Dryad’s Saddle: Coming in May

With so much happening in the first half of May in Eliza Howell Park – early wild flowers blooming, migrating birds passing through, breeding birds arriving, toad tadpoles developing – I can forget then to mention that this is usually the best time to find dryad’s saddle. So let me give it its due attention in winter.

Dryad’s saddle is one of several kinds of bracket or shelf fungi found in the park. Bracket fungi are woody, shelf-life mushrooms that grow on the trunks of trees or on logs. This particular shelf fungus often has the shape that accounts for the “saddle” part of its name.


A comment on mushroom identification: My identification of this fungus as “dryad’s saddle” is based on appearance, location, and time of year; it is not based on close examination by an expert or a professional. I strongly recommend that someone interested in collecting it for eating not rely upon pictures alone (mine or someone else’s) for identification, keeping in mind the strong toxicity of some bracket fungi.

Dryad’s saddle grows on dead trees, stumps, and logs and is also found in the wounds of living trees. When on tree trunks, the shelves are usually quite low.



A “dryad” is a tree nymph or tree spirit in Greek mythology. Presumably, a dryad is of a size to fit on this mushroom.

The caps can be from about 3 inches to more than 12 inches wide. I placed a pen on a larger one to provide an indication of the size.


They seem to appear suddenly; I am surprised by seeing them along a walking route that I took only two days before without noting anything. There may sometimes be a single saddle, but more often a small cluster.

Dryad’s saddle functions as a decomposer, an agent of wood decay in dead and injured hardwood trees.


May is the month when many mushroom enthusiasts head to the woods in search of morels and I sometimes get asked if there are morels in Eliza Howell. I have not seen any morels (yet), but dryad’s saddle is, in my mind, a good alternative May find. (All the pictures here were taken in May.)

I will report when/if I see the tree nymphs!

On Fallen Logs: Lovely Decomposers

As I was walking in Eliza Howell Park the other day, I met one of the regular park walkers. He greeted me – “What are you watching today?” – and I gave a one- word response – “Mushrooms.” He laughed and we continued on our separate routes.

As I reflected later on that day’s walk, I thought that a more complete answer would have been that I was “checking fallen logs to see some of the mushrooms involved in the decomposition of wood, the first stage in the recycling of the nutrients.” But that is not exactly a casual response to a greeting.


In an earlier post (October 4, 2018), I noted some of the ground mushrooms that grow in Eliza Howell Park. This essay is about some of the wood mushrooms. While wood-growing mushrooms are sometimes called fungi, any fleshy fungus can be called a mushroom, as I do here.

In the first couple years after trees/limbs fall, while the logs still have bark, the mushrooms appear, often in large numbers.


Sometimes the rows of mushrooms remind me of rows of garden flowers or vegetables. One fallen tree, 70 feet long, was covered.


These mushrooms are agents of decay, contributing to the process of breaking down the wood. This decay is needed to get the nutrients that the trees used back into the ground for other plants to use.

I am more an admirer of nature than someone who focuses on how things work. I want to know what is going on, but even more I am simply fascinated by what I see. These log gardens have some interesting “flowers.”

To me they are lovely decomposers.


Most live in groups, but some are singletons.


Three years ago, a large white oak tree at the edge of the woods split in two, right down the trunk. The standing half has continued to thrive, this year again producing many large acorns.


The fallen limbs have now been colonized by mushrooms.


Half of the tree lives on. Half is in the process of being recycled, aided by the lovely decomposers. Both are good fates.



An October Morning Walk: Today’s News

I arrived in Eliza Howell Park on October 9, 2018, at about 8:20 a.m. It was already warm, very warm for this time of the year, after a heavy dew. For the next three hours I walked about with my binoculars and phone camera, with frequent stops.

These are some of my observations on what is happening in the park today.

1.Sun and Dew

When the morning sun shines, it highlights the wet twigs and leaves, and the moisture rises in the air like fog. The temperature was unusual for October, but the picture is not.


2.Honeysuckle berries getting ripe.

There are many honeysuckle shrubs (Amur honeysuckle) in the park. They have lovely white flowers in the spring, but are perhaps even more attention-getting in the Fall. They keep their leaves longer than most deciduous plants and will be mostly green with abundant red berries into November. They have been ripening slowly and more are red every day.


3.Mushrooms continue in season.

I recently posted a report on some of the mushrooms in the park (October 4, 2018). Mushroom season continues and, in the last few days, there are even more to be found, in many shapes and sizes. This is just one of many I thought photo-worthy today.


4.Migrating sparrows arriving.

As I noted in another post (September 28, 2018), part of my October focus is on the variety of sparrows that pass through the park. This morning I saw six different sparrow species, including a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and my first-of-the-season Field Sparrow (pictured here in a photo from another time).


Photo by Margaret Weber

5.Monarch butterflies are still present.

Monarchs have been in migration to Mexico for about a month now and I have been checking for them during each visit to the park to see whether there are any still present. Today I saw 4. So they have not yet all passed through, though that will happen soon.

I thought today of the Monarch caterpillar that I saw on September 12 (picture) and wondered then whether it would have time to make it to butterfly in time to head to Mexico with the others. Perhaps it is now on its way.


6.Chestnuts are falling.

Many, maybe most, of the nuts and acorns in Eliza Howell have already fallen. When mature chestnuts fall, the outside shell (the burr) opens on its own – to the benefit of squirrels and others. Many empty burrs are now on the ground under the trees. Sometimes the burrs open before they fall; this one is still on the tree, with two of the three nuts having dropped. (For more about EHP chestnuts, see post of July 31, 2018.)


