Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Walk in the Woods

False Turkey Tail fungus on dead log

 I spent a day walking through the woods, actually several tracts of woods scattered across Stephens State Forest, itself scattered across  the Southern Iowa Drift Plain.  While the main purpose of my visit was to search for rare plants as part of an effort to manage our state forests ecologically, the bountiful blooming of the spring flora made it easy to enjoy a wider array of plants.  Spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) had recently finished, but the "jacks" were standing in their "pulpits" in Arisaema triphyllum, addressing a congregation of woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata) and yellow violets (Viola pubescens) in their "Sunday Best".

Yellow Violet
Woodland Phlox

While I enjoy seeing spring flowers, I am always on the lookout for "wildflowerish" things that are not wildflowers.  Although not as conspicuous as eye-catching flowers, they nonetheless display color and symmetry that extend the aesthetic experience of of attentive naturalists.  Examples abounded in the woods this week.  On knee-high seedlings, the newly flushed, anthocyanin-soaked, thumbnail-sized leaves of white oak (Quercus alba) and red oak (Quercus rubra) resembled red-tinted petals while terminal clusters of them resembled entire flowers.

White oak leaf

Red oak leaves

The swollen terminal buds of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) resembled small tulips about to bloom while the yellow anthers of diminutive sedge (Carex pennsylvanica) flowers adorned inflorescences that loomed large only under magnification with a hand-lens.  Surrounded by the green foliage of snakeroot and strawberry, scarlet basal leaves of mullein foxglove (Dasistoma macrophylla) stood out conspicuously on the forest floor of a grassy opening (but only if you looked down at your feet).   And setting aside prejudices from past bad experiences, who cannot admire the dark maroon spring foliage of poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)?

Shagbark hickory bud

Sedge flowers

Mullein foxglove
Poison ivy
Peering at ever-smaller things reveals an ever-increasing realm of organisms that further bend the concept of "wildflower".  Viewed with a loupe, mosses on a rotting log "bloom" with sporophytes and resemble a miniature forest.
Moss on rotting log

Reindeer lichen

Lichens on the forest floor also contribute to a "wildflowerish" display of visual diversity, ranging from the intricately branched masses of reindeer lichen (Cladina cf. rangiferina) to pintsized pixie-cups (Cladonia cf. fimbriata) and pygmy pegs of turban lichen (Cladonia cf. pezizformis).  Other non-plant organisms such as false turkey tail fungus (Stereum cf. ostea, pictured at top of page) contribute eye-catching color and symmetry as well.

Pixie-cup lichen
Turban lichen

During your walks in the woods, enjoy the wildflowers and watch for the "wildflowerish" things around them.  Broadening one's attention to leaves, buds, sedges, mosses, lichens, and fungi will extend your appreciation of the total beauty of nature.

Note: All of my lichen and fungi identifications are tentative and require observations of features not represented on these photos (underside pores, chemical tests, etc.).  I appreciate the assistance and instruction given to me by friends who are mycologists and lichenologists, but they cannot keep up with all of my errors!  So, gentle readers, please regard the IDs of these species as a "best guess", not a confirmed fact.