IT’S SPRING IN THE PASTURE   2 comments

Map of Texas highlighting Austin County

Map of Texas highlighting Austin County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No mushrooms. So strange.  I can only presume that the weather becoming warmer has caused a hiatus between winter blooming fungi <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fungus>  and the hot, hotter, hottest-loving fungi.

Meanwhile, the pasture  is exploding with  grasses and forbs <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forb> –some of them bloom.  As I have a perpetually itchy [camera] trigger-finger, I decided to document every species of blooming plant that I find on these 22 acres.  I wish I had my Texas Wildflowers* book with me at the cabin, but I don’t, so I used a variety of booklets and books to try to ID these wildflowers.  I’ll list them below for you, but they are not the best resources for this type of work.  The funniest–as in weird for these purposes–guide I’ve used is Range & Pasture Weed Identification Guide  produced by Dow AgroSciences .  It ID’s these plants so they can tell you which of their herbicides will kill it, while I am out to appreciate what is there.  However, I do not have to make my living from cattle .  So my perspective is different.

AN ASIDE: I didn’t even know until I moved out to a place near Industry, Texas some years back that cattle won’t eat forbs.  OK, another step back: I didn’t even know that a forb is a broad leaf plant and is not the same as a grass.  Texas Master Naturalist training taught me that.  Cattle eat grasses.  So much to learn in this world.

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*Texas Wildflowers by Campbell & Lynn Loughmiller (UT Press).  May be out of print.  Try to find it at bookstore of LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center (Austin, TX)

More books on Texas wildflowers:

Howard Garrett‘s Plants for Texas ISBN: 0-292-72788-7 (UT Press)

PS  Howard Garrett’s books were highly recommended to me by an old-time gardener/farmer from Shelby, TX, who must have been one of the earlier organic farmers in this state

Texas in Bloom: Photographs from Texas Highways Magazine, (Texas A&M University Press) c 1986

Native Texas Gardens, by Sally & Andy Wasowski, ISBN 0-88415-512-7(Gulf Publishing Co, Houston, TX)  c 1997

NOTE:  All these books have much to recommend them, but none has everything.  That’s why I have these and many more.

FURTHER NOTE!:  I frequently shop various Half-Price Bookstores in Texas for rare & special books (like on mushrooms or Texas’ turtles).  Many of the books will be out of print, however, Texas’ turtles and its forbs probably don’t change too much over the years.  I wouldn’t want you to be jealous, but I do have Red-eared Slider turtles in my pond since we had all those rains this winter & I actually have a pond again (wonder how they knew to come here?).

Red Slider by Lakiandloki on Wikipedia

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For Newcomers to Texas & USA ~ What’s Poison Ivy?   Leave a comment

A little more on the topic of safeguarding yourself from Poison Ivy~~

There are many adverse things that we cannot control in our lives, but we can do some things to protect ourselves from Poison Ivy.  The first is to recognize it and I can help you with that right here right now.  The second is to get rid of the plant(s)–you will have to take care of that yourself.  Of course, there is another big option and that is to avoid it.  That can be pretty difficult to do unless you know where it is.

WHERE DOES POISON IVY GROW?

According to Wikipedia, “Poison ivy grows throughout much of North America, including the Canadian Maritime provinces, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and all U.S. states east of the Rockies, as well as in the mountainous areas of Mexico . . . it is normally found in wooded areas, especially along edge areas. It also grows in exposed rocky areas and in open fields and disturbed areas. It can grow as a forest understory plant, although it is only somewhat shade tolerant.[1] The plant is extremely common in suburban and exurban areas of New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and southeastern United States.”

I can testify from my own experience, that it is prolific in Texas and Wisconsin, also. So I think one could guess that it can be anywhere outside in a country-type location where you might want to walk, ride a horse, ATV, etc. or mow.

