Considering the Trees

By November 18, 2010Uncategorized

Last Saturday’s creek tour made for a beautiful day out, despite the lack of spawners in the creek. New naturalists Lisa Thompson and Ora Hathaway joined me, Carrie, UC Berkeley professor Ignacio Chapela and some of his Environmental Biology students and a young fellow named Ben, who was a joy to have on the walk.

Because the spawners haven’t arrived yet, we found much of non-salmonid interest to discuss, and I was struck as always by the importance of trees and decaying wood to everything in our watershed. We say that salmon grow on trees, and we discuss the importance of trees and riparian vegetation to the health and survival of the salmon, but even the most casual peek into the forest reveals many more organisms dependent upon trees, both living and dead, for their survival.

Ignacio, who is a mycologist, showed us the gorgeous Stereum species of golden to yellow, tan and brownish fungi growing profusely along the dead trees. Imagine my delight when he explained that the long rows and columns of single fungal bodies is actually all one fused organism, growing around the tree trunk, and thus taking its shape. There’s something very compelling about that idea, since we’re all shaped by our environment one way or another. Stereum is saprobic on the dead wood of hardwoods, meaning it survives by decaying, or decomposing dead or dying trees. It’s sometimes parasitized by jelly fungi, such as witches’ butter (Tremella mesenterica). Look for them in the woods!