The dog days of summer are upon us. A hint of fall is in the air. Nature is booming. Frenzied activity is everywhere. The drive to survive continues. Like clockwork on cue, each species does what it should. Enter the world. Live. Eat and reproduce. Die and decompose. It is time.
Peak mushroom season is here in the forests of Appalachia. This happens to be July and August. Three years ago on a fall foliage hike at Shawnee State Park, renaming it a fall fungus hike would have fit the bill. Fungus does not have chlorophyll. Instead, it takes nutrients from organisms, dead or alive, around them. When a mushroom appears above ground, we call that fruiting. At least 2,000 kinds of wild mushrooms grow in Ohio. Jelly mushrooms are one type.
Why would you look for coral in a forest? It lives under the sea. Nature is full of surprises, and jellied false coral fungus is one of them. It grows in the woods on the ground. Its white or off-white branches point toward the sky and are not easily broken. Widespread and common, look for these slow-growers near oak trees. They can be from two to six inches wide and from one to four inches tall. That is quite a sight to see. We also have true coral mushrooms in our state. Being brittle, they easily break.
My meandering around our yard often produces unexpected results. One day an alert little fledgling perched on our livestock fencing. It was not on the top but halfway down, still as a statue. Its bright eyes watched me tentatively as I took advantage of this moment. He turned out to be a most well-behaved model for a photo shoot. He even stayed until my daughter and son could see him. His spotted breast, short tail, and behavior told me that he had not been out of the nest for many days.
Robbers and thieves take things that do not belong to them. Hanging Thieves, a type of robber fly, nab prey in midair. What is your superpower? These fast, skilled fliers use their six spiny legs to hold a bee, biting fly, butterfly, or dragonfly. They even capture wasps, such as a bald-faced hornet or yellow jacket. These insect predators are tough. They bite to kill what they catch. Then they inject digestive juices to dissolve what they will soon eat. Their feeding stance gives them their title. Hanging by one or two legs alone, they consume the liquefied innards of their prey.
The bigroot morningglory is a climbing vine with funnel-shaped white flowers. The inside center of these flowers is a purplish red. The flowers open at night and, on sunny days, close at around noon. In the morning glory family, it is also known as the wild potato vine. The reason being, its large, long taproot is edible. It tastes like a sweet potato and is best harvested early. Heart-shaped leaves are another clue to its family identity. Hedge bindweed looks similar but has completely white flowers. Both can be a problem in the wrong place. However, some specialist bees pollinate these flowers. They use these plants in particular for most of their pollen needs. They also have aesthetic appeal.
Fungus, birds, insects, and flowers are just a sample of what you can see right now. Any time of day (or night!) is a good time for nature walks. Most of us can go outside. Will you? If you do, I encourage you to take note of what you see. In a few months, most of this will be elsewhere or at a different life stage. Don't miss it.