The edge of the woods is decorated with early reds of autumn. I see this color in the small trees: sumac, hazel, pin cherry and highbush cranberry (leaves and berries), along with a few red maples.

But when I step into the woods, passing ripe blackberries along the way, I enter a domain that is still mostly green. Some trees have taken on their fall colors of yellow in the forests. Ash, birch and basswood carry most of this color. Some basswoods and big-tooth aspen have already dropped a few leaves; yellows blend with the brown leaves of the forest floor.

As I wander here, I also note the berries of several spring wildflowers; blooming weeks ago, they now come to maturity. Blue bead-lilies live up to their names and here too are red berries of trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, wild lily-of-the-valley and baneberry (both red and white).

But I’m here mostly looking for mushrooms. And there are plenty among the fallen leaves and logs. (As I look, I also see hopping movements of small wood frogs, spring peepers and toads. They show a testimony of good reproduction in the plentiful vernal ponds.) Mushrooms and other fungi abound in the September woods. Moisture and temperatures have been adequate for them to flourish and though this year’s growth is not what would be called a “shroom boom," there are many.

Besides the usual mushrooms of the forest floor, I find growths on trees and stumps of puffballs, corals and newly formed shelf fungi. Most of these shelves (also called brackets) are dark-colored, but I locate a large colony of sulphur shelf (chicken of the woods). This cluster of bright orange-yellow adds to the fall colors.

The mushroom called "Old Man of the Woods" as it appears in the woods of the Northland in late summer. Its dark scales and rough appearance gives it this name. (Photo by Larry Weber)
The mushroom called "Old Man of the Woods" as it appears in the woods of the Northland in late summer. Its dark scales and rough appearance gives it this name. (Photo by Larry Weber)

Among the common mushrooms rising from the ground, there is quite a diversity. The differences can be seen by looking under the caps. It is here the reproductive spores are forms. Most have line-like growths, called gills. Between these layers, the spores are produced. Nearly all of the mushrooms we see in our yards and woods are gill mushrooms.

These include the common russula, lactarius, amanita, hygrocybe and agaricus. (Mushrooms are often called by Latin names, many of which have also become common names.) I see each of these as I walk. Others have folds under the caps, almost looking like gills.

Best-known of these are the yellow-gold chanterelles. There are those with spines (teeth) beneath the caps. A frequently seen member of this group is called the hedgehog. And there are the boletes.

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Boletes are mushrooms that have tiny holes (pores) underside the caps where their spores grow. From above they appear to be like gill mushrooms. Collectively, this group is known as boletes.

And, like other fungi, boletes are a widely diverse group. King bolete is a choice for fungivores. Others are often associated with the trees that they grow near, such as birch, poplar and pine. And there are two that I always enjoy finding in the late summer and fall forest.

Blue-staining bolete demonstrate a bit of “magic” when it instantly turns blue upon being cut open. But the one that I find now is covered with black scruffy scales on the cap and stem. Being so rough looking has given this mushroom the unusual name of “Old Man of the Woods." (This is a strange name, but easier to say than the Latin name, strobilomyces.)

Yes, the September woods is a nice place for a stroll, made better by the presence of all of these various fungal growths.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber