Look Up; Look Down; Look All Around

By Greg Lecker

Treasures await those who carefully observe the world around them. Walking into the woodland, I spot a tall branched flower stalk leaning towards me as if to beg that its portrait be taken.

Cup PlantCup Plant

From this unusual vantage point, it’s clear to see that the stem pierces the paired leaves (the botanical term perfoliate combining “perforate” and “foliage”). Cup plant leaf cups catch and store rainwater, often for many days.  Flower stalks are multi-branched and bear 3-4” wide sunflower yellow flowers each on its own stalk. The plant grows most often in moist or wet ditches, swales or wetland or stream borders like this area of the woodland.

Turning to the left, I see a clump of what appears to be giant snapdragon plants and flowers……

TurtleheadRed Turtlehead

Red Turtlehead grows in sunny wetlands and moist woodland edges such as these. Within a tight cluster of reddish blooms, its petals are fused into a tubular flower that reminds one of a turtle’s head, the reason for the flower’s common name.  The plant’s botanical name, Chelone (pronounced with a hard “c”, rhymes with baloney) means tortoise in Greek. Flower shape determines the pollinators and the means that they use to reach the nectar and pollen. I just miss the opportunity of a snapshot of a bumblebee pushing itself into the largely closed flower. By carefully clasping the flower head, one can hinge the flower open and close like a toy dragon or turtle.

Death and DecayDeath and Decay

The muted sound of a small branch falling directs my attention deeper into the woodland where I see, in the distance, a large fallen trunk (not the source of the sound). Nearby signage reminds one that fallen leaves and wood serve numerous purposes in the ecosystem:  providing nutrients and nursery for a variety of life.

“…Some of them are poisonous

and they can make you sick

so look but don’t touch

unless you know which ones to pick

It’s a mushroom.

It’s a fungus and they’re growing

all around us and among us….” (children’s’ song)

I find a mushroom not in this woodland but back in the cultivated gardens.

Mushroom on Ohio Buckeye TreeMushroom on Ohio Buckeye Tree

Walking back to the visitor center, a creamy white shape on the side of an Ohio buckeye tree catches my eye.  At first it appears to be a shelf fungi.  But it is neither leathery nor woody and underneath, instead of pores, there are gills. Since I am not a mushroom expert I hesitate to try to identify this fungus other than to say that it is a gilled mushroom. Gilled mushrooms consist of the traditional cap and stalk.  Beneath the cap are gills radiating away from the stalk. These vertical blades dramatically increase the surface area available to develop and release spores.

Mushrooms are the reproductive organ, or fruiting body, of fungi – a kingdom separate from the plant or animal kingdoms. Because fungi possesses no chlorophyll and cannot convert sunlight’s energy into a form that it can use, fungi must use nutrients directly from its environment.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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