Nature Notes

A bit of Minnesota Mycology

Find fairy cup fungus, giant puffballs, mature puffballs and more growing along the Wood Duck Trail.

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By Holly Einess

As often happens when I arrive at the Arboretum, I spend way more time than expected just feet from my car. Goldenrods, asters, brown-eyed susans, and hyssop are in bloom in the parking area, and the goldfinches and bees are loving it. Chickadees, too, call and frolic, and a brown creeper makes its characteristic way up a tree trunk searching for insects.

I head to Wood Duck Trail, where jewelweed is in bloom, along with asters and zigzag goldenrod. Little white mushrooms have pushed through the leaf litter on the trail. The five-leaved whorls of Virginia creeper are turning red, and the trees across Wood Duck Pond are just beginning to show their fall colors. A red-eyed vireo hops from branch to branch looking for something to eat.  

Red-eyed vireo. Photo by Holly Einess.

I veer off the main trail and head up toward the Dog Commons, passing several interesting fungi along the way. A cluster of resinous polypore fungi are growing from a downed tree; they are surprisingly velvety and soft, unlike many other bracket fungi, which tend to be woody and hard.

Resinous polypore fungi. Photo by Holly Einess.

Bright orange bits on the trail turn out to be the aptly named orange peel fungus, also known as (I love this) orange fairy cup fungus. It is edible, but rather flavorless (or so I’m told, having never tried it myself).

Orange fairy cup fungus. Photo by Holly Einess.

Leaving the woods behind, I emerge into the open Dog Commons area, where the primary plants are grasses, goldenrods and asters. A bald eagle soars high overhead, and a kettle of turkey vultures wheel and circle in the distance. A house wren, tail held in a typical erect posture, seems to be scolding me for getting too close.

House wren. Photo by Holly Einess.

Along the edge of the trail is a big blob of white… what? Marshmallow fluff? Meringue? It’s a giant puffball (yes, that’s really what it’s called), cinched in several places by vines it had to grow around. (A quick Google search yields some impressive images of giant puffball mushrooms.)

Giant puffball mushroom. Photo by Holly Einess.

A bit farther on, I come across a patch of dark brown puffballs, considerably smaller than the giant variety. These are fully mature, and their spores are ready to be dispersed by raindrops, falling twigs, or the prodding finger of a curious human. A single puff can release over a million spores.

Mature puffballs (left). With a small prod, a mature puffball can release over a million spores (right). Photos by Holly Einess.

My walk today has increased my appreciation for Minnesota’s mushrooms and fungi, of which I saw only a fraction. The role they play in decomposition is an important one. And what fun nomenclature—alternative names for the common puffball include warted puffball, wolf farts and devil’s snuff-box. A deeper dive into mycology may be in my future!

4 comments on “A bit of Minnesota Mycology

  1. Thanks Holly, love the clinic on mushrooms and all the work you are doing.

  2. Gail Helland

    Holly, I just subscribed (I think) to your posts so I never miss out on your evocative (and clever) nature writing. Crabby wren aside, the critters and their home are lucky to have you (and you, them, of course).

  3. Pingback: Arb Links, Vol. 29 | News from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

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