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Larry Weber: Comb tooth fungi plentiful in Northland

The first half of October has been setting the pace as being another October wetter than normal. Three of the last four Octobers have given us more precipitation than usual. (October 2007 was even the wettest month of the year.)...

The first half of October has been setting the pace as being another October wetter than normal. Three of the last four Octobers have given us more precipitation than usual. (October 2007 was even the wettest month of the year.)

Autumn rains can be quite a welcome relief, as we are concerned with the dryness and chances of fires. The effects of late-season rains differ notably from those of spring or summer.

The growing time for plants is over, and this rain does not green the grass or boost the garden produce as earlier rains did.

We often see two responses in the woods to these fall showers. Raindrops hit the colorful leaves, and this added weight and force is enough to bring down more of the fall foliage.

Indeed, a rain accompanied by strong winds at this time can change the whole scene in one day.

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Each year during the middle part of this month, we experience the leafdrop from deciduous trees. After putting on such a colorful show, the leaves are ready to make their exit.

In addition to this impact on defoliation, October showers bring about huge growths of late-season fungi.

The normal mushroom season is late August to early September, but many also develop later in the season.

Such autumn rains provide moisture that is quickly taken up in the fungal growths, and we see October mushrooms at this time.

Recently, I walked through the woods on a day following several showers and found plenty of these fungi. There were clusters of honey mushrooms at the base of trees -- in one cluster, I counted about 100 individuals -- scaly caps and oyster fungi on trees, small reddish eyelashes on a log and, near it, a white toothed fungus.

Tooth fungi exist in several types. These growing on a downed oak log were white with branches and spines (teeth) hanging down.

It is the spines that hold the reproductive spores. And it is these spines that give the fungus names such as comb tooth, coral tooth, bear's head tooth, beard tooth and the slightly different: goat's beard.

Whatever the name, it grows to be about the size of our hand.

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Stem and spines are white, though they become cream and brown with aging.

In its young stages, this tooth fungus is highly prized by those collecting fungal foods. (Eating any fungi should be done only with utmost care and with the help of a veteran; many are dangerous.)

I usually find comb tooth in fall, most of the time on logs as this latest find was, but I have seen it on tree trunks even up to 10 feet tall. In some years, I have found these white fungal spines in summer, too.

With the coming cold, fleshy fungi will be less common, but, for now, it is still not so cold and the abundance of fall fungi makes these interesting woods walks even more of a delight.

Retired teacher Larry Weber is author of several books that are available now. He lives in Carlton County.

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