A Misty Moisty Morning

My title line, from a traditional British ballad, seems perfect for the winter we’ve been having, a winter itself perfect for non-flowers. So today is my Nonflowerblogging day. Hail the Cryptogams, a laundry-basket term for lichens and mosses and ferns and fungi and all their motley relatives, organisms that reproduce not with flowers and seeds, but with spores, created asexually (don’t worry, the poor things do have sex, but in a process that’s completely separate from spore production). This lack of flowers was so mysterious to our medieval forbears they believed that on one singular night each year–it might have been St. John’s Eve but don’t quote me–if you crept into the woods, you could spy the ferns wantonly blossoming.

Try this with your kids before the winter wanes: pick a fresh, perky mushroom, bring it home, cut off the stem and set it overnight on a sheet of white (or black) paper. In the morning, on the paper, you’ll find a perfect, richly detailed image of the mushroom’s gills or pores. That image is made of countless microscopic spores that matured and were shed during the night. Sometimes the image is a real surprise: independent of the color of the cap, the print may be brown or black, purple, pink or lavender, snowy white or creamy. Float a little hairspray gently over it and you can keep it as a permanent memento of our misty moisty weather.

Here’s our crypto gallery:

2-13-10 Pom Pom Mushroom on Pam's Blue Ridge, Fairfax. These capless, 'toothed' mushrooms are choice edibles also used widely in Chinese medicine. The several species are variously called Lion's Manes, Bear's Teeth and more. This fine specimen was graced a fallen bay laurel trunk.

2-12-10 A fire-scarred manzanita limb with glowing red-brown bark, wearing epaulets of lichen.

1-28-10 Mixed mosses and lichens on a rock near Bon Tempe Lake.

2-12-10 Feather moss on a rain-drenched bay tree on the Hoo-Koo-E-Koo Trail. Our mosses get so bone-dry in summer that their protoplasm shrinks away from the cell walls into a brittle ball, but add water and the moss greens up and begins to photosynthesize in mere minutes. YOU try that!

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