It’s that time of year again when the preserves are exploding with some fascinating colors.
In a few weeks, you’ll be looking up high for fall color, but for now you’ll want to be looking down low and at eye level across the forest. That’s because at the moment, many preserves are teeming with fungi.
From the bright orange and yellow chicken of the woods, to the tiny false turkey tail and the eye-popping puffballs, there’s no shortage of things to see.
“September and October are great times for mushrooms,” said Forest Preserve interpretive naturalist Kelli Parke. “It’s the right time and we’ve had the rain.”
In Illinois, there are at least 2,000 species of mushrooms and a walk through the preserves can yield a wide variety of interesting finds.
While it appears there’s new life springing up, the fungi have been alive and well all along as the microscopic mycelium – the vegetative part of fungi – has been absorbing nutrients from the environment.
“When the conditions are right, like a flower, it puts out the fruiting body,” Parke said. “The fruiting body is what we see, it’s the mushroom.”
What you see today may not be what you see tomorrow, considering a mushroom’s life span can be as short as a few days, with its appearance changing rapidly over this time.
Unlike the fruiting body, the underlying mycelium is anything but short-lived. For example, there’s a colony of Armillaria solidipes at Malheur National Forest in Oregon that’s estimated to be between 1,900 and 8,650 years old.
Here’s a sampling of the fabulous fungi on our preserve’s forest floor right now:
CHICKEN OF THE WOODS