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Northland Nature: Blue-staining boletes brighten forest floor

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

A blue-staining bolete as it appears on the forest floor on an August day. Contributed / Larry Weber

The August silence prevails as I step into the woods. In the open site nearby, I see the late summer wildflowers — goldenrods, asters and sunflowers — all in bloom. Fireweeds from July have gone to seed. And I stop at a patch of blackberries.

The woods are quiet with no bird songs in late season, but I do hear the croaking of a raven and some woodpeckers. Calls from a gray treefrog speak of territory at this time. Silent, but not empty and as I walk on a woods trail, I note many of the new crop of tiny toads that have moved here from a local pond. Along the route, I also see small frogs, like spring peepers and larger wood frogs.

All this happening on the ground keeps me looking down and I see what is most numerous in the August woods: mushrooms.

This time of late summer is always good for these fungal growths. This year has been dry, but recent rains have allowed them to grow here and there is a variety of fungi on the soil, tree trunks and downed logs. Probably the most colorful is that of a sulphur shelf (chicken of the woods). They grow large and bright. I find some yellow and others orange on trunks or logs of oak. Also on logs are coral fungi — always an early-growing fungus — and new puffballs.

Mushrooms that usually grow in an umbrella shape are here and quite variable. All have stems with a cap on top. Under the cap, there is diversity. Most have lined structures called gills. These gilled mushrooms are most common and I see russula, lactarius (milk mushroom), marasmius, mycena and hygrocybe (waxy cap).


Mushrooms are often known by their scientific names. Most have brown-tan caps, but I see some white, yellow or red. In the lawn, there are gilled mushrooms of amanita and agaricus (meadow mushroom).

Though most mushrooms have gills beneath the cap; others do not. I find a small golden one with folds of skin under the cap somewhat resembling gills. This is the often-sought cantharellus (chanterelle). They are frequently in big growths, but I find only a few.

Some species of mushrooms have spines or teeth below the cap. Best known of these is hydnum (hedgehog mushroom). The one I found was alone in the woods. And then there are the boletes.

A blue-staining bolete with a piece of the cap broken off. The white flesh beneath turns blue within seconds. Contributed / Larry Weber

A rather large group of mushrooms differ from the others by having numerous tiny holes, pores, under the cap. They are common and quite diverse. Collectively they are known as boletes. As I walk in the woods, I find suillus (slippery jack) near a pine tree and the tough looking strobilomyces (old man of the woods).

But the one that I was most glad to see was gyroporus (blue-staining bolete). When seen from above, it is not so impressive. The mushroom is only 4 or 5 inches tall and light brown-tan in color.

But I stop for a closer look and when I do, I’m rewarded with an excellent observation. Like many other mushrooms, this fungus has white flesh beneath the outer skin. However, it is quick to change. Breaking off a piece of the cap exposes the white flesh to air where the cells respond to the oxygen presence and turn blue — within seconds! This explains the name of the “blue-staining bolete.”


Other mushrooms can stain blue, but not as much or as quickly as this one. I’m glad to see this bolete on the forest floor in August. Over the next couple weeks, many more mushrooms of various kinds will join this growth.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

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Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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