What’s in your backyard? I’ll bet there is more than you might be aware of. You just have to take the time to walk around and look. Sometimes it involves crawling behind bushes or stalking an animal that is all too aware (and wary) of your presence. You may have to venture out at midnight when nature’s nocturnal community members create the noises of the dark. Sometimes it involves getting down to eye level with a mushroom; how else to see the details that reveal its mighty stretch through the upper layer of your lawn? You may even be tempted to taste that cool looking fungus. That’s one temptation that it is better to
avoid. I once took a mushroom course
(Field Mycology, 101). I soon learned that two of my fellow classmates were members of a mushroom club. They knew the common and scientific names of every species we collected during our daily hunts. I clearly recall the day they located a stash of Boletus edulis, or that is what they thought they had. No spore prints or stain test was necessary for them. A simple slice with a pocket knife and out flowed a stream of ‘blue blood’. That was the acid test. It was indeed the edible variety. Unfortunately someone had forgotten that blue blood meant just the opposite, it was the poisonous version. They found out the next day when each of them was suddenly hit with the urge to vomit and sit on a toilet at the same time (a
difficult thing to manage with dignity). One woman was in a bank lobby when her fungal frenzy commenced. After the bank employees unlocked three sets of doors she was finally granted access to the highly guarded comfort station just in the nick of time.
Mushrooms are a curious lot. They sometimes grow in a pattern that reflects the log or abandoned wood that their subterranean mycelia are anchored to. If you ever find them in a perfect circle you have found a fairy ring, mushrooms growing around the perimeter of an old buried tree trunk. One of my favorites is the puffball. When fresh and firm they are all edible. When old and dried
they pop open explosively to spew your yard with black clouds of spores as fine as flour. Then there is the Russula. I usually find their broad fruiting bodies with chunks missing from them. That’s sure evidence that a squirrel has been feasting on these poisonous morsels. Then there are the Amanita. Their bright
colors, speckles, and persistent annulus (ring around the stalk) are usually enough to warn away the cautious. All of these and others have appeared in my yard, mostly unnoticed by the casual passerby.
Of course, there is no good reason to overlook my garden, other than the fact that it was declared a disaster area by the FDA. It seems that I miscalculated the amount of sun that would fall on my chosen plot. The result was stunted or entirely nonproductive plants. Cucumbers that were supposed to be 10” long were stretching to achieve a maximum length of about 4.5”. They still did present a photographic opportunity.
All of my cucumber vines were suspended from above to avoid any problem caused by contact with the ground. They were also fed and watered well. The photograph shows you what I got. Each one was worth two bites in a fresh salad. Maybe next time I will grow pickles … small pickles.
Most people would like to have ferns in their gardens, but they are often difficult to grow. It requires the right amount of moisture and shade. If you are lucky they will appear all on their own, as they do in our yard. Our yard is just a little extension of the surrounding forest and as such it reflects what grows there.
There are at least a dozen different species of fern that grow naturally in Rhode Island. I
completely forget all the distinctions between them (I did know at one time) and am just too lazy to key out the ones pictured here, one of several in our small domain. Of course, where there are ferns they may also be wild orchids. I am speaking about the lady slipper, or Cypripedium sp. The woods on the edge of my yard (basically the part of our land where the trees were not cut down) contain loads of these. I always thought they
were difficult to find. They do well mostly on the east side of the property, right up to the street. They are always found under the shade of trees and they make a vibrant addition to the mostly green and brown surroundings. So, I’ll let the lady slipper be my last
photograph for this short guide to the yard flora in Hope Valley. Next time around I’ll display some of the animals that visit our area … I will even try to post some of the strange sounds they make at night.