The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 22, 2009


Spring Quartet

There are so many beetles, butterflies, other insects, wildflowers, birds, baby bunnies, weasels, reptiles and even mushrooms around right now, I could have had a whole harmonious orchestra but have reined myself in to just a quartet.

Dryad’s Saddle: A dryad is a wood nymph or tree-dwelling sprite. I have yet to see one but I know where one might sit. Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) is a kidney-shaped mushroom that gets to be about 12 inches or more wide. The top is pale brown with rows of dark brown flattened scales which give rise to its other common name, the Pheasant’s-back Polypore. The lower surface is off-white with many angular pores. These mushrooms grow like shelves on the sides of trees. They are very sturdy and could accommodate a hefty dryad. I spotted this clump from the car on May 12 on Lowell Street near the intersection with Curve Street. They were still there on May 18. They are edible in the sense that they are not poisonous. I selected a young (less tough) one, cut it in strips, marinated it overnight and found it to be as tasty as the marinade. My personal name for it is now the tofu polypore.

Swamp Beacon: The Swamp Beacon (Mitrula elegans) is a small mushroom that gets about two inches tall and grows on dead leaves in still, shallow water. They are covering a few square yards in very slow flowing water in the Towle woods. You can see them on both sides of the boardwalk on the Inner Trail at the point furthest from the parking lot. They have been there for several days and were still there on May 17. They have smooth white stalks and a translucent yellow-to-orange head with the general shape of a large-headed matchstick. (If you have a mushroom book, you might find Swamp Beacon listed as Mitrula paludosa, a species now known to occur only in Europe.) There is at least one other aquatic mushroom in our area which I have yet to find. It grows on twigs and is often submerged.

Bird’s Foot Violet: There are several species of violets flowering now. This one, Viola pedata, is not a rare plant but I had not seen it in the wild in Carlisle until last Sunday when Tom Brownrigg showed me some in Great Brook Farm State Park. It is growing in its preferred habitat of sandy soil at the edge of one of the big corn fields. The flowers are pale purple and have a flatter face than other violets and relatively large petals. The flowers may be an inch across with a white splash around the eye. The stamens are orange-tipped and stand out against the white. The common name comes from the leaves which are deeply divided. With some imagination and a good amount of color-blindness you can see the resemblance to a bird’s foot.

Pink Lady’s Slipper: Lady’s Slippers are in the orchid family. The pink ones, Cypripedium acaule, are widespread in the Carlisle woods and have been blooming for about two weeks. I usually see them growing in scattered groups where each plant is on its own or in a pair or sometimes in a small cluster. The reason I included them here is because of the very dense clumps I saw in Great Brook Farm State Park where there are about 20 to 30 flowers per clump. The color of the pouch varied in the group from pale pink to a deep rosy pink. They tend to have a low pollination rate and the seeds are very tiny with little nourishment for the embryo. The germination rate is low but if the wind-dispersed seeds land in an appropriate place they get by in their early years by teaming up with soil fungi. The time-lapse from germination to flowering is anywhere from eight to sixteen years.

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