gardening year too. There is always something new to plant or try, or a method of gardening to embrace. The down-time of winter offers the opportunity to seek out something new.

Start a new plant. Visit the warmth of indoor greenhouses to lift our moods and possibly find a new houseplant. Succulents are readily available and easy to grow if you have a sunny window. Use a well-draining potting mix formulated especially for cactus and succulents to get them off with a good beginning. Water only when the top inch or so of soil is dry.

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Another popular houseplant with many different varieties and forms is Peperomia. They come with solid green or variegated leaves, some with white and others with reddish hues. Textures of the leaves vary by species with some smooth and others crinkled.  All plants in the Pipericeae family are non-toxic making them safe for homes with pets and small children. Known for its low-maintenance requirements, they will happily grow in bright, non-direct light and moist but well-drained potting medium. They have a slower rate of growth, keeping them in bounds of the container for a long time before the need to repot in a larger size container.

Start a garden journal. By tracking the bloom times and placement of perennials and trees, you might see a new combination to try. Having the plant’s location marked on paper helps one to find it in the garden in late fall or early spring, when it is the ideal time to move. Monitor and record the sunlight amounts throughout the year to see how shade increases over time as neighboring trees grow taller. A sunny yard can change to part or full shade over a decade or two. Vegetable garden journals and keep track of that exceptional tomato grown last year, or maybe the one that didn’t produce as advertised. This information will help plan the next vegetable garden with better or continued success.

garden journal

Start a new class to add you knowledge base of horticulture. UConn Master Gardeners offer advanced, topic specific classes around the state. These Garden Master classes are offered to the general public at a slightly higher price than UConn certified master gardeners, and well worth it. Topics range from woody plant identification to botanical drawing. Visit the garden master catalog to view classes.

mgs

The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection offer a wide range of outdoor classes and activities. Safety in outdoor sports is heavily reinforced if you interest is in boating, fishing, trapping or hunting. Their goal is education for you to keep yourself safe while starting a new outside activity. Classes on the environment and educational hikes are offered around the state at seven different educational facilities. 

trailhike

Start a new book. New publications in the non-fiction realm of plants include three winners from the America Horticultural Society. One is about bees and native plants needed to feed them, another on the subject of a cut flower farm, and the third is about trees of North America. There is many other great garden and plant books to start you own self-guided learning on subjects of interest to you. I was gifted the two below written by Carol J. Michel which look entertaining and educational.

books

Start anew by joining a group of like-minded plant people. Garden clubs offer talks and friendship with other members, and some have civic minded projects involving gardening, usually by town. The CT Horticultural Society offers monthly lectures to state wide members and others, for a fee, and occasional hands on workshops. They list their scheduled speakers on their website. Other groups are focused on one subject, such as the CT Valley Mycological Society where you can learn all about mushrooms and fungi. There is also the Hardy Plant Society, and the CT Rose Society. If your tastes are more specific, check out the Iris Society or the CT Dahlia Society.

-Carol Quish

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