LOTUS CORNICULATUS: BIRD’S-FOOT-TREFOIL

A lot of plants having yellow flowers bloom late in June in what some would call their lawn. We don’t do anything to encourage a grassy expanse of lawn, so what we get is probably anathema to most home owners.

Well, one price they pay for that lush green-ness is that they don’t get to see much of a variety of wildflowers. Woe betide the not-grass that appears in the ‘well-manicured’ lawn.

OK, sermon ended.

Currently four species of hawkweed, at least two species of cinquefoil and a small St John’s wort are blooming in great profusion around town. All have yellow flowers. But, so do goldenrod, evening primroses and larger St. John’s wort, whose plants are up but not yet flowering. We have passed from the spring, when white and green flowers were effective in attracting wild bees and other insect pollinators maybe more by odor than plant color? But, now we are full on bee time and yellow is the dominant flower color of the day.

Scouting around our ‘garden’ a few days ago I noticed scattered plants of bird’s-foot-trefoil . I had not previously seen this species in Deering. It’s common enough. Certainly I have overlooked it.

Bird’s-foot-trefoil , Lotus corniculatus, is a member of the pea family. It’s low, sprawling herbaceous plants have 3 clover like leaflets (actually 5, with 2 opposite leaflets at the base of the ‘trefoil’ or triple leaflets. This is the only legume with 5 leaflets). The plants can stand up to 2 ft tall and flowering branches terminate in a head, or floret, of pea-like yellow flowers. The fruit is a pod about one inch long. One brown to purple seed pod is produced per flower situated at right angles to the flower stalk and thus the 5-6 splayed pods resemble a bird’s foot.

Bird’s-foot-trefoil is a perennial, native to Eurasia but now widely distributed in North America after having been introduced around 1900. It is a “long-day “plant, requiring sixteen hours of sunlight to flower, just right now for the end of June. In some parts of North America and Australia the plant is considered a bothersome invasive while elsewhere it is planted for erosion control, because of its deep tap root, and as a forage legume on poor soil because of its nodulated roots that fix nitrogen. Several cultivars are available for agricultural use.

Flowers of bird’s-foot-trefoil flowers occur in florets of 4-8. Each floret is bisexual, thus can self pollinate although the plant has a self-incompatibility mechanism that prevents self-seeding. Most pollination is effected between plants by insects. Pollen in the plant matures before the flower opens. Filaments push the loose pollen forward into the closed tip of the united lower petals (keel), and pollination occurs when an insect’s weight on the keel forces a ribbon-like mass of pollen from the keel opening, some of it adhering to the insect’s underside. Further pressure as the insect seeks the nectaries causes the female stigma to slide into the same contact area, where it’s stickiness may pick up pollen from another plant that got stuck onto the insect. Like some other legumes, the bird’s-foot-trefoil produces highly nutritious pollen.

Honey bees and, especially, bumble bees are the principle pollinators of bird’s- foot-trefoil. Some bees became highly specialized on these plants; in fact, the decline of several bumble bee species has been linked to the reduced availability of clover, bird’s-foot-trefoil and other legumes. In Scotland, three of the scarcest bee species are believed to be completely dependent on bird’s-foot-trefoil’s pollen; the pine-wood mason bee, the mountain mason bee (Osmia inermis) and the wall mason bee (Osmia parietina).

But more importantly for the aspect of ecosystem services, the bird’s-foot-trefoil is a larval food plant for several butterflies and moths and a valuable nectar source for many other insects.

Bird’s-foot-trefoil can be confused with another yellow-flowered herb, butter-and-eggs, Linaria vulgaris Butter-and-eggs, or common toadflax, occupies much the same habitat as bird’s-foot-trefoil but flowers much later in the season. Butter-and-eggs can be problematic because through its vigorous growth it can out-compete other pasture natives and form dense mats that prevent the establishment of desired species. The plant is mildly toxic to livestock.

(In writing this post I relied heavily on The Book of Field and Roadside. Open-Country Weeds, Trees, and Wildflowers of Eastern North America by John Eastman. 2003. Stackpole books. It is one of three similar books by the same author. I am not sure that they are still in print. I found mine on E Bay).

