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Some hate them, some love them, but no matter how you think they taste, you’ll have to admit mushrooms are fascinating.  They pop up overnight, then disappear again without leaving a trace.  And there are so many kinds, so many shapes.  But, while fascinating to look at, we certainly don’t trust ourselves to know which are edible and which are not, so we just had fun this week getting to know mushrooms a little bit better.

We weren’t able to find many different kinds of mushrooms last week.  Mushroom season must be largely behind us. 

We did find a few, and the kids got to see in real life the parts of the mushroom that we drew and labeled for science class.

( A picture of the gills under the cap where the spores are stored.)

The girls also got to make some spore dust fly from a huge puffball.

What we did find a lot of is another kind of fungi — bracket fungi.  There were plenty of specimens available for our study throughout the woods around our farm as we took walks this week.  Here are some of them.

We learned that like mushrooms and all fungi, the role of bracket fungi is decomposition–breaking down the wastes and litter of our landscapes.  But we also learned that bracket fungi on dead limbs and stumps like these . . . . . .

. . . . . are different than the ones growing on live trees like these. 

 (Allison noticed the white fungi on this young tree is orange on the underside.  Here’s her photo to show it.)

 Now when we see bracket fungi on a live tree, we know that it is attacking the very life of the tree.  Fungi spores enter the tree at a place where the tree has been injured, start sending out mycelium (the white “threads” from which the fungi and mushrooms “sprout”), and soon the visible “shelf” of the bracket fungi appears.  We’ll never look at bracket fungi on live trees the same again!

Here are some bonus finds during our walks to collect mushrooms:
a salamander 
  discovered accidentally when we pushed away leaves to look for mushrooms
Megan and Jeff found a perfect dead butterfly, and it’s colors were very vibrant.  Now the butterfly is in the schoolroom with my very small butterfly collection.   (Allison)
I  opened a leaf gall beause Mom said that insect eggs are inside of galls, and I wanted to see some.  I opened one up with my fingernail and I found a brightly colored worm right in the middle!  Mom took a picture of it and as you can see the worm is very tiny.  Next time you see a raised brown bump (gall) on a leaf,  open it.  You might find a tiny worm!  (Allison)
a “miniature” cricket on a radish leaf 
a hollow stump big enough to allow sisters to squeeze inside
a fallen tree with branches low enough and big enough for 5 kids to climb on!

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