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We're Featured on the Wild Ones St. Louis Blog!

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Last week the St. Louis chapter of the national organization Wild Ones honored us with mention on their blog. The post titled "New Member Lisa Brunette: Her Creative Telling of Our Shared Story" went live on Feb. 11th and was mailed out in a newsletter to Wild Ones St. Louis members.

Wild Ones promotes environmentally sound landscaping practices to preserve biodiversity through the preservation, restoration and establishment of native plant communities. The St. Louis chapter is one of the largest and most active chapters in the Wild Ones network, and it's run by an all-volunteer staff. We joined in early 2019 and have benefited a great deal already from the group's workshops, lectures, home tours, and seed exchanges. 

The native plant movement is part of what inspired our work at Dragon Flower Farm. While I'd previously incorporated native plants into my gardens in the Pacific Northwest, the 1/4-acre native plant food forest we're now developing in the Midwest is quite an ambitious undertaking - one we couldn't do without resources like Wild Ones. It's a privilege to be members.

We encourage you to join a chapter - Wild Ones has 50+ chapters in 18 states located throughout the Eastern, Midwestern, and Southern U.S. And if you're in the St. Louis area, we hope to see you at some of their events. (Shout out to all my Pacific Northwest readers - you're invited to start your own Wild Ones chapters.)

The native plant movement is gaining huge momentum... just today we saw they've broken ground at the world-class Missouri Botanical Garden on a native plant garden. With noted lecturer Doug Tallamy's latest book out this month, the buzz will continue... and it's not just about bees!

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So Much Fungus Among Us! Tips on How to ID the Mysterious Mushroom

Amanita Orange 2019
Spotted on the trail near the World Bird Sanctuary here in Missouri near the Meramec River.

Twenty nineteen was a really wet year for us in the Midwest. As a result, we experienced a bit of mushroom mania that began in spring and lasted clear through the fall. To pay tribute to both the magnificent mushroom and the fantastic fungus, today I've asked former wildlife biologist and author Ellen King Rice to collaborate with me on a special guest post. Here I've compiled images from Dragon Flower Farm as well as from walks in the woods. The plan was to have Ellen ID the fungus among us, but that proved a little bit tougher than either of us anticipated. So if you've got some IDs for us, please share in the comments below!

With this project I was asking Ellen to stretch outside the Pacific Northwest territory she knows best and explore the mycology of the Missouri river bluffs around St. Louis, where I frequently hike, and the suburban 1/4-acre that is our little farmstead. Because the process for identifying fungus must be quite thorough, as there's the risk that they can be poisonous, and here I was asking Ellen to ID them on the basis of a photo or two, we decided to turn this piece into a how-to instead. So along with some successful IDs and fun facts, Ellen will share some ID-ing tips.

LB: Let's start with the photo above. I believe that marshmallow fluff-meets-wart stuff on top, paired with the bright orange cap, signal the poisonous amanita. Am I right?

EKR: Some mushrooms begin growing inside an egg-shaped "leathery" sack. As the mushroom pushes up, the sack breaks apart and becomes blotches or spots on the new mushroom’s cap. The "warty" cap and the "egg cup" base are indeed hallmarks of the amanita group of mushrooms. Some of the amanitas are terribly poisonous. Some are psychoactive. A few are edible. Which leads us to the number one rule of mushrooming: Don't eat fungi until you are an absolute first-class champion at identifying the genus and species you are hunting.

But mushrooms are not nuclear waste or some spy-novel deadly dynamite. You won’t be poisoned by a mushroom if you photograph it or handle it! 

LB: Ah, so that's where the "wart" comes from; fascinating! And thanks for the balanced approach to identification. I assumed all amanitas were poisonous, so it's interesting to hear that some are actually edible. Still, the risk is pretty great, so I for one wouldn't eat anything that looks like this. Better to admire its remarkable orange hue. 

Speaking of orange, regular readers of this blog know how much I love that color, and the next fungus is in keeping with that bold preference. What's going on with this beauty?

Orange_Fungus_2019
From another Missouri hiking trail in the Meramec River area.