RECOGNIZING POISON IVY

I realized when I moved to the country  (I live on the edge of the woods) that many plants look somewhat like Poison Ivy.  I needed to know exactly what the difference is between Poison Ivy and somewhat similar plants.  Writing this blog made me wonder how  I could help people new to areas where Poison Ivy might be found if they also want to ID this “noxious weed.”  It has helped me to take the time to compare Poison Ivy to other plants growing in the same area.

This slide show contains photos I took of similar ubiquitous plants.  When I took these photos, I thought of Goldilocks, but in this case it was thinking that this leaf edge is too smooth, that leaf is too deeply cut, this one has too many leaflets, and that leaf is too thick and brittle.  It might help you to check out these identifiers:

1. The rule of thumb is “leaves of 3, let it be.”  Poison Ivy almost always has 3 leaflets per stem, whereas Virginia Creeper has 5 leaflets and many other plants have just 2 leaflets.

2. Poison Ivy leaves are not hairy or velvety and do not have thorns or bristles.

3. Check the edges of the leaves.  Poison Ivy leaves are irregular (usually indented/cut in) or slightly serrated, but not deeply.  They are not as serrated as the Blackberry or Pepper vine, for instance.

4.  Look how the Poison Ivy leaf is veined compared to other similar plants.  There is a central vein dividing the leaflet in two and each lesser vein is perpendicular off the main vein.

5.  Consider the thinness/opacity and softness/stiffness of  Poison Ivy compared to the Oak  and Passion flower leaves.

6.  Consider how wide or thin it is compared to other leaves.

7. Also note that there are a variety of looks to Poison Ivy leaves in the different pictures.  That complicates the learning!

8. Poison Ivy can be a small plant, a large bush, or a vine.  Wikipedia writes, “The plants can grow as a shrub up to about 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) tall, as a groundcover 10–25 cm (3.9–9.8 in) high, or as a climbing vine on various supports. Older vines on substantial supports send out lateral branches that may at first be mistaken for tree limbs.”

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LEARN MORE ABOUT POISON IVY

There are many, many websites about Poison Ivy.

I particularly trust Wikipedia always, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxicodendron_radicans

This is a government source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/poisonivyoakandsumac.html

http://mdc.mo.gov/landwater-care/plant-management/nuisance-plant-management/poison-ivy-control

http://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2012/04/06/danger-poison-in-the-garden/

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/life/botany/poison-ivy.htm

WHERE CAN I ESCAPE FROM POISON IVY

Poison ivy and its relatives are virtually unknown in Europe.  I’ve heard that it is not in Japan.

Himalayas & other mountainous areas.  Wikipedia says, “Poison ivy rarely grows at altitudes above 1,500 m (4,900 ft).”

It does not grow in the desert or other very drylocales.

Probably in the Arctic Circle and Antarctica.

SUMMING UP

Recognizing Poison Ivy in the landscape is not always simple.  There are so many things to look at and enjoy when we are outside.  We want to look up and around.  I find it difficult to keep my eyes on the ground (unless I’m looking for mushrooms!) when there are many interesting things to see when you look around, and up as well as down.  These days I wear boots and long pants when I’m outside, even though it is already getting hot.  This way I don’t have to worry so much about brushing against thorny plants, Poison Ivy, snakes, or accidentally stepping into you-know-what!

Happy trekking!  My next blog will show you why you WANT to be outside.

The Reluctant Forb Killer   1 comment

It is a sad thing for someone who wants to be totally organic to have to resort to a weed killer.  I used it today only for self-preservation—that is, if I want to continue to walk around outside this summer with some reasonable impunity, I cannot have poison ivy in the area where I continually walk.  I know this from numerous extended experiences.

It seems that I turned my head these last few weeks.  Yes, I did.  I was thrilling over the Bluebonnets in the pasture.  Boy, do I have the photographs to show for it.  I could easily put someone into a catatonic stupor if I showed them all. 

