Saturday, August 29, 2009

When is a Fungus Not a Fungus?

When it’s Indian Pipe.

My first conversation about this blog after ‘announcing’ it took place, appropriately, not in cyberspace but on a trail in the Cricket Hill woods, with neighbor C. who, commenting on the fungus photos, said that Indian Pipe was not really a fungus at all, and suggested looking it up on Wikipedia, which I did.

Reminding me of Mel Brooks’ 1000 year old man’s assessment of the nectarine (“what a fruit!), let me just say, what a flower! Lifting directly from Wikipedia (accessed 8/28/2009 at

Monotropa uniflora, also known as the Ghost Plant, Indian Pipe, or Corpse Plant is a herbaceous perennial plant … native to temperate regions of Asia, North America and northern South America … generally scarce or rare in occurrence. Unlike most plants, it is white and does not contain chlorophyll. Instead of generating energy from sunlight, it is parasitic, more specifically a myco-heterotroph. Its hosts are certain fungi that are mycorrhizal with trees, meaning it ultimately gets its energy from photosynthetic trees. Since it is not dependent on sunlight to grow, it can grow in very dark environments as in the understory of dense forest. The complex relationship that allows this plant to grow also makes propagation difficult.”

Indian Pipe with Russulaceae, above, and more Russulaceae in same area, below.

OK, but that “complex relationship” is very cool – it actually derives sustenance through fungi of the family Russulaceae, which in turn are feeding on nearby trees. “Indian pipe is not parasitic upon nearby trees as are some other achlorophyllous plants (e.g., beechdrops), but rather fulfills its nutritional needs through the services of an intermediary, a mycorrhizal fungus."
"The fungus forms a connection with both Indian pipe and with nearby trees and transfers some of the photosynthate it derives from the tree roots to the Indian pipe. Experiments using radioactive isotopes of carbon and phosphorus injected into trees have shown that the marked carbon and phosphorus are taken up by the Indian pipe, thus documenting that it is, indeed, transferred by the fungus.” (Carol Gracie, “Indian Pipe, Summer Ghost of the Forest,” on the Web site of the Bedford Audubon Society, accessed 8/29/09 at

If anyone knows the species of any of the Russulaceae pictured in this post, please comment.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How the Car Loop got its name

Two mornings ago, the dogs and I walked the Car Loop. It’s a longish walk usually reserved for Sunday mornings. Its name dates back to an earlier period of living on the Hill when L. named our walking routes. This one was named after the 25-30 year old remains of a Toyota Corolla then living out its afterlife in the streambed of a brook running alongside the state forest road. It was always hard to imagine how it had managed to navigate the road, more of a rutted track really, to get itself in to that spot but not at all hard to understand why it had never left once it had.

For the first decade of walking past it we would mutter gloomily to ourselves about wanting to get that thing out of there, the mutterings usually lasting only until the road passed the lovely swampy area a quarter mile ahead and we’d be distracted by a flower or a bird or a dog wallowing in the mud. The car was also a sure-fire way to invigorate bored prepubescent boys visiting with their families who would see it, get a little wild, and inevitably leave with some piece of it in hand (the steering wheel in the hands of P. & P.’s grandson comes to mind). Anyway, round about year seven or eight of this, L. started fruitlessly calling state forest people once or twice a year to talk about getting it removed. Though the calls seemed to range from noncommittal to sympathetic, the Toyota remained firmly in place.
Finally, four or five years ago the intrepid L. took matters into her own hands, called J., another very determined woman, who assigned her boyfriend J. to deal with this situation -- J. of the auto-body repair business and the flat bed truck with winch. So one fine summer day, L. guided J. to drive the truck across the mile-and-a-half or so of rutted track to winch it out and drive the thing away. Two days ago there were only stray leftover pieces remaining next to a much more beautiful running stream. (More beautiful but not necessarily more interesting to the current and former prepubescent boys among us.) It will always be the Car Loop to us.

Click here for all the photos from Sunday’s walk.

Friday, August 21, 2009

New Favorite Sound

I’d never have guessed that a favorite sound here would be the noise of a large heavy diesel truck laboring its way the mile-and-a-half or so to the top of the road and then jake-braking its way back down the hill three-quarters of an hour later. But since the twice-daily trip of the milk truck up to the farm resumed earlier this year, it has become, along with the newly reinstituted proprietary call of the farm’s rooster, a much-welcomed addition to the sounds of the wind, birds and furry mammals nosing around the underbrush.

The farm had been very quiet for quite a while, even prior to the death of old Mr. L. a year or so ago. His last cows had gone a couple of years before he did, seemingly with all attention needed for his own care and not enough available for the beautiful brown Guernseys who had grazed in the east-facing pastures and sheltered in the magnificent enormous slate-roofed barn L. had built decades before.

This year, Mr. L.’s family accomplished a wonderful thing – brought back people and animals, activity, noise and smells to the top of the hill – with the old L. farmhouse now lived in by a young farming couple from town, cows (and horses) on the hillsides and the milk truck laboring up the hill and lunging back down later with the fresh creamy result of their hard work (and the delicious grass of Cricket Hill) inside.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


It’s hard to reconcile the bad press that fungus gets with the magnificent living forms in the woods on Cricket Hill. I took these photos earlier this week – the full set from that morning is here. The same cool-to-warm wet weather that nurtures these beauties also feeds the blight that’s afflicting the potato and tomato farmers down in the valley. But up in the hills it’s a lesson in form (and snuffling for 'shrooms, from the dogs' perspective). If anyone can help me specifically identify these, please comment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Welcome to Cricket Hill

The particular stump of tree in this photo, shown here flattered by the early morning light, marks the gateway into my wooded world. From my house I immediately head up a steep hill for about 200 feet to enter the woods. At the bottom as I begin I’m always a bit unconscious. By the time I’ve puffed my way to the top I’ve felt every muscle in my lower body, smelled the air, felt or not felt sun, rain and wind, noted the state of the sunlight, checked in with the dogs and thoroughly woken up. At the top this stump greets me with its interesting craggy old face and I’m on the hill.