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.