National Geographic : 1955 Jul
Feasting on a Fallen Giant, + Mushrooms Spread Parasols in the Dim Forest Light Wood-destroying mushrooms play a dramatic role in the life cycle that returns a forest to Mother Earth. They feed by penetrating dead and decaying plants and trees, building a labyrinth of hair-thin, rootlike structures that secrete chemicals to dissolve and digest the woody fibers. Mushrooms remain hidden until ideal conditions of warmth, moisture, and food supply bring them popping to the surface in a display of bright colors and varied shapes. Cap, gills, and stalk of a fully developed gilled mushroom suggest the cover, ribs, and handle of an umbrella. Spores drop from the gills in vast num bers; a single mature plant of one species casts off as many as five billion micro scopic spores. Saucerlike shelf fungus on the drier up per portions of the log lives for years by adding a new layer to its undersurface each season. A true parasite, it infects the wounds of living trees. Drab lichens and mosses mat the top pled trunk. © National Geographic Society 102 Kodachromes by Paul A. Zahl + Shelf Fungus Doubles as Nature's Slate Unlike most other mushrooms, tough, woody Fomes retains its shape when plucked. The slightest touch leaves dark markings on the porous underside, giving rise to the name "artist's fungus." Here, with special permission of park authori ties, Mrs. Zahl demonstrates with a twig. Wild Strawberries Match -+ Color with Waxy Mushrooms. Page 103: Mushrooms lack chlorophyll, the green substance with which most plants manufacture food. Hence, like scavenging animals, they feed on the re mains of other organisms. Although some mushrooms are edible, the poisonous species may be violently lethal. Only experts dare gather the woodland delicacies for the table. Many varieties, though harmless, are too leathery to eat. Soft, waxy gills characterize Hygropho rus, which often grows with the white blossomed Fragaria,a wild strawberry.