Friday, November 27, 2009

Sneaky mushroom

This little mushroom is an Amanita phalloides, also known as the Death Cap. Although they're not native to North America, there are scads of them where I live in northern California.

Amanita phalloides are mycorrhizal, meaning that they grow in association with a plant. Both the plant and the fungus benefit from the relationship. A. phalloides appear to be especially enamored of oaks (Quercus sp.). No one knows for sure how they arrived in North America. Although they may have arrived on the shores of North America on imported cork oaks (Quercus suber) they're now found flourishing alongside our native oaks, especially live oaks.

I've seen and drawn many since I began noticing mushrooms three years ago. Until now, I couldn't imagine every mistaking A. phalloides for any other mushroom. This one fooled me, though. Those that I usually see are stocky, often quite large and have a metallic greenish-yellow cap with white veil remnants on them. This slender, delicate mushroom caught my eye and led me to believe that I'd found an Amanita I'd never seen before.

As I drove home, and mentally reviewed the mushroom's characteristics, I began to think that it might indeed be a Death Cap. When in doubt I always go to Mushroom Observer and that's where I confirmed the identification of this deadly little beauty.

Bay Area Mushrooms
David Arora, Mushrooms Demystified, Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 1986, pp. 269-270.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

At the cemetery

I had great plans to go out sketching this morning, but the sky was dark gray and it was spitting enough rain to make it hard to see out of my glasses so I gave up and came home. I had a bunch of things I should be doing and thought I could catch up on some of them. At noon the sky suddenly turned blue and everything was so perfectly beautiful that I tore myself away from cleaning the bathrooms and jetted off to Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery to do some sketching. For about half an hour the light was perfectly inspiring and I sat down and began to draw. Within 45 minutes the sun was low in the sky (at 2:45!) and I had to put my sweatshirt back on. Well, it was fun while it lasted. Still time to clean those bathrooms! Yippee!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What to draw on a rainy day?

When I'm out walking I often find and bring home things that I just know I have to draw. Then I never get around to drawing them because I find newer things the next day or I forget about the finds that I just had to have the day before. Consequently, I have little boxes and bowls and some plates full of found objects from out and about. So, on rainy days like today it's possible for me to draw something from outside while staying warm and dry. Perfect! Today's rainy day sketches were a Black Oak (Quercus kelloggii) leaf and acorn.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Not the prettiest kid in town

These are big, heavy, stumpy mushrooms. They're not so pretty and rather awkward and yet, I find them rather endearing. This one was fruiting with some buddies in an ordinary lawn with a coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) which happens to be one of the trees that this mushroom, Boletus amygdalinus, likes to spend time with. One of the many cool things about mushrooms is that some of them change color when bruised or cut. This one instantly turned deep blue. Tom Volk explains very nicely what makes boletes turn blue in an article about a different blueing bolete.

You might be wondering why I drew this mushroom upside down. Remember the big, heavy part? All attempts to keep it upright failed. It just kept tipping over. Without the earth to hold it upright this mushroom likes to stand on it's head.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Manzanita tree

Just the name of these trees is gorgeous. I like the latin name, too --- Arctostaphylos. Manzanitas have shiny burgundy colored bark that sheds in late summer, breaking into small curls that fall off or can be easily rubbed off. They're beautiful, small twisty trees. I've wanted to try to draw one for a while. I'd like to try again with color.

Friday, November 13, 2009


One of my favorite places to explore is the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, an easy walk from my house. There's a great deal of the history of this town there, beautiful gravestones and some very old and beautiful oaks. Because the oaks are there, some fabulous fungi fruit during the winter. This one is Amanita calyptrata...oops, now it's Amanita calyptroderma. It's said to be a choice edible. I haven't tried it, but do love to find and draw them. It's common name is Cocorra.

You can see photos at MushroomObserver but watch out! If you use the search engine you'll have to look under Amanita lanei, an earlier name for this mushroom. Sometime I'll have to write more about the naming of mushrooms. It's more dramatic than a soap opera.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tasty fern

There are ferns sprouting all over Howarth Park, now that we've had some rain. There are scads of them among the rocky places. Isn't it funny how you see something every day of your life without really seeing it and then, suddenly it's right there and you're smitten? That's what's happened to me. I've found four different kinds of ferns in the park and have been learning about these delicate and amazingly hard to draw plants. This is the most common one, Polypodium calirhiza. I was able to identify this fern by it's habitat and by the peppery, sharp taste of the rhizome, or underground stem. Ferns produce spores rather than seeds and it turns out that they have various ways of storing the spores until they're mature. That makes it easier to identify them, too. Polypodium spores are gathered in sporangia (spore cases, not surprisingly) which are then gathered into groups called sori. So each of those little ovals on the back of the leaflet is a sorus which is full of sporangia which is full of spores which, in this case, aren't yet mature. Apparently, when mature they'll be a different color. I look forward to seeing what color that'll be!

