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Northland Nature: Red cup fungus grow among spring wildflowers

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.”

Scarlet cup fungus growing on forest floor
A scarlet cup fungus grows on the forest floor among the wildflowers of May.
Contributed / Larry Weber
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Taking woods walks at this time of May is wandering through constant happenings. I’ve learned to go back and forth looking between the surrounding trees to note the newly arrived migrant birds and keep an eye on the forest floor where I walk to observe the vernal spring wildflowers. Both abound during May and the walks are filled with plenty of sightings.

While the birds give sounds and quick movements to follow, the spring wildflowers do not. Calls and songs from orioles, grosbeaks, tanagers, flycatchers, thrushes and vireos can keep us looking among the branches for visual confirmation.

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.”

Warblers are much more varied and if we are at the right place at the right time, we may be able to note 10-15 kinds. It seems like most of the warblers, despite their abundance, can be a challenge to observe. They are small, and often move among the branches. Despite the name of “warbler,” they do not usually sing loudly.

Seeing the wildflowers that now are opening their colorful petals in these weeks are less of a challenge to see. Their timing is critical in May as they grow leaves, buds and flowers rapidly. Before the leaf canopy develops overhead and they are shaded, the forest floor flora needs to get the sunlight that penetrates through the trees for their development.

Soon, this woods will be shaded. When conditions are right, they take over these sunlit sites. Walking among all this color is a delight and we can see at least a dozen kinds on these woods walks, beginning with hepatica, which is soon joined by spring beauty, bloodroot and anemones.

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Trout-lilies, toothworts, wild ginger, violets, bellworts and trilliums are also all regulars to be seen now. Each has colored petals and is open for a short flowering season. On a sunlit day, they cover the forest floor with color; coming back the next day shows even more. They invite us to keep looking down as we walk. With all of this thick forest floor flora, it would seem as though there is little else that can grow here. But there is plenty more.

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.”

The wildflowers are mostly white and yellow among the leafy greens. And there is more green. Unrolling here, too, are the thick new growths of ferns. Due to this shape, they are frequently called fiddleheads. Fern stems are underground all winter and now in spring, these new leaves (fronds) reach above the ground and unroll for the new season. Unlike spring wildflowers, ferns thrive in the shade formed by the impending arboreal leaf growth.

But as I walk among these flowers and fiddleheads recently — yellows, whites and greens — I paused when I saw a growth that was bright red. Taking a closer look, I discovered that a cup-shaped fungus was growing among these plants. Like many fungi, this one, a scarlet cup fungus (Sarcoscypha sp.) on the ground was feeding on rotting matter. The cup of the fungus was about 2 inches across, circular shaped, and bright red in the cup and white beneath.

Scarlet cup belongs to a group called sac fungi. Unlike mushrooms, spores develop in tiny sacs, being released when ripe. With this fungus, spores are in the cup.

Perhaps the most unique feature of scarlet cup is that it grows in spring. May fungi are unusual and except for an occasional morel or false morel, we are not likely to see any. But this bright-red fungus is a delight to see.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber
MORE BY LARRY WEBER
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.”
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.”
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.”
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.”

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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