November, 2009 Archives



The drab moth had been on my bathroom wall for several days before I poked it to determine if it was really alive.  It was pressed flat to the tile, approximately 2 inches across, and marked with a distinct pattern of brown waves and scallops on its forewings with a thin white border of white on the edges.  The color and complexity of the pattern rendered it compatible with pine bark, but noticeably out of place on blue-and-white bathroom tile. Yet, I’d seen these kinds of moths many times before, and learned to call them ‘miller moths’ in accordance with my southern mother’s terminology.


I pulled out my thin paperback moth guide, Macromoths of Northwest Forests and Woodlands (Jeffrey Miller, Paul Hammond USDA Forest Service, FHTET-98-18, 2000) and flipped through the pages until I found something closely resembling the specimen at hand. It was, I concluded, a barberry looper moth (Coryphista meadii), with a caterpillar revealed on to look just like the gray and white loopers with red heads that I had observed on my Berberis thunbergii Crimson Pygmy planted in June shortly before it became a network of defoliated twigs.


It was an ah-ha moment. We had had no barberries on the property before this, and yet suddenly here was a moth that looked like one I’d seen all my life suddenly taking on a new aspect completely unbeknownst to me. I’d never even thought of what its caterpillars looked like, but now I knew its life cycle and suddenly, it affected me and my ambitions. Presumably there might be other plants in the family Beriberidaceae on the property that might have harbored them, or perhaps the eggs came in from the nursery supplier, for of the four plants that I bought, only this one was eaten by loopers.


I am reminded of the song about the hole in the bottom of the sea, where sat a frog on a log, with a bump and a wart and a hair and a flea and so on until the microscopic world had been achieved on that one frog. Then the kids singing the song gave up for lack of ideas beyond bacteria. How little did I realize when I was a child that I was singing a song that celebrated biodiversity.


The other day, while removing the plastic clips that hold electric fence tape from a series of fence posts, I noticed that nearly every clip harbored a tiny, pale brown spider.  The little beasts were flattened to where they could lie almost two-dimensional on any surface, and apparently liked the narrow space of the clip designed to hold the polytape because of the shelter it offered. As I worked to pull the clips off one set of posts to move them to another, I witnessed a tiny arachnid paratrooper dropping from nearly every clip. Every other clip seemed to hold a small white package of spider eggs. I had created habitat in spite of myself.


Of course, both moth and spider were probably here long before I was, and my surprise was merely that of my own unexpected discovery. Still, everyday that we open our eyes to the variety around us, we are richer for it. From mushrooms, to moths, to spiders, I am sure that this property has untold thousands of species I’ve yet to discover. But they don’t need my knowledge of them to validate their existence. They have every right to go on, even if they encroach on my world now and then.

Private lessons in biodiversity

orange yellow shroomGardens generally don’t include a consideration of mushrooms. Nurseries offer a lush supply of perennials, shrubs, trees, groundcovers, bulbs and annuals, but I’ve yet to find a sign for the ‘fungi’ section. Mushrooms find you. They come with the territory for only they seem to know what conditions best suit them. Since I’m usually focused on the Plant Kingdom, my encounters with them are quite by surprise.  Today, for instance, I spied a large white mound in a place where I had nothing planted.  My radar registered it as garbage, until I got closer and realized it was a beefy-looking mushroom listing over on one side like a whale emerging from the waves. I don’t think it had been there two days ago, but here it was now, fully formed and even a bit past its peak, judging from the nibbles that had been taken out of it. Several others had also emerged from the leaves in the back ground forming a little white pod of ‘shrooms prancing through my developing woodland glade.

beefy shroom



Last week, I found what I believe to have been a shaggy mane mushroom that had emerged next the hose cache. There it was, already half-eaten, and I’d never even seen it before. Besides that, there were no others with it, just this four-inch tall white matchstick-shaped fungus jutting out of the earth. The following day I found but a fallen white stem that I would have mistaken for a stick except that I recalled the mushroom growing there from the previous day.



Sometimes, as I’m weeding or planting, I’ll notice threads of white or yellow mushroom hyphae clinging to the soil particles for dear life. Fungal mycelia have invaded my pile of woodchips and bark pieces, now four months into rotting. In September, a cloud of little white button

red trio


mushrooms covered the back of the pile, then vanished, but when I dig, I find the bark pieces clumped together by fragile white fibers. Thanks to action of these fungi, the wood pieces break down into into a richer and more nutritious mulch than what I started with earlier in the summer.


I’ve seen at least 10 different types of mushrooms so far, starting as far back as August when a rainshower brought them forth from the ground. I’ve heard that fungi-loving gardeners can now obtain fungi plugs that can be placed into pre-drilled holes in stumps and logs to create a personal ‘shroom garden. Now, your own chicken-of-the-woods crop is within reach. Given my ignorance, I’m still a little gun-shy though. Photographing these ephemeral creatures in their many forms is enough for now.


*** For those amateur mycologists who know mushrooms better than, please feel free to step foward and identify the ‘shrooms that I could not!****

Places to acquire edible mushrooms for cultivation:

Mushroom Magic