I saw so many slime molds this week that I had to split it into two separate journal entries. January & February are action-packed months here in Roy's Redwoods. Winter mushrooms and slime molds are plentiful and easy to find, as are moisture-loving animals like salamanders, millipedes, and snails. But the days are growing longer, and evergreen trees are starting to get in on that action too.
By action, I mean sex. And by sex, I mean flowers.
It's easy to tell when the Coast Redwood trees are pollenating, because the male cones tend to drop off the tree once they've released their pollen. Fresh bunches of male cones like the one pictured above still hold a lot of pollen; smack one against the ground, and you'll see a cloud of yellow dust rise. The female (seed) cones - each about an inch (2.5 cm) long - will remain on branches high in the tree until autumn, when they'll begin falling to the ground with the first rains. Coast Redwood trees are monoecious: Both male and female cones are borne by the same tree.
The Peppernuts (aka California Bay Laurel) are flowering, too. Peppernuts have perfect flowers: Each flower has both male (stamen) and female (pistil) parts. Pollenated flowers develop into drupes: Fleshy fruit surrounded by a thin skin, with one big seed (stone) in the middle. Cherries, mangos, olives, and coffee are drupes, and so is avocado - a relative of the Peppernut.
Hygrocybe season is at its peak, and the Cherry-Red Wax Cap is its mascot here in Roy's Redwoods. In the alluvial flat, it's hard to find a place where you can't spot at least a half-dozen of their shiny red caps, poking up out of the leaf litter like Easter eggs. They're the iconic mushroom of this place.
It's been a splendid year for the Western Witch's Hats. I've seen dozens of big ones - plenty of them 6 in (15 cm) tall - throughout the alluvial flat and up along the Hansen Loop Trail. This species is very slimy, even for a waxy cap; mycologists call this texture viscid.
I found a few scattered Umber-Brown Puffballs growing on a north-facing slope under the redwoods this week, and I can't mention this genus without noting that the word Lycoperdon translates as "wolf fart," so I'll just get that out of the way right up front. This fungus doesn't produce spores on gills or in tubes like other mushrooms; instead, the spores develop inside the fruiting body. These puffballs are still young. Their white flesh hasn't matured into umber-brown spores yet, though the specimen on the far left is beginning to change. The skin on the outside dries and becomes brittle as they mature, and they may develop a central pore - like the specimen on the far right. Raindrops striking a mature puffball will break the skin, releasing the spores in little puffs to be carried away on the wind.
Other mushrooms growing in Roy's Redwoods this week include:
January and February are the best months to find and admire lichens here. Some grow exclusively in the upper canopy, and you can only see them when they get knocked down after a storm, like the Beard Lichen above. Many species are reproducing now too, and they have marvelous fruiting structures. I'd love to put together a long post on lichens someday, but in the meantime, I heartily recommend Ed Yong's article "How Lichens Explain (And Re-Explain) the World" for an up-to-date look at what's known about them.
This is what happens when you photograph a Banana Slug while your camera settings are still optimized for mushrooms in deep shade (it's about a 4-second exposure.)
This little fellow sure is a sight for sore eyes. I've been watching for the Rough-Skinned Newts ever since the creeks started running, but I haven't seen any in the water until now. I find it a bit perplexing, because they've been very easy to find for the past two winters, with some claiming a territory before the silt even settles. I don't know why they're so scarce this year, but they could be tucked away in places I can't see them. There is a lot more debris in the creek beds this year than in previous years.
Finally, a delightful surprise: a molted snakeskin! Snakes and lizards generally aren't active during the winter months in Northern California, but they may emerge on warm days. I found this snakeskin in the middle of a redwood ring early in the week, during a warm spell. It's the first sign of a reptile I've seen here since the rains started back in October.