EKR: This fungus as well as the next three lead us to the challenges of identification. Like Sherlock Holmes, we need to pay attention to a lot of details to know the entire story of "what’s going on." While I can't with confidence identify these three, I'll instead list some ways to start Sherlocking, with pros and cons for each.

Here's my first suggestion: Use a field guide. Every region of North America has a mycological field guide. The biggest "con" for field guides is that these books are often organized by spore print color. The fungal finder is supposed to take a sample of the fungus home, lay a cap section on colored paper overnight, check the color of the dropped spores the next day, and then go to the correct section of the field guide to begin the identification process. Whew! Not always easy or possible, especially if there are pets or small children in the home. Pro: Sometimes one can page through the photos of the field guide and "bingo," quickly land on a photo that looks just like our find (Keep looking! Sometimes many things are nearly identical!).

LB: That's great. I have a laminated, map-style field guide for North American birds on a stand next to my back windows, which look out onto the bird feeders. It's been instrumental in our identification of about 20 different birds so far. I've used more elaborate field guides both in the Pacific Northwest and Florida, and I need one for the Midwest now that I'm back here. I don't own a guide to fungus, but I'll put that on my wish list, too.

Next up is this incredible 'tree condo' my brother and I happened upon one day in the woods. The first photo shows the whole 'condo,' and the second gives a zoom in. By the way, check out all that velvety moss we've got here in Missouri. To me it rivals the Pacific Northwest - at least in early spring, when these were taken. By summer, it dries up pretty well, even when it's wet like this past summer was. I think that might be due to the heat.

Tree Condo Fungus1 2019

Tree Condo Fungus2 2019

LB: The rest of the photos were all taken at Dragon Flower Farm. I should preface the first crop by letting you know we had a ton of bark mulch on our land, making use of the sheet-mulch method. So I think this curious flora was born of rotting wood chips. The first to arrive in spring were these, which I've dubbed 'fungus cups,' but that's probably wrong.

Fungus Cups 2019
At Dragon Flower Farm.

EKR: It's definitely a cup fungus. I suspect it might be Peziza repanda, the Palomino cup or a close relative -  but I’d have to look at Peziza literature and see if does grow in your area... That could take some time. 

LB: Oh, you've done so much already, Ellen! Why don't you give us another tip for how to manage this ourselves.

EKR: Go on a mushroom club outing. The pros are you’ll meet some nice people, and you may quickly learn half a dozen of the most common fungi in your area. The cons, however, are that the dogs need to stay at home, and not every outing may be kid-friendly. You’ll also be working with a group, so it may be slower or faster than you like. 

LB: That's a great idea and something I've personally never done. I've seen quite a few opportunities to go on birding walks with experts who can share tips, but I've never seen anything like that for fungus. I'll have to investigate!

From our cup fungus, we move to what I've been calling 'spore pads,' paired with what I think is slightly different, so I've named them 'spore pops.' What are these strange, alien things, Ellen?

Spore Pads 2019
When the caps pop off, you can see little seed-like capsules inside. Also, more orange! Nature loves orange.
 
Spore Pops 2019
These are darker in color, and the seed-like capsules inside are almost black.

EKR: I feel completely confident about identifying these. They are bird’s nest fungi, a distinctive group. Browse the photos here to see several species that have this wonderful nest-with-eggs look. 

LB: The pictures you linked to over at iNaturalist are amazing. I'll look for these again this year. They are pretty special.

The last series is more traditionally mushroom-shaped, and wow, did they grow to huge sizes. I asked my husband, whose hands are way bigger than mine, to pose his mitt next to them for comparison.

Hand Colony 2019
Mega mushroom mania!

EKR: I'll take this opportunity to offer my last bit of ID-ing advice: Use iNaturalist. This is a website/smart phone app that uses photo recognition software to suggest names for what you’ve just photographed. This site also has tons of information about species' ranges, seasonality, and other details. However, you should take it with a big grain of salt. It may tell you that blurry picture of a brown mushroom is a bunny or a deer. The "suggestion" is exactly that - a starting place to learn more.

