Dr. Don Culwell, Ph.D of the South Fork Nature Center
by Don Culwell

“Poof!” And, the puffball basidiomycete sent out a cloud of zillions of tiny, brown spores each that could easily germinate growing into a fungal mat of tiny, white, thread-like hyphae of the mycelium…this mass all out of sight inside the already well decomposed xylem cells of the ancient wooden trunk…the tree had for some several hundred years shaded the forest floor where acorns fell and were gathered as a tasty meal by some grey squirrel or white-tailed deer…the same shade created the dimly lit ecosystem where violets bloomed their blue, white or yellow flowers in the early days of a welcomed spring. My number eleven shoe had just fallen on the mass of an old, dried, balloon-shaped cushion lying tucked among the fallen leaf or two and dried-tan tufts of the summer’s grass blades…the brown spore cloud could not be missed! My trek through the woods this winter, this early December day, brought me into an occasional calm breeze that rattled the remaining brown leaves held tightly on the southern red oak as the cool day caused me to hurry along a bit faster pulling up my shirt collar and buttoning up my sleeves…my feet carried me over the knoll of the bottomland woods as if I had a deadline to meet.

I couldn’t help but stop a minute, though, as my eye caught sight of a large bracket high up along-side a tall oak, a large, sturdy bracket of fungus growing firmly attached there…Fomes, a genus of fungus made hard of dried hyphae…the fungus attached on the trunk was the bracket I was seeing. Above its crusty, rough and dark brown upper surface grew a few green moss plants; it is below on its lower surface under the “shelf” of the bracket that one could find many pores. It is from each of these many pores that a great many spores (single cell reproductive units of this fungus) were produced from basidia that line each pore…and so this fungus, too, produces its spores enabling the spread of the species as the spores germinate into hyphae. Come spring this lower bracket surface will be creamy-white colored, moist and soft with a new layer of pores, a growth process that occurs each spring. The old bracket that I see up on the trunk could have been growing there in its spore production for twenty years or more.

And there are so many other eye and ear-catching sights and sounds of the winter woods…just go check them out…they’re fun!