I am fortunate to have a 4000-acre forest preserve out my back door.  It is a respite from the chaos of the city of Chicago, 20 miles to the east, and the suburbs that surround it.  From September through May I walk these woods several times a week.  There are miles of trails from the well-maintained, to unofficial but regularly used paths, to the temporary favorites of the local wildlife.  I know its rhythms and revel in its routines.  My favorite season to be out there is winter.  I love the hush of the freshly fallen snow, the way it rests upon limbs highlighting the arching, winding, reaching branches.  And most of all, I love to read the tracks in the snow to know who lives where and who has passed by. 

But this November and December have brought new treasures to my familiar woods.  Mushrooms.  Lots and lots of mushrooms.  It’s been a wet, mild fall and there’s so much deadfall out there. (It could use a healthy fire).  Perfect conditions for forest fungi.  Sure, the bracket mushrooms have always been around, but now, almost every time I go out, I come home trying to identify a new fungus.  Mushrooms, mosses and lichens are among my favorite subjects to photograph.  I’m loving it!

These Auricularis (Tree Ear) mushrooms looked like gelatinous deflated balloons at first glance.  As I got closer, they look velvety.  These are two views of the same two fungi.  I can’t decide which I like better, the fleshy, old, wrinkly one on the left or the velvety texture of the one on the right.

Kitten Toes

Kitten Toes? (Split Gill mushroom, Schizophyllum commune)

This fluffy, miniature one looks like little kitten toes. Isn’t the texture amazing?!

Turkey Tail
Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) in the shape(ish) of a heart

Turkey tail, a common shelf fungus, is a little bit different everywhere it grows. Big and small, vivid bands and dull, it always warrants a closer look.

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Witch’s Butter (Tremella mesenterica)

You can see how little this is by the size of the leaf stem below it.  It was lying on the forest floor, a glowing yellow among the browns and grays.  This gelatinous fungus is actually a parasite of a crust fungus that is living on the deadwood.  That’s right, two for the price of one.  And some green lichens thrown in for flair!

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Fern Moss with sporophytes (i.e.: moss flowers) and snow crystals

This is one of my favorite images of the season. I love the prickly, miniature ferny leaves, the tall, spindly sporophytes and the shards of crystal snow nestled on top.

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A Crust Fungus (maybe netted crust) with snow crystals

This looks like latex paint spilled and left to dry.  They’re all so different!

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Toothed Crust fungus (Basidioradulum radula)

From a few feet away, this fungus looks flat.  But up close, I see that it is aptly named.  This branch is about 2″ in diameter.

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Exidia Recisa

Another jelly fungus ringed with frost and back-lit making it look like it has an inner light source.  Luminous jelly.  This is another of my favorites.

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The finest of the fungi and mosses

I wasn’t able to identify this.  These stalks are fine as hair with the round tops only a few millimeters in diameter.  I suspect its a fungus, but I can’t find anything like it.  Do you recognize it?

This thick Artists Conk (left) supports its share of life.  Its been weathering and hanging on this wood pile for a long time now.  I pass it every time I go out and its always changing. That’s nature.

And sometimes I even look up.  Frozen water droplets on bittersweet berries (with Tybee in the background) and an old opened wasp nest hanging tight.  Isn’t fun to see all these exotic, complex things in just a walk out the back door?  Thanks for coming with me.  I hope you enjoyed it, too.