LB: I've been using PlantNet, with very mixed results for exactly the reason you cited. It hasn't helped at all in trying to identify any of the above, not even the amanita, which you'd think would be clear cut. That's partly why I reached out to you. I'll try iNaturalist to see if it's any better. The most useful resource I've found is the Plant Finder index on the Missouri Botanical Garden website. You can't ID from a photo alone, but I think I've learned more about plants from this digital resource than any other. Unfortunately, though, it doesn't seem to be as robust in coverage of fungi as it is flora.

I'll share a few more photos; perhaps readers will recognize them. I believe the two photos below depict the same type of 'shroom, top and bottom.

Mushroom Cap  and Violets 2019
Caps peeking out between our native violet, Viola sororia.
 
Mushroom Gills 2019
Mushroom gills. These grew in a bed mulched with pine sawdust.

LB: The last image is of one I've never seen before. The cap was slightly transparent; you can see the green of the leaves through it.

Transparent Fringe 2019

LB: Perhaps you lovely readers can help out with some IDs in the comments section below. I do enjoy how this piece morphed into a how-to, though. Thanks for the tips, Ellen!

EllenKingRice

A wildlife biologist by training, Ellen King Rice is author of a three-book, fungus-themed mystery series: The EvoAngel, Underworld, and Lichenwald. In her fiction and non-fiction both, she is particularly fascinated by sub-cellular level responses to ecosystem changes and believes that we don't know near enough about the thousands of fungal species that exist all around us. She lives near Olympia, Washington. Find out more at www.ellenkingrice.com.

As with all our content, this post was not sponsored, and we received nothing in exchange for the references made here.

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Our Best Antique Mall and Freebie Finds of the Year

Chairs side by side

In this post I'll walk you through some of our most resourceful, DIY sleuth-shopping and decorating moments of the past year. Ready?

Who doesn't love "free"? The above chairs were a curb pickup find from our neighbors down the street. The seats were a bit spongy from being left out in the rain, and the paint had mostly peeled off, but we freshened them up with a bit of spray paint in a new color from Rust-o-leum called 'ink blue.' This is not a sponsored post. I just thought I'd mention the color right off the bat instead of waiting for you to ask. The new spray paint colors make it really hard for me to pass the paint aisle without dreaming up new projects right there in the store and taking a few cans home with me.

Paint

Also I just learned from posting the above pic, (taken to illustrate to Anthony which kind and color to get from the store when I ran out) that Rust-o-leum is spelled Rust-oleum. The more you know.

Here's how the full set looks on the porch. The table in the middle is actually a thrift store find, not part of the curb pickup score. That shows you that in a common material like wicker, you can fake a set from separate pieces easily.

Chairs_front porch

So there you have it: An entire suite of porch furniture in a trendy color for the price of a few cans of paint. I'd like to have gone further with this and cut out both the paint toxicity and the cost with a DIY natural substance, if anything would do the trick. Feel free to post recommendations below.

Another find came from Facebook, the source of a set of three of these Midcentury gliders. The whole set was 100 percent free; all we had to do was pick them up, curbside.

Glider
You can while away the hours rocking in this thing, sipping mint juleps...

They don't make 'em like this anymore. The frames are sturdy steel. The glide is smooth and steady. Each of the wooden slats is held on with a washer-and-bolt combo that will make restoring these beauties easy. I'm thinking of spray-painting the frames (unless you give me a good eco alternative) and sealing the wood against further wear. But I don't think I'll stain the wood; the patina is pleasing as-is. What's your vote on the frame color? I'm thinking:

  1. Blue ink, like the chairs above
  2. Aqua, like the mesh table top in the paint can pic above
  3. Dark turquoise, like the planter below (I think it's called 'Lake')
  4. Bright yellow, because why not
  5. Some other color you could convince me to try

Weigh in by posting your vote below.

Another Facebook deal was a pair of birdhouses for $10 (US). They're handmade and a bit whimsical, and while no birds have taken up residence in them yet, they're a nice part of the scene in the garden. 

Birdhouse

Completing the front porch mission is this cute wicker planter, which came from a booth at Treasure Aisles Antique Mall here in the St. Louis area. It wasn't free, and I can't remember the exact price, but it was less than $30 (US). I think part of the reason it was a good deal was because of the original paint color, pretty much puke pink.

