Chicken Fat Mushroom (Suillus americanus) is a widespread and very common “Slippery Jack” mushroom. It occurs in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. It is very common in the United States from the northeast to the Midwest, and in adjacent Canadian provinces. It is common Minnesota in the northeast, north-central, and metro regions. It grows on the ground, usually in groups but not clustered, exclusively under eastern white pine. It is found from mid-July to mid-September in mixed and coniferous forests and anywhere else its host is found.
When young, the cap is bright yellow, convex, and slimy. As it matures, the cap becomes broadly convex and sometimes has a small bump in the middle. The mature cap is sticky or slimy when moist, and frequently has reddish-brown scales, streaks, and/or patches, especially near the margin. The underside of the cap is a sponge-like pore surface.
Chicken Fat Mushroom is edible but the taste is not distinctive, and the cap becomes slimy when moistened. After removing the slimy skin and the spongy pore surface, there is little left to enjoy.
Photo by Luciearl
Whitewash Lichen (Phlyctis argena) is very common in Europe and North America. In the United States it occurs in the northeast to the Great Lakes region and in the Pacific northwest. It grows on the bark of oak and other deciduous trees, rarely on conifers, and rarely on rock. It neither harms nor benefits the tree.
The vegetative body may be thick or thin, smooth or granular, small or large. It may appear as a small, well-defined patch with a distinct pale border, or as a large, irregular patch with diffuse pale edges, like a smear of paint. The upper surface is pale grayish-green or greenish white and smooth when fresh, becoming grayish-white rough as it ages. It rarely has the disk-like reproductive structures common in many lichens. When it does, the disks are minute, gray to black, and flush with the surface, sometimes hidden by it.
Photo by Alfredo Colon
Brilliant jumping spider (Phidippus clarus) occurs across North America from coast to coast. It is very common in Minnesota. A study in 1997 surveyed jumping spiders in 30 locations around Minnesota. The author collected 572 jumping spiders representing 15 species. Brilliant jumping spider was by far the most common, with 299 specimens (52%) collected.
Brilliant jumping spider is found from July to September in moderately moist fields on grasses and perennial plants. It is a small to medium-sized spider (order Araneae) but a relatively large jumping spider (family Salticidae). Adults are mostly black with four pairs of white spots and two red stripes on the abdomen.
The female is a paragon of parental perseverance. In the fall she creates a large white egg sac at the top of a tall grass or herbaceous plant and drops eggs into the sac. She prevents the eggs from drying out by repeatedly adding silk to cover the egg mass. She stays with the egg sac until the young disperse in about a month. During this time she does not feed and usually dies from starvation a few days later.
Photo by Luciearl
King Alfred’s Cakes (Daldinia concentrica) is a common fungus that occurs on all continents except Greenland and Antarctica. It grows on dead or dying deciduous wood, especially ash. The fruiting body is ball-shaped, stalkless, and hard. It is brown when young, black and shiny when mature. The surface is densely covered with minute, pimply bumps. These bumps are tiny, spore-bearing chambers just under the surface. When the spores are mature they burst open during the night and eject up to an inch or more large numbers of black spores. These spores are often visible on the bark near the fungus long after they have worn off the fruiting body.
The common name King Alfred’s Cakes refers to a story told about a British monarch. King Alfred fled from a battle and took refuge in a peasant woman’s house. The woman asked him to watch her cakes in the oven. Preoccupied with his own troubles, he let the cakes burn. This earned him a scolding from the woman who did not know her visitor was the king.
King Alfred’s Cakes is also called Coal Fungus, but not just for its appearance. An older, black specimen, when broken to expose the interior, will readily take a spark from a fire steel. Blow on the glowing spark and it will grow in size. Left alone, it will smolder for a long time. Placed against dry tinder and blown upon, it will ignite a fire. Another common name, “Cramp Balls”, refers to the belief that when carried in a pocket it can prevent or cure leg cramps.
Photo by Ginger Halverson
Common Bird’s Nest (Crucibulum laeve) is called that because it looks like a bird’s nest with several eggs. It occurs on all continents except Greenland and Antarctica. It may be the most common bird’s nest fungus in Canada and the northern two-thirds of the United States. It grows on sticks, wood chips, humus, vegetable debris, and manure. Although common, its small size makes it difficult to see.