• Steve J. Grillos, Ferns and Fern Allies of California, University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966.

• Cofrin Center for Biodiversity, University of Wisconsin Green Bay Introduction to the Identification of Ferns.

• Cazadero Performing Arts Camp, Ferns.

• Byzantium, About Ferns.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mushrooms in the neighborhood

This great big beautiful Chlorophyllum brunneum was found standing tall and proud in a thicket of ivy underneath a spruce tree in my neighborhood, near the beginning of my walk. I was so covetous that I plucked it right then and there, which forced me to stroll about with a giant (14cm across the cap) mushroom clutched in one hand and my dog's leash in the other.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Among the eucalyptus

This morning I walked in Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, amazed at how green everything has become, seemingly overnight. A little more than a week ago the predominant colors were tan and dark gray. I'm always thrilled by the sudden transformation of the landscape here in northern California, when it starts to rain at the end of a long, dry summer.

Anyway, I noticed a spot of orange far away, in the stand of eucalyptus along a creek at the edge of the property. Whipping out my binoculars confirmed my suspicion that I'd stumbled upon a lovely specimen of Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus gilbertsonii). I decided this was a perfect opportunity to try out my adorable new travel watercolor set. Uh, well, it actually took an hour just to draw everything. All of that peeled eucalyptus bark can take a while to get down on paper! I had to be somewhere so I left, hoping I could make it back later in the day, which I did. Luckily there was cloud cover all day, so the light was unchanged when I returned at the end of the day. Painting in the field isn't so easy, I found. It didn't help that Daylight Savings had begun, and it was growing dark as I painted. I worked a bit more on the sketch after I got home.

Laetiporus gilbetsonii fruits on decaying wood and will reappear each year. Although I've never tried eating it, some people find it quite tasty while others get an upset tummy. The upset stomach may be due to eating older mushrooms, or mushrooms that haven't been thoroughly cooked. I love finding this mushroom. On a gray, dreary day, it's bright color just makes me smile!

Oh, the white blob on the left is last year's fruiting and the white "bloom" at the bottom of the new fruiting is white spores.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

They're melting!

This mushroom (Coprinopsis lagopus) emerges from the ground and releases it's spores in less than a day. It belongs to a group of mushrooms called Inky Caps because it eats itself as it releases those spores, creating an inky black substance that was once actually used as ink, so I've heard. Once it's done, all you're likely to find is a nice white stem and a blob of black goop. Cornell Mushroom Blog has a wonderful time lapse video of the whole process along with a detailed description of how and why Inky Caps digest themselves. The drawing above is of a group of Inky babies, which emerge looking a bit like grounded pussy willow catkins. As the cap opens the fuzz usually flakes off. I find these mushrooms fruiting in piles of wood chips at Howarth Park, created a couple of years ago when several stands of trees, near the park borders, were thinned, and turned into mulch which was left behind.

I think Coprinus lagopus is a lovely mushroom. I tried to bring a couple of the mature, but not yet deliquesced (melted) mushrooms home to draw, but within an hour they had changed from ethereal beauty to black goop so I've included a photo I took three years ago. At the bottom center of the photo you can see one of the mushrooms that's already turned to goo.

Cornell Mushroom Blog, The Dish on Deliquescence, Jonathan Landsman, July 1, 2008

Monday, November 2, 2009

Slime mold and wolf spiders aha!

Still no rain here so the fungi are scarce. Most of what I find are fruiting on wood and last week I found several groups of a slime mold that I'd never seen before. I thought it might be Stemonitis sp. but was informed on MushroomObserver that it's called Arcyria nutans.

One of the groups was along a trail at Howarth Park in Santa Rosa CA on an old, fallen branch that was well-decayed, which appears to be where Arcyria nutans like to hang out. I stopped to admire them and found two wolf spider den openings just below.

When I first began looking for mushrooms, I found many of these at the bases of trees. Most were under Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and incorporated needles from the tree, as well as silk and debris from the immediate area. One was near madrone and was made of mud and about a half inch tall.

I had no idea who was making these fascinating little doorways. Searches on Google for "cunning hole in ground" didn't yield much and I stopped looking, knowing that one day, when I least expected it, the answer would come to me. And it did, two years later when I was trying to identify another spider and came across a picture that looked nearly identical to the holes I was finding and which also pictured a wolf spider.

Today while I was drawing, a spider lurked in the doorway, obviously waiting for me to disappear. I could see legs while I drew and every now and then she'd jet out the door only to do a complicated twist when she saw that I was still in the neighborhood and pop back down the hole.

I ran out of time to draw the Arcyria but plan to go back tomorrow or the next day and finish the drawing.