Planter_before

You know what's next: the refresh. Here it is after I applied that aforementioned dark turquoise, with native Missouri primrose planted in the pots. This sits between our front door and the blue wicker chairs above.

Planter_after

Moving inside the house now, I want to share a pic of this cutie-pie serving dish I picked up at South County Antique Mall. It's a very collectible 1963 vintage piece from the Sears Harmony House 'Honey Hen' set. Such a nice thing to have on the table for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving tureen

When it comes to tales about fishing for finds, there's always the story of the one that got away. Here are two pieces I passed on but sort of wish I hadn't.

First, this basket stand is amazing, but I wasn't sure what I'd do with it in exchange for the real estate it would take up. Of course our friends and followers have suggested a dozen great uses ever since, such as yoga mat holder and blanket cozy.

Basket_stand

Finally, this stunning, rubby ducky-yellow flip clock is not really my decor style, but I totally wish it was. It's so rad!

Yellow clock

What are your great finds of the year? Post pics or links below!

This post was not sponsored, and we did not receive anything in exchange for the product and business references here.

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The Baby Birds Have Hatched!

IMG_0568

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the bird that had made a nest in my friend Kathy's bathroom window.

At least three of the five eggs hatched on June 24, and here you can see the hatchlings and mother, with the father just outside the bathroom window. 

We'd thought the female was a house sparrow, which is technically an invasive species of bird imported from Europe, a common sight in urban areas. HOWEVER, now that the male has shown up, that theory's out the window, so to speak, because he is most definitely not a sparrow.

Just look at that scarlet hue!

Can you identify the type of bird? Since Kathy's in the Pacific Northwest–Seattle's Northgate neighborhood, to be exact–the likely candidates include:

  • Rosy Finch
  • House Finch
  • Scarlet Tanager

What do you think?

My money's on house finch, as the female scarlet tanager is yellow. The house finch, by the way, is "often the only songbird in most urban areas," according to my field guide.

 


A Bird Built a Nest Inside Our Friend's Bathroom Window

Birdsill

This is my friend Kathy's window. And that is a bird nesting right there. Yes, it's a real bird, not a sculpture.

It started with the nest, which went up the last week of May, when the weather was nice enough for Kathy to crank open the louvered window. It's a lovely nest with a classic cup shape. Kathy lives in Seattle, Washington, which is still rainy and emerald this time of year. The nest was fashioned with a layer of twig in the center cushioned by an impressive gathering of  juicy green fronds around the outside.

Nest

When the pics first popped up on Instagram, I recognized the window from hanging out at Kathy's place in Seattle, Washington (excuse me while I feel a pang of longing for friends, flora, and fauna back in the Pacific Northwest!) This is her main floor bathroom window; I once spent a good amount of time clutching the commode underneath this window when I'd had one-too-many of the tasty Moscow mules Kathy will serve you in a copper mug when you're lucky enough to be a guest in her home. Not my proudest moment, mind you, and those mules are not to blame, but I spent enough time in Kathy's bathroom to recognize it in a photo.

The nest was special enough already, but then one day Kathy noticed an egg.

Oneegg

The next day, another egg appeared, and so on, for a total of five days. They're gorgeous, speckled eggs, blue and brown and white. 

5eggs

Kathy thinks this little uninvited but nonetheless welcome guest fits into the category known as "little brown birds," or LLBs for short. She might be a sparrow - or else a house finch, to get more specific (if you can ID her, please post in the comments below!). The bird comes and goes with no problems. "I haven't heard too much chirping," Kathy says. "She seems to be pretty content to just sit on her eggs."

This is the first time Kathy's ever had a nest in her window. She usually opens it wide, but due to the unseasonably warm weather for Seattle, she had it cracked a bit this time, which seems to have encouraged the mama bird to nest there.

Kathy rigged up a wifi camera to her phone so she could watch the Big Hatching Event even if it happens while she's away visiting friends and family in California.

Incubating

She's shared stills on Instagram and Facebook, and her friends and followers, including me, are obsessed. The Big Hatching Event will likely happen in about two weeks, and then the chicks will mature in the nest for another two weeks. 

Suffice to say, she's kept the window open.

All photos, credit: Kathy Samuelson. 

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