Just the thought of these tart red berries makes my mouth water. These are fruits of small cranberry (Vacciniumoxycoccos) and not to be confused with the ones in the grocery stores, which are cultivars of large cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon). Both species grow in wet habitats with deep peat soils. Vaccinium macrocarpon is only native to North America, but Vacciniumoxycoccos has a circumboreal distribution. Outside of North America, Vacciniumoxycoccos is cultivated to some extent.
I’ve found small cranberry in intermediate fens, poor fens, and raised bogs. They seem to fruit best in full sun. Sometimes they will make a few berries under the shade of tamaracks and black spruce. This group is growing in an open poor fen with lots of peat moss and cottongrass and no trees. There were thousands of berries to pick, but they were a little past their prime after a recent hard frost. I don’t know what wild animals and birds might feed on them. Perhaps ruffed grouse or bears do. I saw bear tracks in the fen and ruffed grouse along its edge in the low-growing shrubs, but no sign that the berries had been eaten.
It’s fully autumn now and despite frosty nights and sometimes cooler days, this is a good time to hunt for mushrooms. At this time of the year, there are many interesting species popping up from the duff, through the moss, the sides of rotting logs, and even from fallen pine needles.
Boletes, a broad term for genera of pore fungi, have been sprouting in the woods these last few weeks. One afternoon in early October I came upon Suillus spectabilis, the larch bolete. It wasn’t a very handsome specimen, as some animal, perhaps a mouse or red squirrel, had taken some big chunks out of the cap. This reddish mushroom grows in conifer swamps where tamarack or larch (coniferous trees in the genus Larix) occur forming an ectomycorrhizal association. Two other Suillus (Suillus cavipes, Suillus grevillei) that also form ectomycorrhizal associations with Larix were noted in the area.
Finding Suillus spectabilis helped to solve another Suillus identification problem. This other Suillus species was growing on some high ground near the edge of the tamarack swamp but also just a few yards away from a white pine the ectomycorrhizal associate another bolete: Suillus spraguei (syn. Suillus pictus). Given the close proximity to two possible symbionts, I wasn’t sure whether this mushroom was growing in association with pine roots or tamarack roots. Now that I had a new red Suillus for comparison, the differences were immediately obvious. I could now add the pine bolete or Suillus spraguei to the fungi checklist.
The differences between the two species, aside from the conifers they associate with, are seen in the cap, pores, and stem. For Suillus spectabilis (see here, here, and here), the cap is reddish with large pink scales; the pore surface is at first yellow, later turning brown; the margin of the cap’s underside is thin and the edge is not inrolled, and the stem is more or less equal in width from top to bottom, fibrillous and reddish.
Suillus spraguei (see here, here, and here) has a cap covered in red-brown scales; the underside is yellowish, later fading to brown; the cap margin is inrolled when young, and the stem may be a little wider at the base than at the top.
Boletes such as Suillus have undergone taxonomic revisions in recent decades clarifying genus and species delineations using molecular phylogeny. The genus is divided into three subgroups: Granulatus, Tomentosus, and Spectabilis. Subgroup Spectabilis includes Suillus spectabilis while subgroup Granulatus includes Suillus spraguei. Members of subgroup Spectabilis form ectomycorrhizal associations with Larix (larch, tamarack) and Pseudotusga (Douglas fir). Those in subgroup Granulatus form ectomycorrhizal associations with Pinus (pines) and one species is ectomycorrhizal with pines and Quercus (oaks). Ectomycorrhizal associations with Pinus in the subgroup Granulatus are further partitioned between two-needle and five-needle pines.
I’m working on a few posts related to fungi and insects. One should be ready next weekend and will feature an unusual beetle that eats bracket fungi and sprays poison on its enemies. And a beautiful beetle, too, will be discussed. The fungi posts will be about some important species found across the northern boreal forests. There are still literature searches going on that lead me down many wandering paths, as well as coalescing all of this information into writing before these are ready to post.
Possibly. Temperatures at night have gone below freezing four times since mid-September which has put an end to the songs of crickets and grasshoppers. Bees and butterflies are gone, either killed by the cold weather or hibernating. But in the last six days, I’ve seen a moth, Operophtera bruceata (Bruce Spanworm), flying in the woods. Operophtera bruceata is a brownish moth with faint markings and is in the Geometridae. On Thursday and Friday, I turned on my porch light and attracted about 25 moths each night. That’s the largest number of Operophtera bruceata I’ve ever seen at one time so this must be a boom year for them. Saturday and Sunday nights saw fewer moths and on Monday there were none.
Operophtera bruceata spends only a few weeks of its life as a moth. From late fall to May it is an egg hidden in cracks and crevices in tree bark waiting out the winter. In May and June, the larvae hatch and begin feeding. The larvae feed on a variety of common tree species but prefer aspen, sugar maple, beech, and willow. Pupation lasts until October.
Operophtera bruceata exhibits sexual dimorphism with winged males and wingless females. Apparently, this strategy works well as the moth is widespread in North America.
Other moths are also appearing at the lights. One is Lithophane grotei (Grote’s Pinion) which has only recently eclosed. It will not mate until next spring. Instead, Lithophane grotei will find shelter under bark or woody debris to hibernate and wait out the winter. A different life strategy from that of Operophtera bruceata. Its larvae feed on maple, birch, cherry, and apple leaves. Lithophane grotei is widespread in the northeastern US and Ontario and Quebec in Canada.
A third species at the lights was Sunira bicolorago (Bicolored Sallow). This species is common over most of the US and southern Canada east of the Mississippi River in moist forests. The larvae of Sunira bicolorago are generalist feeders of many herbaceous and woody plants and not just willows as its common name might suggest.
The fourth, and perhaps the final moth of the year, I saw was Xanthia tatago (Pink-barred Sallow). Like Sunira bicolorago, it occurs in moist forests where willows and cottonwoods grow as it is a food specialist and feeds exclusively on plants in the willow family (Salicaceae). Early larval stages feed on the catkins of willow (I can’t find any information about feeding on cottonwood catkins) and later on the leaves.
Weather forecasts over the next two weeks show decreasing day and night temperatures with highs rarely reaching the 50s and lows down in the 20s. Not unexpected weather for this time of the year. On sunny days some tiny moths or caterpillars might be out but evening mothing is probably over until March next year at the earliest. But that’s not set in stone as on December 15 last year there was this sighting of an Acleris sp. (possibly Acleris busckana). In the meantime, until temperatures are consistently at or below freezing, there will be other insects, spiders, and other small arthropods out and about waiting, I hope, to be photographed.