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Hygrophorus speciosus “Brilliant Wax-cap” Basidiomycota

Blue Mountain National Recreation Area, MT
May 16, 2016
Robert Niese

The wax-caps were once considered to all be members of the genus Hygrophorus, but have recently been divided into several new genera, all of which are still taxonomically debated. This particular species remains in the genus Hygrophorus due to its ectomicorrhizal growth habit. You can find it in drier, east-side forests where larch is abundant.

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Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

The Tamarack colors were in full swing around Missoula last week. They appear to be fading a bit now, but we’ll soon forget to mourn their bare branches when they become adorned with snow!

Malacosoma sp. “Tent Moth” Lasiocampidae, pupa on
Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae

Apgar Lookout Trail, Glacier National Park, MT
October 9, 2015
Robert Niese

The trails around Apgar are rife with Lasiocampidae pupae. They’ve spun their webby cocoons in every manner of tree, shrub, and man-made structure. Around Missoula, it wasn’t a very big year for tent moth caterpillars, but only a hundred miles away in Glacier National Park, Malacosoma numbers were significantly higher. These species go through regular boom and bust cycles and some years they become so abundant that entire forests can get defoliated. In my search of the literature, it appears that these moths overwinter as eggs, not as pupae. These pupating individuals certainly won’t survive the oncoming cold if that is indeed the case.

Apgar, Glacier National Park - by Robert NieseGoat Lick, Glacier National Park - by Robert NiesePopulus Leaf, Glacier National Park - by Robert NieseApgar, Glacier National Park - by Robert Niese   Two Medicine, Glacier National Park - by Robert NieseApgar, Glacier National Park - by Robert Niese

Fall is in full swing here in Montana!

I made it up to Glacier National Park this weekend to experience some fall foliage firsthand. It was absolutely stunning!

Here’s a brief guide to foliage colors in Western Montana!

Yellow:

  • Members of Salicaceae (Cottonwoods, Aspens, Poplars, Willows) and Betulaceae (Alders, Birch) dominate the yellow palate of our PNW hillsides. These species begin turning in September and their colors will persist, depending on rain and wind, until late October.
  • Larch (Larix) is our only deciduous conifer in the PNW. Depending on elevation, Larch will begin turning between the first and third weeks of October.
  • Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) also maintain a substantial degree of yellowness early in the fall before turning pale brown in October.

Red:

  • Red fall foliage in western Montana is largely restricted to the understory.
  • Ericaceous shrubs such as Huckleberries (Vaccinium) change color depending on sun exposure. On exposed hillsides, they’ll be red before August, while in dense forests, they may only begin changing in October.
  • Rosaceous shrubs such as Oceanspray (Holoduscus), Ninebark (Physocarpus), Spiraea, Hawthorn (Crataegus), and Rose (Rosa) also tend to go through a red phase in their color change. While some of these species appear to start early (September), most of their change will persist well into October and even November.
  • Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) has an interesting color change. Here in the riparian areas of Western Montana, they appear to go through a green and maroon phase, which is quite lovely, before losing their leaves entirely. Fortunately, even after losing their leaves, these shrubs have phenomenal red stems that definitely supplement the colors of fall.
  • Maple (Acer) also go through a red phase here in western Montana. These native species appear to have dropped most of their leaves by mid-October.

Species with little color change:

  • I’ve noticed several dominant deciduous trees and shrubs that don’t appear to change color considerably with the seasons. Of these, Ceanothus and Symphoricarpos are the most abundant.
  • Ceanothus tends to keep its green foliage throughout the year or turn straight to brown in the fall.
  • Snowberries (Symphoricarpos) appear to do a variety of things, but here in western Montana, they generally drop their leaves quickly without much ado.

Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

 

Larch cones are simply beautiful. Two small, winged seeds hide beneath each scale, waiting to be dispersed on the wind as they fall to the ground when the cone matures. Each scale also bears a single long, pointed bract, giving the cone a delicate, yet spiky appearance. This particular cone also bears many resin crystals which may have been produced by damage from seed predators such as Red Crossbills. If you ever have the opportunity to visit the Seeley Lake region in the late summer or early fall, you would not be disappointed. These deciduous conifers transform into golden spires that light-up our mountainsides in a spectacular patchwork of fiery pillars scattered among rich, evergreen firs and pines. It is unlike any fall scenery anywhere else in the world.

Suillus grevillei “Greville’s Suillus Bolete” Basidiomycota

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

 

Here’s another species of bolete in the easily recognizable Suillus genus that grows in the Larch forests around Seeley Lake. Again, this species of Suillus is an ectomycorrhizal symbiont with Larch. (I should note that not all members of this genus are associated with Larch, but when you’re hunting for mushrooms in a Larch forest, you tend to find Larch symbionts). This species, unlike the others I’ve posted so far, has a slimy or viscid cap. This slime is known to cause gastrointestinal problems for those adventurous enough to attempt to eat these fungi, so be sure to remove the outer layer prior to preparation. Unfortunately, Greville’s Bolete is said to have no flavor and a generally mushy consistency when cooked, so I just wouldn’t recommend it.

Suillus cavipes “Hollow-stemmed Suillus Bolete” Basidiomycota

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

Here’s another bolete from my late summer mushroom-hunting extravaganza in the Larch forests around Seeley Lake. This species, another easily-recognizable bolete in the genus Suillus, is also an ectomycorrhizal symbiont with larch trees (Larix). This species has a dry, very scaly cap that tends to be dark brown in color. Like other members of this genus, it also has angular pores that appear to radiate from the stipe. The best way to confirm the identification of this species, however, is to cut open its stipe and verify that it’s hollow. Unlike other members of this genus, S. cavipes is far more palatable and has a pleasant earthy taste when dried, but, like other Suillus boletes, tends to be slimy when cooked. Here, S. cavipes is growing among Twin-flower (Linnaea borealis), Canadian Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Prince’s Pine (Chimaphila umbellata), and, of course, Western Larch (Larix occidentalis).

Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae (cone with evidence of seed predation by Tamiasciurus hudsonicus Red Squirrel)

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

Red Squirrels are cone specialists and create massive debris piles, called middens, in areas where they regularly eat (typically atop a stump, fallen log, or low, broad tree branch). These middens are easy to spot and are often more than a meter in width. In Western Washington, these cone middens are usually created by the Red Squirrel’s cousin, the Douglas Squirrel (T. douglasii).

Larix occidentalis “Western Larch” Pinaceae
with Bryoria sp. “Tree-hair Lichen" 

Seeley Lake, MT
September 13, 2014
Robert Niese

Larch is one of North America’s only deciduous conifers. Here in western Montana, needles are just beginning to turn yellow in mid-September.
Bryoria is a common lichen throughout the PNW and was once a common food source for more than 40 local tribes, in spite of nearly indistinguishable toxic species co-occurring throughout most of their range.