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We Texans are such suckers for our Bluebonnets—Indian Paintbrushes, too, and Winecups, Phlox, Verbena, Coreopsis 

Indian Paintbrush & pink Phlox

Indian Paintbrush & pink Phlox

(and all the other DYF—damn yellow flowers, as the ranchers say).

Poppies or Phlox AND Bluebonnets

But we really topple over the Bluebonnets.

After all the rain and now the warmth (70s & low 80s), the wildflowers AND everything else have been showing their pleasure at arrival of Spring.  The everything else where I live includes VINES: Greenbriars, grapevines, Willow Vine, Coralberry vine, Coral honeysuckle, Asian honeysuckle, Blackberries, Crossvine, Carolina Jessamine, Passion-flower, Virginia-creeper, Peppervine, Cherokee rose, Rattanvine, and certainly not least, Poison-ivy/Poison oak.  While my head was turned, I am suddenly overwhelmed with berry vines, hateful Greenbriar, 20-30 foot long climbing rose branches blooming like crazy, red-orange new growth of Peppervine, and cleverly inter-mingling with those and grapevines are well over 100 poison-ivy starts.  I must credit the wonderful book, Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines by Russell Stevens & Chuck Coffrey for helping me to learn the names of the vines choking my trees and covering the fences.  You won’t find it through bookstores I don’t think.  But you can order it here: http://www.noble.org/webapps/plantimagegallery/Woodies.aspx or call 580.224.6500

With the previously stated reluctance, I finally purchased the smallest bottle of the special Poison-ivy killing Round-Up.  $7 spent & covered a bit more than ½ of the side yard.  In the dark of night, I went to Wal-Mart and bought the next size bottle.  $24!!! For the already diluted formula.  The dread of using it is mixed with the total aggravation of spending that much money.  Think of the lovely American Beauty-berry bush or Redbud tree I could have bought instead.

Okay, I have about ½ bottle left even though there were some horrific amounts of poison ivy on one side of a grouping of old, old Yaupons totally covered in grapevines and Greenbriar (hate that stuff, but I didn’t spray it!).  I’ve been told that you often have to spray twice to effect a kill down to the roots.  We shall see.  I noticed that the leaves of some of the plants I sprayed with that first small bottle had curled inward.  So they have been affected.

I ended my day by transplanting bulbs that won’t bloom because they are now in too much shade to a sunny area.  I feel like I’m giving them new life so I feel somewhat better.  Tomorrow, I will add some ancient Oxblood lilies and Amaryllis bulbs I’ve owned for many years to that same plot.

OK. BLUE MUSHROOMS. FOR REAL?   Leave a comment

Look I will show you and you can tell me what you would call it.  Really.  Because I don’t know what to call it.  I cannot make an ID.  I hope you can.

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[aren’t there some beautiful colors in this mushroom?]

I just  bought Peterson’s Field Guide: Mushrooms by Vera & Kent McKnight.  (Good ol’ Half-Price Bookstore). Plenty big book, in fact, that might be the problem. Too many mushrooms Wouldn’t you think if you have a mushroom with a blue-ish green-ish cap and flesh-colored gills that one could find the correct name for it pretty quickly.  But that has not been the case for me.

I’ve consulted the other two books I’ve told you about, the MushroomExpert.com, and a great new interactive website–http://www.mycokey.com/newMycoKeySite/MycoKeyIdentQuick.html.  It is the work of  Jens H. Petersen, University of Aarhus, Denmark & Thomas Læssøe, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.  Back to the problem of the moment, even plugging the identifying criteria of my mystery mushroom into the interactive Danish website, I didn’t get the correct identification.

So far the closest I have gotten is to suggest that it might be a Clitocybe.  It fits the Clitocybe odora (Anise Funnelcap) very well except I didn’t even get a hint of anise.  In fact, I seem to never sniff a mushroom that smells any different that a ‘store bought.’

Additional notes to guide you: obviously it is growing near Pines, and it is also sandy soil.  The weather has been rainy, cloudy and temperatures have been between 50-70 F.  It is February in south-central Texas.

I am hoping there is a mushroom expert that will be able to see my semi-macro photos and solve the mystery.

A Really Weird Mushroom: Linderia columnatus   Leave a comment

Four Orange Columns

 This title is weird enough but I could have said Four Orange Columns Coming Up from an Egg—even further—adding that the four orange columns support a crown or a halo.  Can I take you a step further and say that this is describing a mushroom (for Pete’s sake!! I hear you say…or something a bit stronger).  It’s called Linderia columnatus.

Linderia columnatus

It is definitely one mushroom that won’t be confused with any other mushroom…well, except for this Mutinus elegans (Really? Elegant?).  It is possible that you might assume this mushroom below is a deformed example of the columnatus.

Mutinus elegans. Grossed out yet?

So this is my story.  Walking along the cow/deer path on top of the dam one day last month I saw something orange a bit ahead of me & kicked it because I thought it was a piece of plastic.  However it crumpled when I did that, so I was confused about what it was.

A few days later, I saw a number of white and brown balls in an entirely different search area.  I began digging them up and then cutting them in half to see if I could ID them.

Some kind of very white puffball--Lycoperdon?

There were several Lycoperdon marginatum (I believe) and many Pisolithus tinctorius in various stages between just coming up and dying.

Pisolithus tinctorius-old

Pisolithus tinctorius-young-cut in half
mushroom ball--dug up intact

mushroom ball (Linderia)--dug up intact

white mushroom ball cut in half--in situ

white mushroom ball cut in half--in situ

Then I cut another one in half.  It was entirely different and I felt that I had cut through a living egg because there were several identifiable parts to this interior—including different colors.  Totally weirded out, I left it laying there after I photographed it (somewhat obsessively I think).

Two days later I returned to this area to see what was new.  It is within close walking distance from the cabin and it practically always has something interesting to see.  Of course it is not hard for Mother Nature to provide something interesting & new for me, since I am so new to this absorbing preoccupation (more about the importance of newness in an upcoming blog).

I was totally shocked to see what was happening to the “egg” that had weirded me out so.  Both halves were growing.  I had not “killed” it—whatever it was.  And boy was it strange.  But there was something about it now that jogged my memory.  I went through every page of Metzler’s Texas Mushrooms and finally found Linderia columnatus.  However, it is described there as being pink.   It says the four arms are joined at top.  And it says it smells bad.

2 days later-white mushroom ball cut in half--in situ

2 days later-white mushroom ball cut in half--in situ

Now I have found and photographed numerous—both by the lake & in the meadow.  They are all orange (to me, at least), have four columns but are not joined—but create a ring at the top.  I can’t smell anything but they DO have that disgusting looking olive-green slime that is supposed to attract flies & bugs.

Lake trail Linderia--vulval sac revealed

Lake trail Linderia--vulval sac revealed

I have to keep telling myself there is beauty in all nature and there is a fascination about this mushroom.  When I really look at that papery white egg that this mushroom evolves from (how come it does not get dirty?) and the spongy orange of the columns and ring, I have to admire it.  How in the world did it evolve this way?

I will tell you that I also think it is an injustice to call this group of mushrooms Stinkhorns.  Really.

Beautiful Poisonous Mushrooms   Leave a comment

Amanita citrina under a giant oak tree

Amanita citrina under the giant oakmushroom, learning mycology

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So, it has been both exciting and scary mushroom-learning-wise for the last two days. But good & important learning. I bought a new book (a shout-out to Half-Price Books–I LOVE you!). The new book is The Practical Mushroom Encyclopedia by Peter Jordan & Steven Wheeler. It wasn’t really what I was looking for because the book’s emphasis is on the consuming of mushrooms. It turns out, though, that the pictures are really great (multiple pictures of each family, various ages/poses/appearances and attractively arranged) so it has been more helpful in a lot of ways than Texas Mushrooms by the Metzlers who usually show just one image of each mushroom.

The scary part has been finding out through these two books that many mushrooms I have found so far are toxic/poisonous or possibly downright deadly. It’s really okay because I HAVE been very careful about not putting my hands in my mouth until I have washed them twice with 2 different kinds of soap…just in case…  That’s because I know that I don’t know anything (almost) about mushrooms (or the rest of life). But it still has made me feel a little yucky to know that I may have gotten rather up close & personal with the DESTROYING ANGEL (Amanita virosa) or the DEATH CAP (Amanita phalloides)!

Which mushroom is this?

Good view of gills & stem, Amanita right?

Maybe I am being overly dramatic. Since I took these pictures on one of the first days that I lived here and didn’t know I needed to dig around it to see if there was a volva cap. Maybe one of you experienced mycologists out there will tell me it is totally innocuous.

I don’t think you can say the same thing about the ones below, although I do realize there is a big difference between “death is almost a certainty” and “poisonous/toxic/make you really sick.”Amanita brunnescens dark-profile

Amanita brunnescens-topo view-with universal veil patches

I have a question: what if I handle one of the really highly poisonous mushrooms & accidentally wipe my eyes or my nose? Could that be dangerous at all?

And don’t forget the very attractive Amanita citrina–such a pretty yellow color, so attractive in a group around the giant oak, but also called the False Death Cap (it is false because it is not deadly–but it is tagged ‘not edible.’)

Amanita citrina in situ- close-up

close-up (universal veil washed off in rains)

Last word: Texas Mushroom authors say don’t eat little brown mushrooms! The Practical Mushroom Encyclopedia says don’t bother with any mushroom that has the volval cup. My idea was only to ID mushrooms. I really never thought I would find a chanterelle or cep bolet. If I do, I will be damned sure that I really, really, really know it’s ok before I take it to the kitchen.

It’s too bad to end today’s blog this way, but my next blog will feature some of the hilarious mushrooms I’ve found–who knew they could be so weird!Linderia columnatus

What?! A Lactating Mushroom?   1 comment

Wahoo! A first for me!

Fun to find & see it happen


I guess that is a funny way to say it. Lactarius evidently really means that latex is excreted when this genus is cut, rather than referring to “milk” as I thought. Oh well, it was still very exciting to finally find a mushroom that did “bleed” latex when scratched.

I hope that some reader can identify exactly which lactarius this is. The book, Texas Mushrooms, by Susan & Van Metzler does not seem to have this particular one. Here are other jpgs of the lactarius taken today:

First sighting

Leaves cleaned away

Showing attachment to rotting branch

Waiting for spore color

I found this mushroom and 2 others (which I will share in next post) under the same general oak/pine/yaupons where I have searched before with some good luck. I have been blessed with all kinds of great finds right outside my cabin’s doors. I found a bolete with lemon yellow pores soon after I moved in. The bolete is one of the few distinct species of mushroom I already knew. The other is the Chanterelle in the Cantharellaceae family. That’s because my friends in France taught me to look for them especially (the Cepe Bolet, Chanterelle & Trumpets de Mort were the favorites & also the easiest to recognize as safe) when we were in the Ardeche. What good times those were.

My surprise with the bolete I found is that it had actually melted the next time I saw it– I suppose due to the rains we’ve been having –and because I cut it and exposed the underside. I felt terrible. I’ve only found another two since then, so they seem to be rather rare around here, at least in the fall and winter. Can’t wait to see what I find in the spring. Right now I can’t walk out the door on the west without walking on a Russula (that I have not also been able to place its exact species–and it could be the Emetica–YUCK!). Here are a few I’ve photographed in the last few weeks:

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. If you can tell me exactly which Russula these are, I would be pleased to have that mystery solved.

Check out my next blog–I think I am ready to just put out a slide show of all the different families I’ve found so far, even if I cannot ID all the specific species yet.