TULIP POPLAR IN BLOOM!

When we took up residence at our new home on Hedgehog Mountain we planted three Tulip Poplar trees. We got them from Arbor Day Foundation as not very hopeful bare root sticks. Over the ten years we’ve been here, two have survived. One is not much more than 3 ft tall while the other is pushing 30 feet.

Late last year we found old flowers seeds on the big tree, but we had not seen flowering. Moreover, I had never seen flowers son the two really big trees in Appleton Cemetery.

Tulip poplar, Liriodendron tulipiera, is native to the mid Atlantic region and Appalachian Mountains. In its native range, trees can reach 150 or more feet in height, with long, straight, unbranched trunks and a spreading crown. I have seen magnificent trees in Maryland, not far from Washington DC, and in North Carolina. The species does not occur naturally this far north. These trees are beautiful. The few trees that I know for Deering are planted, the largest in the Appleton Cemetery sometime late in the 19th Century and in memory of some now unknown soul.

Although I had never seen the Appleton trees to flower, I have seen tulip poplar seedlings in Deering. One in Appleton Cemetery, next to the road and one deep inside the Titcomb Conservation Easement on Clement Hill Road — not so far from Appleton Cemetery. I am assuming the Appleton trees provided the seed. Maybe one day, with a warming climate, there will be magnificent specimens of tulip poplar in our forest?

The Appleton trees are currently in full bloom. It is a bit difficult to see the flowers in the trees as you travel at the legal speed of 35 mph on Deering Center Rd, but if you know to look at the trees, the flowers are visible from the road.

Tulip poplar is related to Magnolia, and their flowers are similar. But while the flowers of Magnolia are, basically, white or pink, the flowers of tulip poplar are orange and green. The flowers bear a superficial resemblance to a tulip. The flowers are quite beautiful and well worth a visit.

Here are some pictures.

NARROW-LEAVED BLUE-EYED GRASS

When I retired eleven years ago I decided that our new home would not have a lawn that required care. No verdant landscape rolling toward the horizon for me!

Here in Deering, on Hedgehog Mountain, what passes for soil is sand and is definitely on the acidic side. Just as well I didn’t want a lawn to mow because where we live, our little piece of heaven, is not a good bet for a grassy lawn anyway.

What we do have, though is a meadow of sorts. Not a lot of grass, but lots of flowering plants come up through the season. Pollinators love it.

One of the niftier North American native plants that flowers this time of year is narrow-leaved blue-eyed grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium. Our plants stand maybe ten inches tall and have narrow, grass-like leaves. Pretty deep blue, star-like flowers having six points arise in succession at the tips of the branches. Usually about three flower buds occur at the end of a stem, but buds open in succession — not at the same time — and remain open for a day or less, never at night. Thus the time window for pollination is rather small, but this is made up for by the continuing succession of flowers from May through midsummer. Without the flowers it would be difficult to recognize the plant as anything other than a grass, but Sisyrinchium is a genus of the Iris family.

On-line pictures of blue-eyed grass show the plants growing in dense clusters. Not so here. Blue-eyed grass prefers moist habitats, where it can be seen to be quite exuberant. Maybe it’s our nasty soil, but for us the plants are abundant, but are typically scattered. They are perennial from a rhizome, and reproduce by seed. The fibrous rhizomes store food. The capsule contains three seeds.

The profuse blooms of Narrow-leaved Blue-eyed grass attract a variety of pollinators including sweat bees, bumble bees, bee flies, and syrphid flies as well as spring butterflies such as the lovely blue Azures. Their seeds provide food for songbirds. Native Americans cooked and ate the spring greens and used the plant medicinally “to regulate” the bowels and treat diarrhea, and made a plant tea to treat stomach aches, but it seems far too lovely to eat!

The plant can be propagated and can make a nice addition to your garden, for those who make a distinction between ‘garden’ and ‘not garden.’

EARLY SPRING PLANTS THAT HAVE YELLOW FLOWERS

COLTS FOOT: TUSSILAGO FARFARA

The first, conspicuous wildflower in Deering is colts foot, Tussilgo farfara. Its brilliant yellow, daisy-like flowers appear soon after snow has gone in wet ditches, roadsides and generally open or shaded, disturbed areas. What you see early in spring is leafless stalks arising from the ground, each topped by a single flower. After flowering the head becomes all fluffy and white, dandelion-like, with windborne seed. Leaves of this species only appear later, after flowering and if you were not in the know (as some of my friends have been), you would not realize that these big green leaves belong to coltsfoot.

Coltsfoot is an European native but it has a very wide boreal distribution. It is most common in disturbed wet areas, such as drainage ditches. The plant has many medicinal uses. However, it contains several toxins and may cause serious harm, including liver damage and cancer.

CYPRESS SPURGE: EUPHORBIA CYPARISSIAS

Cypress spurge forms large colonies in disturbed areas, lawns and meadows, visible now for their yellow green flowers in mass. Cypress spurge is a native of Europe that is widespread in North America. It was introduced into the USA late in the 19th Century as an ornamental but is considered to be an aggressive invasive that is difficult to eradicate.

YELLOW ROCKET: BARBARAEA VULGARIS

I have seen yellow rocket in a few places in Deering this year. The plants stand singly or in groups of a few, up to 18″ tall in full sun. With their racemes of bright yellow flowers you can’t miss them now.

Yellow rocket has been introduced into North America multiple times. The species is native to Eurasia. It is considered to be a noxious weed in some states but not invasive. It is a member of the brassica family, so think of cabbage and cresses. Young leaves are said to be edible but older leaves bitter. The flower stalk that we see this year arose from a rosette of leaves that were here last year. The flowers are pollinated by bees and flies.

DEERING’S EARLY FLOWERING ROADSIDE SHRUBS AND TREES

I can’t think of one sidewalk in Deering. Our houses tend to be set way back from the road behind a bunch of trees. Driving through the one through road you would not realize that you were in a town. Yes, there are parts of town where the neighbor’s house can be seen from your front porch or even where your house can be seen from what we loosely call ‘streets,’ often just graded dirt ways through — the woods.

This gives us our ‘rural character,’ where ancient stone walls mark roads and boundaries. The roads are then most often lined by forest and wetlands. Drivers really should watch out for bounding deer or the occasional moose on the road. Early spring can cause turtles and salamanders on the road too.

Glorious Nature!

At this time of year, spring passing quickly but still there is a display of quite pretty white flowers produced from shrubs and small trees. Looking at them as you pass by at 40-or-so miles per you might well think that they are more or less the same, so you might be surprised to know that they are not.

These early flowering shrubs and small trees are some of the earliest of the spring flowers in our town. These species do not have notable scents, unlike later opening flowers. Their flowers open before honeybees and bumblebees are flying and include wild bees and other insects.

As I have written this post over about one month, so flowering has ended for most of the species included. You can still see pin cherry and hobblebush. Chokecherry is just now beginning to flower.

Pin Cherry, Prunus virginiana

The most common of this group are cherries, pin cherry and choke cherry. In Deering the pin cherry has been blooming for quite a while now and the choke cherries will come on in a week or so. Pin cherry trees are conspicuous for the profuse production of white flowers in ‘poofs,’ short clusters, on small trees that grow in exposed places. In fact, pin cherry is intolerant of shade. Pin cherry is conspicuous along roadsides and other exposed sites here.

Pin cherry is a North American native. It’s found all across Canada, down into Wisconsin and Michigan and across into New England, as far south as the Great Smoky Mountains, where specimens reach 50 feet in height. It is also known as ‘bird cherry,’ ‘fire cherry,’ and ‘red cherry.’ I don’t know where the name ‘pin cherry’ comes from, but ‘fire cherry’ refers to the species as an early colonizer following forest fire, and ‘bird cherry’ because many upland bird species eat the fruit. As an early colonizer pin cherry provides shade for slower growing species, thus allowing them to become established. This cherry is a short-lived species, dying off as other species develop on burned sites.

The fruit of pin cherry is said to make excellent juice and jelly.

CHOKECHERRY: PRUNUS VIRGINIANA

Over the couple of weeks that I have been writing this post, early spring has given way to late May and chokecherry has begun to flower along roadsides in Deering.

Chokecherry is a North American native and is spread throughout the USA and Canada. Chokecherry is easily distinguished from pincherry by the linear or columnar arrangement of its flowers.

The name ‘chokecherry’ comes from the astringent fruit. We mostly see small shrubs, but chokecherry can often reach 20 ft in height and have a rounded crown.

The whole plant, fruit and twigs, provide food for wide range of birds and animals. It ranks third in the number of lepidopterans that feed on its leaves. These include five species of butterflies such as tiger swallowtail and red-spotted purple, and 10 species of giant silk moths such as cecropia moth, Polyphemus moth, imperial moth and io moth.  Thus this cherry is an important component of our natural landscape.

BLACK PLUM, CANADA PLUM: PRUNUS NIGRA

I have seen this plant only once in Deering. Several small trees are ranged along a rock wall to the right of the Carew House, in the heart of downtown Deering.

As near as I can tell, this is Canada Plum, the name that popped up on iNaturalist: must be so!? I have not yet seen the fruit.

Canada plum is another North American native. It is the northern most plum species. Canada plum occurs throughout New England, but it has not been recorded for New Hampshire. The location of these plants adjacent to one of Deering’s older houses suggests the possibility that it was cultivated. It is supposed to be the best plum pollinator.

The fruit of Canada Plum is described as sour, but is renowned for its use in jams and jellies.

SMOOTH SHADBUSH, SMOOTH SERVICEBERRY, ALLEGHENY SERVICEBERRY: AMELANCHIER LAEVIS

Smooth Shadbush is native to Eastern North America. The genus Amelanchier sees its greatest diversity in North America and there is at least one native species in each of the states except Hawaii, and in every Canadian province. Six species of Amelanchier occur in New England.

The common names ‘shadbush’ and ‘serviceberry’ have interesting if fanciful names. Flowering occurs when shad run in New England streams, and when the ground is thawed enough to hold burial services for those who died during the winter.

The plants are multi-trunked trees or shrubs and are common that are common along our roadsides. Plants can reach 25′ in height, and I have seen trees this tall at the Wilkins Cemetery. The white flowers of A. laevis are among the first flowers in spring. The newly opened leaves are red or purplish while flowers are still on the plant. The pollinators are bees. The fruit are small, round, edible berries that ripen to dark purplish-black in June (hence the sometimes common name of Juneberry) and resemble blueberries in size, color and taste. Berries are often used in jams, jellies and pies. But if you expect to sample them you must beat birds to them as the fruit are popular with many species of birds.

CHOKEBERRIES: ARONIA SPECIES

Aronia is a genus of multi-stemmed shrubs that tend to grow in wetlands. The genus is a member of the Rosaceae, related to pears and cherries. The three species found in New England are native here and of the three two, A. floribunda (purple chokeberry) and A. melanocarpa (black chokeberry) are known to occur in New Hampshire. Purple chokeberry is a hybrid between

Aronia is a genus of multi-stemmed shrubs that tend to grow in wetlands. The genus is a member of the Rosaceae, related to pears and cherries. The three species found in New England are native here and of the three two, A. arbutifolia (purple chokeberry) and A. melanocarpa (black chokeberry) are known to occur in New Hampshire. Purple chokeberry is a hybrid between A. arbutifolia (red chokeberry) and black chokeberry.

I have only seen chokeberry once in Deering, in the Ferris Tract wetland along Longwoods Road, and have not seen its fruit to know whether it is purple or black. Maybe I have misidentified it.

The tiny flowers do look like flowers of pin cherry but chokeberies have a multiple style and not the single style of cherries.

