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!  

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