And just like that, the leaves are down

Sunday, November 22, 2009

At first glance this might appear to be a picture of exotic ocean coral. But the identifying factor placing this scene in a Southeast Missouri woods is the fallen white oak leaf.

The colorful swirling shapes are a type of woody fungus that grows naturally on fallen logs or dead limbs. This fungus is, in my opinion, the most beautiful of several types of wild fungi called shelf fungus that grow naturally in Southeast Missouri.

Shelf fungi have scientific names that identify them. But most do not have individual common names. The shelf fungus pictured here is similar to leather in texture but can be torn much like cardboard. This particular fungus does not appear to be a common food source for larger forest animals, but does provide a home for some woodland insects such as beetles and microbes.

The shelf fungus grows on dead wood. It pulls nutrients out of the wood and helps break the wood down to create rich new soil called humus. An individual cluster of shelf fungus may survive for a few years on a log until the log rots, after which time the shelf fungus will die and rot as well.

I found this fungus growing on a fallen beech tree log.

Through the Woods is a weekly nature photo column by Aaron Horrell.

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