Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Foxfire Woods, Allen County

      Just a few short miles from our last hiking destination, Vandolah Nature Preserve, is Foxfire Woods.  So it was only logical that upon leaving Vandolah we make the short drive for another hiking adventure.  The weather was (for once) very mild, so why not?!
Foxfire Woods Natural Area
      Foxfire Woods was gifted to Acres in 1974 from Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Poe, making it the first established ACRES Land Trust nature preserve in Allen County.  These woods are named after "foxfire," a general term for fungus that glows in the dark.
Turkey Tail, a decay fungus feeding on rotten wood
      Working under the assumption that this preserve is named "Foxfire" because there is glowing foxfire fungus here, I was determined to find some.  It had rained recently (finally!) so things were a little more moist and fungus was a bit easier to spot.  However, I had one great was daytime.  If there was glowing fungus here, I would have to find it in it's non-glowing form.  

Slime mold plasmodium.
Like the name implies, slime molds appear as gelatinous "slime." However, the "mold" part of their name is a lie. Slime mold is a protist.  Fungi are molds, but slimes are not. Get it? Me neither.

 Like fungi, slimes contribute to the decomposition of dead vegetation by feeding on decaying plant matter, as well as tiny microorganisms within. Unlike fungi, slimes move! When food is plentiful, a slime mold exists as a single-celled organism.  But when food is in short supply slime molds congregate and start moving as a single body, called a plasmodium. When the weather is hot and dry for an extended period the plasmodium creates a tough outer layer, as seen above, to protect the cells within until better conditions for growth return. Predatory slime mold plasmodiums can move at speeds up to 1 millimeter per hour (where's the fire?!) seeking bacteria or fungi to consume. Another difference between slime molds and fungi is that slimes engulf and ingest their food as they flow over it.  If it turns out to be inedible, they eject it.  What an amazing creature!!
      So, I decided my best approach would be to photograph every type of fungus, protist, or mold I could find.  I would then do my research and find out which one of them was the mysterious glowing fungus.  

I've discovered that it's very difficult to identify fungus that is old, dry and crusty from months of being cooked by the hot, burning sun.  I'm sure these shelf fungi used to be more attractive than these week-old-hamburger-patty looking things.
Is it moss?  Is it algae?
Did you know...there are more than 12,500 species of mosses and more than
7,000 species of green algae.  
Milk-White Toothed Polypore
So what is the difference between moss and algae?
Even though it is believed that moss developed directly from algae around 350 million years ago, algae and moss each have their own scientific classification.  Moss is classified as a bryophyte, a type of tiny plant suited to moist, but land-based, conditions.  Algae is a eukaryote, a single-celled plant generally growing with others in clusters.   Moss looks fibrous or feathered up close, and when germinating moss puts up thin stems containing reproductive spores and sometimes tiny leaves.  Algae have no threadlike structures or leaves, but rather spread as a clump of living cells. Algae usually looks like a slimy, wet mass, often green in color. 

      So do any of these fungi, molds, algae, or protists glow in the dark??  After hours of strenuous research, the answer is.... probably not.  These are the most common foxfire producing fungi...

Armillaria mellea or Honey Fungus
Mycena chlorophos or Pixies' Parasol
Panellus stipticus or Bitter Oyster
Omphalotus olearius or Jack o'Lantern Mushroom
      And none of them look like anything caught by my camera at Foxfire Woods.  I'd be a liar if I didn't admit to a bit of disappointment.  However, this gives me a very good reason to return to Foxfire woods, perhaps in the fall?  And definitely after dark!  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Vandolah Nature Preserve, Allen County

      My hiking adventures are quickly coming to an end.  I originally set out to visit, photograph, and blog about 27 Acres Land Trust preserves. After today's visit to Vandolah Nature Preserve, only 5 sites remain on my list!
Vandolah Nature Preserve
      Evelynn, General, and I thoroughly enjoyed our time spent at Vandolah today!  The terrain was interestingly varied, taking us through meadowlands...

remnants of former farmland
 to hilly bluffs...
overlooking Cedar Creek
 down steep ravines...
carved out by melting glaciers nearly 16,000 years ago
 and up high escarpments...
 I was going a bit slower than the young and spry...
  I said it was for photography purposes, but really, I couldn't feel my legs!
 along river-side paths...
Cedar Creek is the largest tributary of the St. Joseph's River.
 to Interstate 69.  Yep, that's right...
Part of the Vandolah preserve is immediately adjacent to the furiously speeding traffic of I-69.  An interesting influx of modern life into the quiet of nature's woodlands.  The sounds of the highway are prevalent wherever you roam throughout this preserve...not altogether a bad thing when you are as directionally challenged as I am!
      And through all of these scenic twists and turns, we found many summertime wildflowers.  Hiking during the summer months, I've noticed an abundance of green fauna -above, below, around- but a decline in the floral variety.  We were happy to find quite an array of flowers today.
Bull Thistle
Did you know: the Bull Thistle is a relative of the sunflower.  In it's 1st year, Bull Thistle is a low-growing group of prickly leaves like the kind I used to step on with bare feet as a kid, ouch!  In it's second year the stems grow up to 6 feet tall and sprout a lovely, although dangerous looking, purple flower. 
Cutleaf Teasel
Cut-leaved teasel was brought into North America as early as the 1700’s by European colonists that used the spiny heads on spinning wheel spindles to raise the nap of fabric.  The roots of the Teasel plant have been found by some to be beneficial in the treatment of Lyme disease.
Moth Mullein, or Verbascum Blattaria
Moth Mullein has long been known to be an effective cockroach repellent, and the name
 blattaria is actually derived from the Latin word for cockroach, “blatta."

In the Days of the Golden Rod
by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Across the meadow in brooding shadow
I walk to drink of the autumn's wine­
The charm of story, the artist's glory,
To-day on these silvering hills is mine;
On height, in hollow, where'er I follow,
By mellow hillside and searing sod,
Its plumes uplifting, in light winds drifting,
I see the glimmer of golden-rod.

In this latest comer the vanished summer
Has left its sunshine the world to cheer,
And bids us remember in late September
What beauty mates with the passing year.
The days that are fleetest are still the sweetest,
And life is near to the heart of God,
And the peace of heaven to earth is given
In this wonderful time of the golden-rod. 
Wild Bergamot, or Bee Balm
Wild Bergamot has a long history of use as a medicinal plant by Native Americans, including the Blackfoot Indians, from which my husband's family is descended.  The Blackfoot recognized the plant's strong antiseptic action, and used poultices of the plant for skin infections and minor wounds, and tea to treat mouth and throat infections. Bee balm is the natural source of thymol, the primary active ingredient in modern commercial mouthwash formulas.  Not to be overlooked is the use of bergamot as a carminative herb by Native Americans to treat excessive flatulence. 
      Along with these spectacular examples of summertime wildflower specimen, we also discovered some things that reminded us of the quickly approaching autumn season.  This summer's exceptional dryness and heat has caused some premature leaf drop, and even some fall-like colors.

Sycamore leafAnother name for Sycamore is Buttonwood. This common name arose from the fact that sycamore wood was historically difficult to split and generally hard to work with. It was therefore commonly used for butcher blocks and buttons.
Buckeye leaf
Buckeyes are known as early leaf-droppers, but July is reallllly early.
I wonder what this means for the rest of our autumn season? Read about our previous Buckeye experience here.
Honey Locust seed pods
This isn't the first run-in we've had with honey locust.  We discovered some interesting
 facts about this type of tree after hiking here.
      And just when we thought we had seen as much of Indiana's natural splendor as the Vandolah Nature Preserve had to offer, another little surprise was waiting for us on the trail out.
Do you see him?
Evelynn sure did, and that's the last I saw of her!
Common Garter Snake
Too bad Evelynn didn't stick around, this guy was friendly enough to
let me pick him up with a stick.  For a small snake, he was heavier that he looks.
It was probably for the best...I'm sure General would have done his best have a snake-snack.
      When I caught up with Evelynn and General, they were all the way back to the car! Thus drawing to a conclusion another exciting day in the woods.  Even though I have only 5 more required stops to make on my hiking tour, I am sure my hiking adventures won't stop there.  Until then...see you at the next stop!