Spring brings plants, amphibians and… fungus to Washington forests

Calypso orchid. Photo: K. Bevis.
Calypso orchid. Photo: K. Bevis.

As the days grow longer and the earth warms, new growth appears first on the forest floor and in the bushes and grasses, then on the tall trees above. Flowering plants like the calypso orchid are specialists on the forest floor, living on moist decaying wood in older forests and are a wonderful surprise to see. Calypso, or fairy slipper, orchids are fragile and seldom survive picking or transplanting due to their fragile root systems and their association with particular soil fungi.

Amphibians

Rough-skinned newt.
Rough-skinned newt.

Frogs, toads and salamanders become active in the spring as well, breeding as ponds and wetlands lose their ice cover and the edges warm. Depending on where you are, the woods can be alive with their breeding migrations and choruses from late-February to June. Spend an evening listening to their singing or an afternoon watching rough-skinned newts wandering the woods.

Fungus

Lobster mushroom.
Lobster mushroom.

Moist soils and rotting wood produce amazing springtime explosions of mushrooms all over Washington. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of fungi, with the mycelium or “root mass” buried below ground. The mycelium unobtrusively break down organic material on the forest floor, helping to ensure the health of the forest and its residents. When conditions are right, the mushrooms themselves appear, often literally overnight, in crazy and varied shapes, sizes and colors. Mushrooms are also abundant in the fall. If you plan on picking mushrooms, be careful and take along an experienced mushroomer or a good field guide. Although some mushrooms are a tasty treat for humans and wildlife alike, others can make you sick or even kill you.

This blog first appeared in a longer version in Small Forest Landowner News, a free e-newsletter published quarterly by the DNR Small Forest Landowner Office. Click here to get Small Forest Landowner News delivered to your email in-box each quarter