Late September is a wonderful time to see the colorful leaves in the Northland forests. As I walk on the road, passing the woods, I see plenty, even with the dryness this year. Reds are more common in sunny sites (apparently, the red pigment of anthocyanin acts as a "sunscreen" within the leaves). I see bright ones on red maples, sumacs, dogwoods, pin cherries, American hazels and young red oaks.

Yellows outnumber the reds and they shine on birches, aspens, basswoods, sugar maples, beaked hazels and ashes. These black ashes of the swamps are not usually credited for colors of fall, but today their glow abounds.

As I step away from the road and walk on the trails of the woods, I'm treated to another delight of September: the variety and abundance of mushrooms and other fungi. Until recently, September has been dry, but responding to precipitation has caused a bit of a "'shroom boom.” The many mushrooms here are of two types.

Most mushrooms stand up from the substrate (ground or logs) with a stem that holds a cap on top. Under the cap are many lined structures called gills. This is where the spores are found.

Other mushrooms, also common at this time, are with a stem (stalk) with a cap, but instead of gills below the cap, they have numerous tiny holes called pores that hold spores. These porous mushrooms are collectively called boletes. This woods walk shows me many gilled and porous mushrooms as well as non-mushroom fungi.

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Among the gilled mushrooms, I find russula, with caps of red, yellow, brown and white. I also find milk mushrooms (Lactarius) and bright red waxy caps (Hygrocybe) on the ground and tiny mycena and clusters of scaly-caps (Pholiota) on logs. With gills, but without stems are large growths of Pleurotus (oysters) scattered on logs and tree trunks.

A couple of non-mushroom fungi are on the sides of trees, standing out now: the bright red-orange sulphur shelf (Laetiporus) and the branching teeth of comb tooth (Hericium). Puffballs of a couple kinds, still not ripe, adorn prostrate logs.

Among the many boletes seen in the woods on this September day are some terrific ones. Boletes are often overlooked as mushrooms, but are highly varied and common in the forest at this time. Though I see boletes of several kinds, three stand out.

The yellow-capped slippery jack (Suillus) are growing in good numbers under white pines. These mushrooms are often associated with pines and can be abundant. Even though they are only inches tall, they give quite a sight.

Not as clustered, but still of note, are the dark scaber-talks (Leccinum). They have bright yellow, orange or red caps, above the rough stalks.

A king bolete mushroom. 
Contributed / Larry Weber
A king bolete mushroom. Contributed / Larry Weber

But the great discovery of my walk is a group of king boletes (Boletus edulis). I had seen them before, but not at this location. Many mushrooms can be passed by, but not king boletes. Living up to the name, they were about 8 inches tall and some with caps of nearly the same diameter — quite a mushroom gathering. I noted their presence and photographed them, counting 10 in all.

Returning to this site two days later, I saw that the number had been cut in half. Apparently, some hungry fungivore also found these mushrooms attractive and walked off with them. The mushroom woods walk had an encore as I found three more, coprinus, amanita and lepista, in the yard.

Hopefully, with adequate moisture, we will see many more fungal delights as we go through this new season of autumn.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber