Field Journal: 20-26 January 2019

We had a bit of a dry spell at Roy's Redwoods this week, which put a damper on the mushrooms. That doesn't mean they're absent, just that fewer new ones are emerging. I'd signed up for the OneTam Fungus Bioblitz (Late Winter Edition) at Roy's Redwoods, to be held on Saturday of this week, so I took a break from mushrooms early in the week and spent some time peeking under logs.

Juvenile Yellow-Eyed Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica)

I'm still seeing a lot of the lungless salamanders (family Plethodontidae) that call Roy's Redwoods home: Arboreal, California Slender, and Yellow-Eyed Ensatinas. They're not always easy to spot. They hang out under woody debris during daylight hours, and even the orange-bellied Ensatinas are remarkably well-camouflaged on damp leaf litter. The juveniles are especially tiny, often measuring an inch (2.5 cm) or less in length, and their speckled backs offer additional camouflage.

Millipede, Family Parajulidae (?)

I often find millipedes and salamanders under the same bit of wood. They share similar habitat requirements due to the fact that both are in danger of desiccation when humidity drops and/or the temperature rises. Unlike spiders and insects, millipedes don't have a waxy cuticle to keep them from drying out, so they hide away in damp places during the day.

Hanging Slime Mold (Badhamia utricularis) Plasmodium

This beautifully-arranged blob is a slime mold, which (despite its name) is not actually a fungus, but instead an amoeba - a Protist! What you see above is the feeding stage of this organism, which is known as a plasmodium. It's actually a single cell, like a giant sack of cytoplasm with many nuclei. The plasmodium is moving very slowly across the surface of this log, and its fan shape helps it cover more surface area.

Hanging Slime Mold (Badhamia utricularis) Plasmodium

This close-up of the plasmodium shows areas where it's more densely concentrated. This is where the slime mold has found a food source: a crust fungus, which can be seen in the previous photo as a tan-to-whitish crust on the end of the log. The thick, ropy lines of plasmodium radiating from these areas of concentration transport the nutrients to the bulk of the organism, fueling its growth.

Slime molds can be difficult to identify in their plasmodial forms. If conditions are right, the plasmodium will eventually transform into fruiting structures known as sporangia, which are much easier to identify. The only reason I know the identity of this plasmodium is because I went back and observed it almost daily until it transformed (see next week's journal entry!)

Leptonia pigmentosipes

The Fungi Bioblitz on Saturday was phenomenally awesome. I didn't think it could get much better than the first Fungus Bioblitz I attended back in December, but Lisette Arellano and her crack team of co-workers, volunteers, and mycologists really outdid themselves this time. Notable changes from the last event included:

  1. Organizers divided the area to be covered (Roy's Redwoods and the adjacent French Ranch Open Space Preserve,) so that each team was assigned a discrete territory;
  2. Each team was supplied with a collection basket, along with a small plastic tackle box for tiny, delicate mushrooms;
  3. OneTam also supplied free gloves for all of the volunteers, as well as a hand-washing station at the trailhead equipped with generous amounts of Tecnu (there is SO MUCH poison oak;) and
  4. Notepads and colored pencils were on offer for any volunteers who wanted to sketch their observations.

We started at the trailhead with a briefing about observing and identifying mushrooms. They used big printouts of my art for this part, and it looked damn good, if I do say so myself. (And I do!)

"Types of Gill Attachment in Mushrooms." Copic Pen & Marker
"Types of Cap Shape in Mushrooms." Copic Pen & Marker
Cherry-Red Wax Cap (Hygrocybe laetissima)

After the briefing, we split up into teams (each led by a mycologist) and went on our merry way in search of mushrooms. Our team was assigned a portion of the Roy's Redwoods Loop Trail south of Meadow Trail. The first mushrooms we spotted were a troop of Cherry-Red Wax Caps growing near the creek under the redwoods along Meadow Trail. I didn't photograph most of the mushrooms our team found - partially because I wanted to give less-experienced team members more opportunity to practice photographing mushrooms, and partially because I was busy listening to the mycologist.

Western Black Elfin Saddle (Helvella vespertina) and Hypomyces cervinigenus

But there were some mushrooms that we all photographed, like the trio of Elfin Saddles above. The black-capped individual on the right is what a normal H. vespertina looks like. The two on the left have been colonized by Hypomyces cervinigenus, a parasitic fungus. The buff color of the specimen on the far left is from the parasite's spores; the white one in the middle hasn't produced spores yet.

Specimen Table

At noon, we all headed to the San Geronimo Valley Community Center. The specimens we'd collected were laid out on tables for the mycologists to identify while the rest of us enjoyed our lunches outside.

Fat Jack (Suillus caerulescens)

After lunch, we all gathered around the tables to ooh and ahh (and photograph.) The specimens were divided according to species and laid out on paper plates and coffee filters, on which the mycologists had written identifications.

Genus Tricholoma

Like I said - it was a blast! I met a lot of friendly folks, had some very interesting conversations (mushroom dyes! biohacking! bioluminescence!), and learned a lot more about the fungi of Roy's Redwoods. I'm definitely looking forward to next year's fungus bioblitzes!

Previously: 13 - 19 January 2019

Next: 27 January - 02 February 2019 - Slime Mold Edition

See also: