Storm-Driven Oak Leaves

storm driven oak leaves

During my regular morning walk with the beagles, sometimes the rawest weather rewards me the most for being out. In this case rain squalls were sweeping across the valley below, pushed by a wind that was gusting to 30 mph. What looks likes birds fleeing before the wind were the last of the leaves being stripped from an oak tree. Oaks and beeches can hang on to their spent leaves until spring when the replacements push the old out of the way. Nonetheless, thiswind was stripping hilltop oak bare.

Like a flock of small birds, the leaves darted about the sky even as they move in a single general direction. Those that hit the ground flitting along, sometimes rising back into the sky. They brought to mind a belief from childhood – if you put salt on a bird’s tail, it would not be able to fly away and then you could catch it.

The groundling leaves reminded me of how birds used to stay just ahead of us kids when we tried the salt method. They always flitted along just out of reach, sometimes rising to land a little farther on. In this case, I was trying to catch some of the leaves so I could identify the type of oak trying so hard to retain its leaves. It was a probably a black oak (quarus velutina). But someone more of an expert than myself would need to sort out some of the oaks by their leaves alone, because the leaves from the wild seldom match the ones in leaf identification books.

All Herefords in a field look the same until you really get to know the herd.

Mutinus elegans

Mutinus elegans JCBright
Mutinus elegans JCBright

I have walked the same field almost daily for over thirty years and never noticed this fungus although I am sure it has always been there. Mutinus elegans did not recently hop off a shipping pallet from Asia – it was first recorded in Virginia in the 1600’s. I need to be more observant since its bold red, a strong contrast with the grass, makes it hard to miss.

Once tuned in I found several more. They first appear as slightly smaller than a golf ball bubble in tan. They hold hard at that point until the autumn rains and the temperature are to their liking.  Then stand back. These fungi grow to their full height (about 3 inches) in less than 2 days.  Within a few days they start to wither, fall over and totally disappear.

What looks like it might be a red leaf caught in the grass, is in fact a sweet sticky mass containing spores. Insects are attracted by the sweetness, at which point the spores tag along for rides to points unknown.