HOBBLEBUSH: VIBURNUM LANTANOIDES

Hobblebush plants are common in the roadside understory, especially in wet places and along the banks of brooks. It is a scraggly spreading shrub that is common in our forests. The flat topped flowers have a lacy appearance, looking a bit like hydrangeas. There are two forms of flowers, an outer ring of large, sterile flowers, and the inner disk of fertile flowers. Both forms attract pollinators. Hobblebush is host plant for the spring azure butterfly. As the season progresses pretty red fruit form, just in time to add to the beauty of our autumns.

Hobblebush is a native of eastern North American and is very common in New Hampshire. Here in Deering we have at least three species of Viburnum, but hobblebush is the most conspicuous and common. This viburnum has a bunch of common names. Of course hobblebush refers to the pendulous branches that reach to the ground and when there is a dense growth of the shrubs, it is definitely a challenge to make your way through, even for a witch (‘witch hobble’ is another name).

Actually ‘witch hobble’ doesn’t come from spell-casting ladies who wear pointy caps.  It’s a word descended from the Middle English word “withy,” which means a strong, flexible switch-like branch. It’s the same “witch” as in “witch hazel,” another withy or switch-like shrub.

Hobblebush, Viburnum lantanoides, is the odd plant out in this post. Aronia, cherries, shadbush: they are all fairly closely related members of the rose family, Rosaceae. Viburnum is quite distant from the Rosaceae, a member of the plant order Dipsacales, which includes such familiar names as honeysuckle and elderberry.

BALD EAGLE ON DEERING RESERVOIR!

This morning, around 8:30, I set out in my kayak to cross Deering Reservoir, aiming for the section of the reservoir’s shoreline that I monitor for invasive organisms. I monitor this shoreline monthly beginning May through the end of the season. This morning was my first for this year.

It was a good morning for kayaking. Little breeze, more or less calm lake – – and no boats to make waves. To get to my part of the reservoir I pass Sunderland Island. Crossing at that point can be a workout! As I approached the island I heard and then noticed a loon. AS I got closer I observed a patch of white mid way up one of the old pine trees that grow from the edge of the island.

Sure enough, that white patch was the head of a bald eagle. The first I’ve ever seen. I was allowed to approach and even move around to a different vantage point directly below it (I was wearing a hat) before the bird left.

I am told that there might be a nesting pair at the reservoir. This eagle certainly gave an air of ownership!

Here are some pictures.

THE EARLY … BEE! GETS THE POLLEN!

Native bees take advantage of pollen produced by Pussy Willow soon after snow disappears in this New Hampshire town.

This past winter’s snow is all but gone now. Just a few resistant, dirty lumps of the stuff persist in very deeply shaded spots here on Hedgehog Mountain.

Can’t say I miss it. The winter seemed long and very very dark to me. Nope. Don’t miss the snow and cold at all!

I’ve been thinking about looking for early wildflowers. We have not yet found skunk cabbage here in Deering. It should be the earliest of the spring wildflowers. Skunk cabbage does occur a few miles down the road in Francestown. Why not Deering?

Last weekend I was out with friends Mike, Kay & Stephen, and Staci & Andrew placing bird boxes on the Gregg Hill lot.

The Gregg Hill Lot, and Greg Hill, is located in the center of ‘downtown’ Deering. This 14 acre lot is the home site of some of Deering’s earliest settlers who arrived late in the 18th Century. The Gregg Family built its home atop a 1,300 ft hill, one of the highest spots in town. That hill is now known as Gregg Hill. A succession of owners occupied the Gregg Hill Lot, which is just below the summit of Gregg Hill, and for several years — 1924 to about 1960 — one of New Hampshire’s earliest skiing rope tows was located on this steep slope.

Currently the Gregg Hill lot is owned by the Town of Deering, and the town Conservation Commission is in the process of developing pollinator gardens there, while donating a conservation easement to the Piscataquog Land Conservancy. The ultimate aim is for a trail to lead from Deering Center Road, through the meadow and pollinator gardens, to a spectacular view at the summit.

While we were putting out the bird boxes on Gregg Hill, we noticed that the willows at the bottom of the slope, are Pussy Willows. And now they are flowering! A first Spring (wild) flower!

