Fungi in Winter

Typically, we think of winter as a time for plants and animals to go dormant and settle down. Really there are hundreds of thousands of organisms growing during these cold, wet, dreary months! During the winter, we can go out and see so many different types of (drum roll, please…) – FUNGUS! What is growing beneath our feet? Fungi in winter!

Basidiomyscetes are "club" fungi and release their spores from the underside of their cap.
Basidiomycetes are “club” fungi and release their spores from the underside of their cap.

What is Fungi?

Did you know that fungi aren’t weird plants? They are their own separate kingdom comprised of things other than just the mushrooms from the grocery store. To learn about some common Eastern United States Fungi and their purpose in the ecosystem, click here! Some look like a typical “mushroom” (club-like), others are little cups or sacs that shoot their spores out (think of them as fungi seeds), and others are molds (yeah, those gross, fuzzy looking things on that 6-week old refrigerator food).

yellow brain fungus
This Yellow Brain fungus may look gross and squishy, but is actually a fascinating part of the ecosystem. Both this and the title image were both taken during a hike late January!

Don’t be grossed out by them though! Fungi are amazing organisms that can survive for thousands of years (the oldest is roughly 8,650 years old and lives in the Blue Mountains!). Without these tiny little guys, we wouldn’t survive.

Fungi & the Ecosystem

Imagine all of the trees, leaves, and dead animals that have ever existed just littering the forest floor. We would be buried in dead stuff – and THAT is gross! Fungi are decomposers, so they eat the dead things that we don’t want around. While they don’t have visible mouths or tummy’s, they do have chemicals and enzymes that break down organic material to absorb nutrients through their cell walls.

Some fungi are parasites, slowly decomposing their live host. While this sounds bad, the end product can be a dead tree that provides habitat for so many animals like beetles and other insects that woodpeckers love to munch on, and Osprey that only nest in dead trees. Once a tree dies, it opens up a space in the canopy, allowing sunlight to reach to the forest floor where saplings and other understory plants grow.

Others are much more happy-sounding. Mycorrhizal fungi participate in a mutually beneficial relationship with plants. They wrap hyphae (think “roots”) around the plant roots and exchange nutrients! The fungus provides the plant with soil nutrients that the plant can’t access and the plant provides the fungus with some energy that it obtained through photosynthesis (a process that fungi can’t do). This is so important to healthy plant growth to most plant species all over the world!

Fungi as Food

Fungi also can be a valuable winter food resource to animals like squirrels and other small rodents like voles. Slugs, while we don’t often think of them as beneficial, also enjoy eating a mushroom or two!

Shelf fungus like these do end up decomposing the tree, but the dead wood provides valuable habitat to so many animal species!
Shelf fungus like these do end up decomposing the tree, but the dead wood provides valuable habitat to so many animal species!

Fascinated by fungi but don’t want them decomposing your house? Check out some of my art to see what mushrooms or fungi can catch your eye!

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2 Comments on “It’s Winter. What is still growing beneath our feet?”

  1. Why do you bipeds reproduce on such a planet? How can you cause a child to be born on such a viral planet? Stop reproducing on the planet. Use the available birth control such as vasectomy, tube tying, etc. What is the reason for reproducing on earth? Anyone who has knowledge of microbes, but continue to reproduce r walking microbes, meaning that they r controlled mind and body by microbes, and such groups r the medical professional, the scientists, etc. And they r zombies of microbes. Microbes control them mind and body just like the barnacles control the crabs. So, the medical professionals, which r shamans, can’t be trusted. How can anyone who have knowledge of the microbial planet and the reason why mankind keep a lifecycle of death and birth, where they r flimflammed into believing that they “resurrect” in other lifeforms from death, would purposefully keep mankind replicating. Everyone on earth is farmed on the planet by the putrid microbial air named deities and holy spirits. If mankind disappear, then this planet and all its viral inhabitants will disappear as well.

    • Interesting thought process – humans can definitely cause some extreme damage to the earth. While everyone has their own reason for having or not having kids, I definitely agree that people need to make conscientious decisions in regards to reproducing. As an ecologist, I would rather that people, who are a part of the global ecosystems as well as the wildlife and microbes, make more informed decisions to lead our population and future generations to be more eco-minded, rather than just ceasing to exist. I’d love to continue the discussion further if you’d like to in a civil and scientific fashion.

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