The fruiting body is a very small bowl-shaped “nest” containing several tiny, egg-like capsules. When young, it is yellowish, densely hairy, and topped with a yellowish lid. Eventually, the outer surface sloughs off and the lid ruptures and disappears. The mature mushroom has a hairless, brown, shiny, outer surface, and a smooth, white inner surface. Inside the hollow nest are several tiny, white, circular, flattened capsules (eggs). The eggs are attached to the side of the nest by a long, thin, elastic, white cord that can be seen only with a hand lens, a needle, and a lot of patience. The eggs are disbursed by raindrops and wind. Common Bird’s Nest may be edible but is too small and tough to be worth the effort.
Photo by Luciearl
Wasp nest slime mold (Metatrichia vesparium) is common and widespread. It is found in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and North and South America. In the United States it is common east of the Great Plains, including Minnesota, less common in the west. It grows in open forests on dead and rotting wood, especially hardwood.
The fruiting body may be attached directly to the substrate or rise in a densely crowded group of up to twelve on a common stalk. The individual spore-producing structures are dark red or reddish-purple to nearly black, less than ⅛″ in height, and about 1 ⁄32″ in diameter. They are mostly cone-shaped and have a convex, shiny, iridescent, lid on top. When mature, the lid swings open like a jack-in-the-box, and the red or rust-red interior expands outward. When this dries out, the spores are disbursed by wind. Eventually, the expanded portion disintegrates. What is left looks like the nest of a paper wasp, giving this slime mold its common name.
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a slow-growing, perennial, evergreen, 2″ to 8″ tall, dwarf shrub. It is common in most of its range from Maine to Minnesota and south along the Appalachian Mountains to Georgia. It is fairly common in northeast and northcentral Minnesota. It grows in dry or moist woodlands, in partial sun or light shade, in nutrient poor, acidic soil.
The upright stems of wintergreen are actually branches rising from a horizontal stem lying flat on the ground or buried just under the surface. Two to five shiny green leaves are crowded at the top of the stem, and one to three white flowers droop from the upper leaf axils. The flowers are replaced in September by bright red berry-like capsules. The leaves and berries are edible and have a minty, wintergreen fragrance and flavor.
Wintergreen contains the aromatic compound methyl salicylate. In the past, oil of wintergreen has been used as a natural flavor in chewing gum, candy, soft drinks, toothpaste, and snuff. Dried leaves have been used to make tea, giving it another common name “teaberry”. In large amounts oil of wintergreen is toxic. Today, methyl salicylate is produced artificially for commercial uses.
Photo by Alfredo Colon
Band-winged crane fly (Epiphragma fasciapenne) is a common, easily identified, moderate-sized crane fly. It occurs in the eastern United States and adjacent Canadian provinces east of the Great Plains. Eastern Minnesota is at the western edge of its range. It is found in floodplain woodlands and wooded areas adjacent to swamps.
Like all crane flies, the body is long and slim, the wings are long and narrow, and the legs are very long, very thin, and very fragile. The thorax has a distinct, V-shaped groove on top. The lower jaws each have a very long, antenna-like extension.
Band-winged crane fly is distinguished by the distinctive wing pattern with four bands of bordered brown spots, and by a dark brown band at the very tip of the third leg segment.
Photo by Luciearl
Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) is a very common, very widespread, easily recognized mushroom. It has a worldwide distribution, found on every continent including Antarctica. It may be the most abundant woodland puffball in North America, though in Minnesota Pear-shaped Puffball is more common.
Common Puffball grows on the ground in woodlands under trees, on roadsides, in open areas, and even in urban areas. It is found from July through November usually in clusters. It is shaped like an upside-down pear, with a broad, round or flattened top and a narrowed stem-like base. Its white surface is densely covered with small, white, cone-shaped spines and more numerous tiny, white spines and granules between them. The spines are easily rubbed off and as the puffball matures they turn brown and fall off, the large ones leaving conspicuous pockmarks. A raised pore forms on the top of the maturing puffball. When ripe the pore ruptures, exposing the spore mass. Pores are disbursed through the opening by wind, rain drops, falling twigs, and curious hikers.
Common Puffball is edible when firm and white but is bland and may be bitter.