Pussy Willow — Salix discolor — is a North American native plant. Native Pussy Willow has a wide northern distribution and there are many horticultural varieties of this popular species.

Mike reminded us that Pussy Willow is dioecious: individual plants are unisexual, female or male. Indeed, we found both on the site. The flowers are botanically known as ‘catkins.’ The male catkins are at first enclosed in downy silver hairs. and so might be what one usually think of when one thinks of Pussy Willow. Male catkins are showier than the female. The yellow stamens develop from within the silvery down and produce prodigious amounts of pollen. The female catkins have many carpels with yellow styles that are divided at the tips. Both sexes have nectar glands to attract pollinators.

Various insects are attracted to Pussy Willow flowers. These include, among others, flies, beetles, wasps and bees. Native bees are important pollinators of these early flowers. We observed several native bees, maybe Mining Bees, working the male and female catkins.

In addition to Pussy Willow being a super candidates for pollinator gardens, its leaves provide a banquet for several butterfly caterpillars.

FORKED CURLS IN DEERING

About 320 species of flowering herbs, shrubs and trees have been recorded as occurring here in Deering the Conservation Commission.  I have seen most of those plants.

It is unusual for me to find a wildflower that I have not previously seen in town. Today was one of those unusual days!

On this day, early in August, I met a Forest Society land steward on  Clement Hill at the old town sand pit, now know as Petrecky Lands. This superficially unpromising piece of land was part of the old Ernst Johnson farm, which dates from way back in the early 20th Century. Like most of the land in Deering,  it was forest when the first settlers cleared land for farming late in the 18th and into the mid 19th Century. It was agriculturally poor land, and in the mid 19th Century the first wave of Deering’s settlers left town for, literally, fertile pastures in the west. The old Johnson farm has been parceled among the various Johnson children, and today much of it is protected by conservation easements.  The Petrecky land was owned by Ernst’s daughter Florence Johnson Petrecky, from whom the town acquired it for use as gravel pit. In 2011 the land was protected by a conservation easement, which is held by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

petrecky DSC_7380
Petrecky Land Conservation Easement, sand pit

The Petrecky Lands easement consists of at least three components. What you see from the road is the old, flat and treeless gravel  pit. Behind that to the right is an extensive wetland that was transformed from pasture by beavers. To the left is a wet forest.

Petrecky wet forest in spring

 

 

While the old gravel pit does not look all that inviting from the road, quite a lot of interesting flowering plants can be found growing there, plants that are adapted to life in poor sandy soil.

Hypericum gentianoides, orange grass

Lechea intermedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nuttalanthus canadensis, blue toadflax

Some of those plants include the natives orange grass (Hypericum gentianoides), blue toadflax (Nuttalanthus canadensis) and Lechea intermedia, a type of heath. At this time, early in August, orange grass is abundant and in full bloom.

 

 

In 1987 a group of Deering’s residents recorded all the plants that they could find on one day. It’s not a long list, but ‘forked blue curls,’ Trichostemma dichotoma, is on it. I have not previously seen this species.

 

Trichostemma dichotomum, forked blue curls

Trichostemma dichotomum, forked blue curls

Trichostemma dichotomum, blue curls

Trichostemma dichotomum is native to North America, found in Easterm Canada and the US as far west as Texas. It is a denizen of sandy, so called waste, sites. Like the Petrecky Land. It is a low growing annual plant, reproducing by seed, and one of the mints. You can see the ‘mintiness’ of the plant from the square stem and, especially, the lower ‘lip’on the flower that is a good place for pollinators — native bees — to land. The stamens, the male parts, curl over the lip in such a way that the pollinator can get a good dose of pollen.

Go out to the Petrecky Land, on Clement Hill Road. As you walk across the ‘waste’ sandy area you might be pleasantly surprised at the pretty things you will see!

 

Entoloma abortivum: a mushroom parasite

One of the first mushrooms I learned to identify was Entoloma abortivum.  It is readily recognized because the typical mushrooms — with a stalk and a cap — are accompanied by aborted (hence the species name) mushrooms. The aborted masses are white and up to 3″ in diameter.

The aborted mushrooms are variously known as  ‘ground prunes,’ hunter’s heart,’ ‘shrimp of the woods,’ and, in Mexico, totlcoxcatl.  Back then, in the late sixties, we thought  that the aborted masses were an expression of the Entoloma mushroom, but in the mid 1970’s it was determined that two mushroom fungi are involved. Later it was determined that the Entoloma was parasitizing another mushroom, a species of Armillaria — the tree parasite called ‘honey  mushroom’ that is always found on wood long after the tree-host is dead.

Armillaria mellea, the honey mushroom
Armillaria mellea, the honey mushroom

The Entoloma is a decomposer. It breaks down litter in the forest and it is not mycorrhizal with trees or other plants. At least around Deering the Armillaria is more common than the Entoloma.

 

 

The Entoloma is one of the ‘pink spored’ mushrooms. It occurs on  soil, and its gills are decurrent (that is, they run down the stalk from the cap).

There is a literature about the edibility of this mushroom. Both the Entoloma and the Armillaria are edible. However, I will only emphasize that some of the pink-spored Entoloma species are toxic, and some species that have brown spores(Pholiota species) look like honey mushroom but are also toxic.

The only  constant rule with mushroom hunting is: never eat what you do not know for 100% certain.

You can read more about Entoloma abortivum at:

https://botit.botany.wisc.edu/toms_fungi/sep2006.html

For me, the interrelationship of these two mushrooms is one of the fascinating stories that we find in our forests.  Finding Entoloma abortivum after all these years is a treat for me.

THE ASH-TREE BOLETE AND ITS APHID FRIENDS

First, allow me to orient you with a little bit of Mycology 101. Specifically two basic sorts of mushrooms.

The mushroom is the result of sexual reproduction. The process? Not sexy. A couple of nuclei get together in a special cell and the process cascades: nuclear fusion and meiosis —  where basically the genes get sorted — and finally a spore containing the recombined genes forms. What you see in a mushroom is the launching platform for the spore. The spores of all mushrooms are born externally on specialized cells. How and where those cells are placed distinguishes two major groups of mushrooms.

In one group the cells line thin sheets, or gills. So, if you look on the underside of the cap of one of these mushrooms you see the edges of a lot of gills radiating from the center, the stalk. The common supermarket mushroom is one of these, so is matsutake.

In another group of mushrooms the cells that bear the spores form inside tubes. If you look on the underside of one of these mushrooms you will see tiny pores. These are colloquially called boletes and the most famous bolete is the Cep.

This story is about one kind of bolete.

Many boletes and other gilled mushrooms form associations with the roots of trees and other plants to share nutrients — called mycorrhizae. It’s a  mutualism wherein all partners get — and give — something. Some people think that the fungus body,  filaments radiating through the substratum that you never see, connect trees and mushrooms in a kind of messaging system. These are good guys.

The ash-tree bolete — Boletinellus merulioides — is not a good guy.

At least not good for the ash trees.

Boletinellus merulioides is not mycorrhizal. It is in a symbiotic relationship with the ‘leafcurl ash aphid’ or ‘wooly ash aphid,’ Meliarhizophagus fraxinifolii. An ash pathogen.

This aphid has a complicated life, but it is inextricably tied up with several species of ash trees. Eggs, which overwinter in laid in cracks of the bark, hatch in the spring. After hatching, the aphids feed first on shoots, and then a new generation feeds on newly developing ash leaves. The leaves become distorted and ultimately form ‘pseudogalls,’ within which there is another generation of aphids. Eventually, as early as August, some of those aphids fly off and lay eggs. During summer  some of the females change their behavior. They begin to feed on roots of ash trees. A new generation of males and females develops from those root-feeding aphids to complete the cycle.

But some of the root population remains in the soil all year, feeding on roots. They form a symbiotic relationship with the ash-tree bolete.  The mushroom’s mycelium protects  aphid by producing little knots of tissue around them. In return the honeydew produced by the aphid nourishes the bolete.

The ash ash aphid is native to North America but it has become a problem on European ash trees.