Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Fungus ..... Fungus!
I spend every Friday morning from April to October as a volunteer in a little log shelter in a lovely little wildflower garden in Theodore Wirth Park, Minneapolis. The garden is called Eloise Bulter Wildflower Garden & Bird Sanctuary, and it is thought to be the oldest public wildflower garden in the country. I answer questions for visitors, clean up the shelter, feed the birds and varmints, answer the phones, sell guidebooks, t-shirts and parking passes. The fringe benefits are amazing. I get to watch the same patch of earth, year after year change from bare earth to jungle, watch the progress of fox kits from rubber-legged roly-poly fluffs to efficient hunters, gaze at airy larches decorated with indigo bunting, cardinal and goldfinch, and learn about dozens of things of which I would have been ignorant and defiant if I had not been blessed with contact with the general public.
It is so easy to live an insular life, surrounding myself only with people who share my opinions and values. Bertrand Russell said, "In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted." I try to read and listen to a variety of news and information sources to get a variety of perspectives, but varying my contact with people is an especially fine way to learn how to appreciate other perspectives.
Diana, one of the naturalists who works here has been kind enough to share her knowledge of fungi with me. She has begun must be the country's (if not the world's) only mushroom zoo. The Garden contains a huge number of various mushrooms, slime molds, and other fungi, and Diana is photographing and categorizing them all for the naturalists and visitors. It is a huge job, and Diana is doing it with joy and enthusiasm.
One of the most fun things to do in the Garden after a big rain is to walk around and look for the various fungi that have popped up. You'll also see mushroom uprooted and tossed around. Little varmints try them out and toss them aside when they taste bad (taste bad=poisonous). If the 'shroom is ok, the varmint will take it into a tree and hang it up to dry. Some varmints have caches of dried berries, nuts, mushrooms and seeds. They eat great through the winter! Unfortunately, some people come through the Garden and harvest the 'shrooms, too. There used to be tons of morels in the Garden, just as you would expect since we have lots of lovely oaks there and morels have a symbiotic relationship with oaks. But a combination of over-harvesting and invasive plants that release toxins into the soil that kill the mycorrhizae (mutually beneficial associations between the fungi and plant roots) have eliminated them COMPLETELY from the Garden. If you love mushrooms, work to eliminate invasives, especially buckthorn and garlic mustard - they are potentially mushroom-killers. Right now, it seems that those mushrooms that flourish on dying wood are thriving. Those that have symbiotic relationships in which they facilitate the exchange of water and nutrients between plant roots and soil are less common. I used to look at Theodore Wirth Park and be entranced by all the lush greenery. Now I look at it and am depressed by the indicators of the dying forest. The woods are choked with buckthorn and non-native honeysuckle. The water flowing through it is treated city water, because the spring water that used to flow through was diverted when Hwy 394 was built, and the healing springs that first drew people to this area dried up. Carp discarded by disenchanted water-gardeners flash orange in the Birch Pond and erradicate the frogs that would otherwise feed herons. Bike trails disperse the seeds of the invasives plants via tire tread, dog paw and footfall throughout the woods, and compacted soil sends rivulets of sand and stone down the trails and hills. Roaming household and feral cats kill willife, and in turn are injured and killed by fox, raccoon and coyotes. Well-meaning neighbors "clean-up" "their patch of woods" removing dead branches and logs, not understanding that the untidy rot and decay of a living system is necessary for its renewal and ultimate survival. Well, I better get off my soap box. Everyone has their own ideas for managing the commons. This is just mine.
*Note: SAFETY ADVISORY: DO NOT EAT ANY MUSHROOM PICTURED ON THIS POST, OR ANY OTHER MUSHROOM YOU HAVEN'T PURCHASED OR KNOWN TO BE PURCHASED FROM A COMMERICAL GROWER.