Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Woodpecker Tree

The woodpecker tree fell with a resounding plop onto the very spot my last client had been parked 15 minutes before. We were very lucky and so was she. Imagining the damage to her car and the dueling insurance companies was an interesting few minutes. It would have been all our responsibility...really mine; I left the tall tree carcass for the Downy and Red Bellied Woodpeckers.

Those woodpeckers are a delight to see....and even though they lost their happy tree house...there are plenty of other trees on our wooded acre. They seem to like the telephone and power polls, too. This photo was taken in early spring...I haven't been able to get a good shot of them again.

When it fell, it conveniently broke into 3 large sections...so I was able to roll them just a bit to get them out of the way. In the meantime, we've left them for the arborist to haul away later this summer.

I've just recently noticed they were sporting some fabulous looking members of the tree mushroom family.

These are my favorites. Aren't they wonderful looking. I haven't the faintest idea what to call them but they are the cutest couple! But they are good looking mushrooms. (click to enlarge)

I've search engined mushrooms and fungi and visited a few sites to attempt to identify these beautiful gifts of nature. But, I couldn't find them.

One site was quite interesting... You can visit it here Fungi

Here's a few excerpts that I found informative and maybe a bit dry (!) from that site. I love the language of botanists and biologists...although I often need a translator! I've highlighted the better sections!

The organisms of the fungal lineage include mushrooms, rusts, smuts, puffballs, truffles, morels, molds, and yeasts, as well as many less well-known organisms (Alexopoulos et al., 1996). More than 70,000 species of fungi have been described; however, some estimates of total numbers suggest that 1.5 million species may exist (Hawksworth, 1991; Hawksworth et al., 1995).
As the sister group of animals and part of the eukaryotic crown group that radiated about a billion years ago, the fungi constitute an independent group equal in rank to that of plants and animals. They share with animals the ability to export hydrolytic enzymes that break down biopolymers, which can be absorbed for nutrition. Rather than requiring a stomach to accomplish digestion, fungi live in their own food supply and simply grow into new food as the local environment becomes nutrient depleted.

Wait, here comes the really good stuff!

Most biologists have seen dense filamentous fungal colonies growing on rich nutrient agar plates, but in nature the filaments can be much longer and the colonies less dense. When one of the filaments contacts a food supply, the entire colony mobilizes and reallocates resources to exploit the new food. Should all food become depleted, sporulation is triggered. Although the fungal filaments and spores are microscopic, the colony can be very large with individuals of some species rivaling the mass of the largest animals or plants.

Ok, we are getting to sex!

Prior to mating in sexual reproduction, individual fungi communicate with other individuals chemically via pheromones. In every phylum at least one pheromone has been characterized, and they range from sesquiterpines and derivatives of the carotenoid pathway in chytridiomycetes and zygomycetes to oligopeptides in ascomycetes and basidiomycetes.

More about woodpeckers in this paragraph:

Within their varied natural habitats fungi usually are the primary decomposer organisms present. Many species are free-living saprobes (users of carbon fixed by other organisms) in woody substrates, soils, leaf litter, dead animals, and animal exudates. The large cavities eaten out of living trees by wood-decaying fungi provide nest holes for a variety of animals, and extinction of the ivory billed woodpecker was due in large part to loss, through human activity, of nesting trees in bottom land hardwoods. (Carroll and Wicklow, 1992; Cooke and Whipps, 1993; Dix and Webster, 1995).

We haven't even touched the mycorrhizal fungi relationship, without which most plants (including our lawns) would not survive. I will save that exciting lesson for another day;-)

It's obvious to me that I have fallen into the internet Rabbit Hole...looking for one thing and before you know it, you have been everywhere, gathering way too much information and spending far too much time. You all know what I mean. It is a delightful trip most of the time with none of the weirdness that Alice experienced. But for now, there is just too much information on mushrooms with so many good sites.

and...As much as I wanted to be able to identify them. There was no way....there isn't enough time already in my day! Until google and other search engines perfect an image search it will continue to be exhaustive. So, I had to call in a favor. My son is a grad student in Providence, RI and he has a colleague who is a mycologist, a big mushroom and fungi expert. A welcome Six Degrees of Separation (no Kevin Bacon) from an expert! I've forwarded the photos of my favorites and these others.
Which I also think are cool looking.

