Winter Wonders

Look carefully, and you'll discover that the coldest season is a great time to explore nature and its winter wonders.

| December 2005/January 2006

Tracks in the snow, glistening icicles, a deer nibbling on low branches, these are only a few of the many pleasures of winter exploring. But if you look and listen just a bit more closely, you'll also discover that the frozen world is full of less-than-obvious natural wonders that most of us don't see simply because we don't take the time. Here are some examples:

A Touch of Velvet

Standing in stoic defiance of icy temperatures that would flash freeze most other fungi, the tawny-capped winter mushroom, Flammulina velutipes, fruits in the dead of winter even in the most northern states, giving heart to winter-weary shroom hunters who are in search of something, anything, to put in their gathering baskets.

Also called the velvet foot mushroom for its soft, fuzzy base, this is the wild version of the commercially cultivated enoki mushroom. Enokis, however, are grown in sawdust in the dark, resulting in light-starved mushrooms with long, thin stems and tiny caps that look more like bean sprouts than fungi. Wild winter mushrooms have thick stems and wide, fleshy caps.

Watch for these hardy survivors standing in little clusters at the feet of elms and other woodland trees. But unless you're an expert, don't even think about eating them, they're easily confused with an aptly named look-alike, the deadly galerina.

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