7.Tree leaves are starting to turn.

Except for the species whose leaves turn red early (such as staghorn sumac and Virginia creeper), most of the leaves in the park are still green in early October. Today, however, there are definite signs that the change has begun on some of the large deciduous trees.


8.Second hornet nest found.

Bald-faced hornets often build nests in a number of trees scattered around the park. I typically see 10 or more each year, starting to spot them in late summer but finding most in the fall when they become more visible with the leaves thinning or gone. This year I had only seen one so far, a small one, found on August 17 and pictured here, and have begun to wonder whether this year might be atypical. Today I (finally) found a second one.


9.Purple love grass starting to tumble.

Anyone visiting the park in late summer or early fall is likely to notice the hue of the foot-high plants called purple love grass. When the grasses dry up, they (now brown) detach and blow across the ground like tumbleweed. Tumbling is now starting to happen. (The picture is from mid-September.)


10.Snails feeding on stems.

The terrestrial snails common in Eliza Howell (perhaps a type of banded snail) have been active since April, when they emerged from hibernation. They seem to be especially abundant right now, climbing up several feet on plant stems (they feed on both live and dead plants). Here is a collage of four I saw today.


These are some of my notes from a morning walk in the park.


A World of Mushrooms

With most of my attention on birds, wildflowers, butterflies and other insects, I did not always look carefully at mushrooms during my walks in Eliza Howell Park. This has changed. I now stop for mushrooms, especially in September and October when they are most abundant, both in numbers and in variety.

Mushrooms, in different shapes and sizes and colors, can be found pushing up from the ground in almost any section of the park, often but not always near trees. Some have the familiar umbrella shape.


The majority are white. This collage of white mushrooms includes examples that do not have the stereotypical umbrella shape.


A mushroom is a fungus (but not all fungi are mushrooms); fungus is its own kingdom in the classification system, separate from plants. The part that rises from the ground is the fruiting body, only a small part of the much larger organism that lives underground.

I sometimes think of mushrooms as non-plant flowers, especially the colorful ones.



Mushrooms have long been hunted as food and some varieties are cultivated. Selecting naturally growing mushrooms for dinner can be risky if one does not know them extremely well; some poisonous ones look very similar to edible ones.

When I stop and look, my interest is observation, not eating. I have to admit, however, that this one, about 6 inches across, reminds me of a loaf of bread!


Most mushrooms are soft and short-lived. They are the reproductive stage of the organism; they sprout, open up, and drop their spores.


Many mushrooms have gills from which the thousands of spores (reproductive cells) drop and disperse. Picking or cutting a mushroom (which does not harm the larger organism) provides an opportunity to take a look at the gills on the underside of the cap.


Some mushrooms grow from the soil and some grow from (often decaying) wood. Those shown above are ground mushrooms. Just as fascinating are the wood mushrooms, including bracket or shelf fungus.


A look at varieties of bracket fungi in Eliza Howell is a project for another time. It was difficult enough to select/limit the pictures of the ground mushrooms here. There is a whole world of mushrooms out there!

An August Walk: Phenological Observations

As I wander the park these August days, much of my attention is focused on the beginning of fall bird migration and on the continued blooming of insect-attracting flowers. There is so much more to observe, however, and recently I noted a variety of other seasonal phenomena.

I saw all of the following on one recent morning walk.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Nest


I came across this tiny nest that had fallen under the wild black cherry tree where I watched a pair of gnatcatchers as they constructed this twenty-foot high nest in late May. And I watched them, as well, as they fed the young in the nest in June. The fallen nest provides a good opportunity to note the construction, including the bits of lichen on the outside which helped to camouflage it on the tree limb.

Orbweaver and Web


This is a great time of the year to find spider webs, often made more visible by dew drops or raindrops. This orbweaver (Marbled Orbweaver, I think), is hanging out upside down under the web as it waits for prey.

Virginia Creeper Berries


One of the native vines that grow in the park is Virginian Creeper. It always catches my attention when the berries change from green to blue on red stems. Virginia Creeper is sometimes confused with Poison Ivy, but there are several differentiating characteristics. One is that creeper berries are blue when ripe while ivy berries, when ripe, are whitish.

Bald-faced Hornet Nest


Every year I find a number of Bald-faced Hornet nests in the park, most them quite high in trees. This is the first one I found this year and it is quite low. These hornets, really a type of wasp, defend their nests vigorously if one gets really close, but I have found that a few feet away is safe. (For more, see my post on December 19, 2017: “Bald-faced Hornet Nests.”)

Variety of Mushrooms


After rain in late summer, mushrooms pop up — in various locations and in various shapes and sizes. These are some that I saw on the walk. Maybe next year I will try to identity them, at least the most common ones. For now, I am just appreciating the variety.

Developing Acorns


There are many different types of oak trees in Eliza Howell; this one is a type of white oak. The acorns are not yet fully grown in most species and it is fascinating to watch how they mature. In some cases, the nut has to grow out of the cap that originally covers it almost completely.

Snail Climbing Plant


These land snails (Brown Lipped Snails) are common in the unmowed sections of the park on the south side between the road loop and the woodland bordering the river. In late summer, they often climb stems as they eat decaying plants and grasses. I almost always find them on my walks among the wildflowers.

Phenology is the study of the annual life cycle events of plants and animals. When I use expressions like “at this time of year” and “seasonal,” I am very conscious of how much awareness of the annual cycle is at the heart of nature observation and study.