It would be nice to have an id for them, but really I don't care! I love knowing that they are important in the ecological scheme of life...that given enough time they could turn those trunk pieces into some nice rich humus, that fungi have an important mycorrhizal role in our world and that some of them are darn good tasting!

For your pleasure:

Portabellas Stuffed with Red Pepper Humus (oops, Hummus!)

This isn't a recipe so much as a set of guidelines that you can follow to stuff portabellas with any pre-cooked filling.
  1. Prepare your filling. Allow about 2-3 tablespoons of filling per mushroom. (These are not the large portabellas but the ones that are about 2 inches wide and come 6 to a pack.) You can buy any kind of hummus in most grocery stores and they do sell a nice Red Pepper Hummus. I used about 1 cup of hummus for 6 mushrooms.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Clean the portabellas and remove the stem and any fluffy flesh that surrounds it.
  3. Brush or spray a baking dish with a little olive oil. Sprinkle a little salt on the inside of each mushroom (optional, but does add flavor). Fill them with the stuffing, heaping it high in the middle, and set them in the baking dish. Spray the tops with a little olive oil, if you wish, to help prevent them from drying out.
  4. Place in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes. Serve hot, sprinkled with a little paprika if desired.
If you prefer your hummus cold, you may cook the portabellas without the filling and fill them with it when they are done. Simply follow the cooking directions above, placing them in the baking dish with the cavity side down. (Fat Free Vegan)


The Rose: Just what species or, shall we say, genus are you, my dear?
Alice: Well, I guess you would call me... genus, humanus... Alice.
Daisy: Ever see an alice with a blossom like that?
Orchid: Come to think of it, did you ever see an alice?
Daisy: Yes, and did you notice her petals? Such a peculiar color.
Orchid: And no fragrance.
Daisy: And just look at those stems.
The Rose: Rather scrawny, I'd say.
Bud: I think she's pretty.
The Rose: Quiet, bud.


  1. The Internet Rabbit Hole, LOL. I've fallen into that many a time!
    Very informative post, though I'm not sure I followed all of it--the science part of my brain doesn't always function properly. I agree that mushrooms are fascinating. My husband used to go mushroom hunting years ago, but I prefer to buy my mushrooms so that I know they're the safe variety!

  2. Rose,

    Rose, Me, too! Our local Whole Foods has the best mushrooms, too. They had ones with blue stems, so pretty.

    Rose, how are you? I have been wondering if you are drying out up there? The weather this spring has been very odd.

    The science stuff is hard for me, too...my brain doesn't remember any of the terms after I read them or have any idea how to pronounce most of them....my son is helpful and a darling.


  3. Those woodpeckers like the side of my house too-vinyl sided side! Good thing the tree didn't take anything out. Can't wait to read of the mycorrhizae. I utilize them alot by using the compost and believe they are essential to growing. Love the last part-from Alice in Wonderland I am thinking?

  4. Gail, what an almost catastrophe! You are so right about getting lost in cyberspace. Been there many times and ended up hours later knowing lots of trivia, but not finding what I was looking for. Your mushrooms are lovely, whatever their names!

  5. I'm reminded of the part of "Alice in Wonderland" where the caterpillar has her eat part of the mushroom; one side makes you larger, the other makes you small. Kind of makes you wonder what old Dodgson was on.
    I applaud your efforts for trying to save the dead tree for the woodpeckers. Too bad that kind of thing works best away from the house & away from the driveway.

  6. A narrow escape from disaster, but an escape nonetheless! When I see woodpeckers here, they're usually on the telephone pole behind my house. Occasionally I spot one on my pine tree (which worries me a bit but not enough yet to take it down). Cool mushrooms: hope some are edible!

  7. Tina,

    You won't believe the hole they hollowed to get to a carpenter bee nest We hung a mirror, that actually worked then we hung a fake blow up snake...that has worked very well.

    Fungi is good!

    yes, I forgot to credit lice in Wonderland!


  8. mmd,

    Hello there, yes, do ask Alice! I am now humming White Rabbit along with Gracie Slick...The tree, my bad! I forgot to check it periodically for complete rot when along came some strong winds and that is the rest of my story!


  9. Cindy,

    I do like woodpeckers as bothersome as they can occasionally be! Yes, for some reason they continue to hang out on the poles...nice creosote tasting bugs!

    It will be nice to know their species!


  10. Oh my, Gail! Does your client know how narrow an escape she had? Or will you wait until the next appointment to let her know how lucky you all were - except for the woodpeckers.

    The Internet Rabbit Hole is my true home nowadays - I end up there no matter what simple thing the search starts with - which is how I read that some mushrooms are among the Largest Living things on planet Earth.

    Although I have no portabellas around, you've reminded me that there's an open container of Red Pepper Hummus in the refrigerator and it's calling my name.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  11. Becky,

    They are aren't they...I noticed that they are declining out there and think it may be the high temps and low humidity. I am just so glad I got some good photographs! After todays post I went to the grocery and bought some morel mushrooms for dinner!


  12. Wow! Talk about good fortune! I'm so glad that that tree fell when it did!

    Mushrooms are so interesting and really pretty, but unfortunately, I could never go mushroom hunting. I'd love to go, but it's hard to tell what's poisonous or not. I'd rather go to the grocery store!

  13. That post from Cam was really from me, DP. lol. I forgot to sign out of his account! :-)

  14. Annie,

    Yes it is quit an internet adventure...That is a fabulous mushroom article!...I read the headline and first paragraph and will return to read it all!

    My college roommate has been here for 4 days and she and are are both on our computers calling out stories to each other. We laugh and run away from the house to take a break! Our husbands are off on business trips.

    Red pepper hummus! Yummy!


  15. DP,

    Well, I was excited to see a new visitor but you are always welcome!

    How's the garden, surviving this heat, did I hear rain in the forecast? I certainly hope so!


  16. That was a close call. Lucky for everyone. Hope the birds had already hatched their babies(-: I think the mushrooms are interesting. I can't believe how they just hang on there and grow like that. Very cool.

  17. cindee,

    I was really lucky and fortunately I saw no evidence of baby birds or nests...so the woodpeckers knew a bad high rise apartment when they saw it!

    Amazing life forms the mushrooms and other fungi.


  18. That was a close one fro your client! It would be nice to know more about the types of mushrooms out there. The talk about the portabella mushrooms is making me hungry! I like them in omelets.

  19. Dave,

    I had sauteed vegetables with portabella mushrooms over brown rice with a bit of cheese last night with my old college roommate. We decided to recreate a favorite cheap college meal for old time's sake.

    So glad that I could learn this lesson without anyone or anything getting hurt!


  20. Rain would be nice, but so far, it looks pretty sunny from where I sit! :-)

  21. Inquiring minds want to know....LOL and how many of us have been lost in cyberspace looking for details. Glad the tree toppled with no damage although those birds are a bit distressed probably. Wish I knew how to tell mushrooms apart. They taste so good but they can kill you oh so slowly!

  22. Glad you crawled out of the hole, Alice, but thanks for taking us along on your journey! The shrooms are very cool, named or not. And the prose at end is delightful, as are you!

  23. Gail, Mushrooms are fascinating. Morels grow wild where my mom lives. They dry the surplus, so they have morels year 'round.

    Small coincidence - I watched a fascinating talk from TED today about mushrooms. Ever hear of Paul Stamets? If you haven't seen this, I think you'd enjoy it too, especially after your visit to the internet rabbit hole on the subject of mushrooms.


  24. layanee,

    Inquiring minds indeed! I would never attempt to identify mushrooms to eat!~ Although, I do find most quite tasty.

    I hope the birds are ok!


  25. diana,

    Just what I needed today, thank you! I have had few opportunities to fall back into the hole with company at my house;-) Oh, my it is fun and addictive!


  26. Gardengirl,

    I just bought dried morels and this winter we will have a wonderful dish my husband cooks..Risotta Morels! Won't you join us! Do you pick them with her? I always wanted to stumble upon some!

    Thanks, I love Ted and will head over there! Isn't it a great series? It is so easy to start listening to them and hours later...you wonder where your day disappeared!


  27. The fungi are fascinating. They're so diverse. When I lived on the west coast I used to pick chanterelle mushrooms in the fall, which are very tasty.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson