By Katie O’Hara Kelly
After the Rain
After we got 8 inches of rain a few weeks ago, some Morel mushrooms popped up on our property, like they do every Spring! Mushrooms aren’t flowers, but they are the fruiting body (spore producing organ) of a fungus. Morels are unique mushrooms, in that they appear in the spring rather than the fall. They are a type of sac fungi that aren’t that common! Sac fungi get their names from the fact that they produce their spores, called ascospores, in special pods or sac-like structures called asci. In other words, the spores are found on the walls of the honey-combed exterior. They are quite difficult to see as they are SO camouflaged with their surroundings. Once you find one, the rest suddenly become visible! A few days later I went back and three of them had been eaten, with only their stem remaining! Many wild critters eat mushrooms, including deer and flying squirrels.
To my delight I came across a patch of Common Horsetails with many sporophytes this week! They were a lovely surprise! Horsetails have been around a long time, and are considered “living fossils”! During the Devonian period, approximately 3,500 years ago, they were as thick as forests and as big as trees!
Horsetails, like mushrooms, ferns, and mosses, reproduce via spores not seeds and do not have flowers. Horsetails are actually classified as ferns!!! They can also reproduce directly from underground rhizomes. This particular species is dimorphic, with infertile vegetative stems that are green and photosynthetic, and fertile stems that are brown and not photosynthetic, but do produce strobili (a structure resembling the cone of a conifer) covered with sporangiophores that produce spores.
Horsetails are also called “Scouring Rush”, because pioneers used them to scrub pots and pans. Their hollow, jointed, ridged stems have silica in their cells which makes them tough!
The following information, from https://sciencing.com/horsetail-s-life-cycle-5673810.html, explains part of the horsetail life cycle.
“Spore-Producing Phase: Spore cases form small to large cones (strobili) on the stems of the plant. The spores themselves are dispersed by the wind. If they land in a wet or damp place, they can germinate and grow into tiny plants called gametophytes.
Gametophytes: The gametophyte grows two different structures, one holding female gametes in tiny cups and the other holding male gametes equipped with tails to aid in movement. This phase of the horsetail’s life cycle, known as gametophyte generation, exists to ensure genetic diversity.
Fertilization: Horsetails rely on rain for fertilization. The arrival of rain releases the male gametes, which then swim to the cups holding the female cells. The embryos grow to form the stem-like structure that characterizes the mature horsetail.”
I posted my recent photos of the horsetails on inaturalist.org and a member identified them as Braun’s Giant Horsetails! I had originally thought they were Common Horsetails, which I had seen last year in a different area (see above photo)! They are really quite different! How wonderful to have such an incredible online resource! It also turns out that there wasn’t a record of Braun’s Giant Horsetails being in Sierra County, on calflora.org, so I posted my photos there as well! How exciting!
N.B. For more – a Herptile Report, Insect Update, and Damp Art, with all color pictures – visit Katie’s blog at northyubanaturalist.blogspot.com.