Local Mushrooms: Small attractions in the woods.

Photo of Indian pipe plant.

Indian pipe shows its single flower.

It’s been rainy for the last few days here at the October Country Inn.  An uncommon dip in the jet-stream opened up a path for moisture laden Gulf of Mexico air to sweep north in a procession of wet thunderstorms.  The rain is welcomed.  It’s what gives the Green Mountains their name.  The rain-soaked earth also produces the explosive growth of  myriad varieties of mushrooms, fungus, and unusual plants. I came across many on this morning’s walk in the woods.  One such plant, called ghost plant or Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora), only appears when the ground gets moist after a dry period.  Unlke most plants, Indian pipe is white because it does not contain chlorophyll.  It is parasitic.  Instead of generating its own energy, it gets the energy it needs to grow from trees through a complex relationship with certain host fungi.  In western herbal medicine Indian pipe is used to calm the nerves.

Locals often forage for edible mushrooms.

Photo of yellow patch mushroom.

Yellow patch mushroom.

Another eye-catching mushroom that I encountered along the path is called yellow patch (Amanita flavoconia).  The genus Amanita contains about 600 species including some ot the most toxic, as well as some well-regarded edible species.  Amanita alone is responsible for about 95% of mushroom poisioning fatalities.  One species, death cap, as the name implies, accounts for about 50%.  For this reason, although I like the subtle taste and texture of mushrooms, I leave it to the experts to pick them out for me.  I often find various species of Amanita along the path, they’re often colorful and unusual looking and fun to take pictures of, but I leave it at that.

Chicken of the woods is popular.

Photo of chicken of the woods fungus cluster.

Chicken of the woods cluster on a maple tree.

On the other hand, there’s chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).  This is an edidle variety of bracket fungus that is relatively easy to identify due to its bright orange color.  Although wild mushroom connoisseurs claim they have the texture and taste of chicken, and often use them as a substitute for it, I still didn’t harvest any from this healthy batch.  I’m not all that fond of chicken.  Sadly, this live maple acting as host for this fungus is doomed.  It will not survive.  Personally, I’d rather have the tree.


By |2021-01-07T15:44:23-05:00July 29th, 2018|Natural Life|

Spring wildflowers: First flowers to bloom after the snow melts.


Eastern Trout-lily

A couple of days short of Memorial Day here at the October Country Inn and, after a few days of light rain, a spot of warm weather has settled in.  Our world has exploded in green.  Seems like in a week’s time, the maples have leafed out.  Lilac and apple trees bloom next.  Soon, roadside weeds are knee-high.   Yet, a few weeks before this crescendo of botanical abundance, only the hardiest of Vermont Spring wildflowers decorated the trailside.

Trout lilys appear first.

Purple trillium

Purple trillium

Trout-lilys (Erythronium americanum) were the first to appear.  The name comes from their leaves that resemble the color and pattern found on native brook trout.  Trout-lilys are native to north-eastern woods and grow in colonies that can be  300 years old. The Trout-lily is a myrmecochore, meaning ants help to disperse the seeds and reduce predation of the seeds. To make the seeds more appealing to ants they have an elaiosome which is a structure which attracts the ants.  Another early bloomer is the purple trillium (Trillium erectum). It is also a native to north-eastern woodlands.  Trillium is a spring ephemeral.  A perennial synchronised with the deciduous forests where it lives.  It’s name comes from its three lobe leaf , and three petal flower.

The Cherokee Spring wildflowers to treat colds and headaches.

Common blue violet

Common blue violet

Lastly, the small but mighty common blue violet (Viola sororia) grows low to the ground and can be easily overlooked.  Also called wood violet, or the lesbian flower, it is also native to north-eastern woods, and is the state flower of Illinois, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Wisconsin.  This plant has historically been used for food and for medicine. The flowers and leaves are edible, and some sources suggest the roots can also be eaten. The Cherokee used it to treat colds and headaches.

The common blue violet is also called the lesbian flower because in the early 1900s, lesbians and bisexual women would give violets to the women they were wooing. This symbolized their “Sapphic” desire, so-called because Sappho, a Greek lyric poetess, in one of her poems described herself and her lover as wearing garlands of violets. This practice became popular in the 1910 – 1930 time period, and has become a substantial symbol for lesbian and bisexual women in the modern era as well.

By |2021-01-07T19:06:21-05:00May 26th, 2016|Natural Life|

Morel wild mushrooms: Spring is the best time to forage.

The glorious morel.

The glorious morel.

It looks like winter is behind us here at the October Country Inn.  Onward.  Days are longer.  Temperatures stay above freezing, and sometimes reach into the 70 degree range.  Spring rains are marching across the Woodstock, Killington area.  The forest will soon explode in a thousand shades of green.  Now is the time to hunt for wild mushrooms, especially the morel.

Morels are typically hard to see.

Morels are illusive enough to make their discovery a moment of great joy.  You might spend a lifetime wandering the woods without ever finding one.  Here are a few tips: Morels are known for their relationships with trees, particularly ash, elm, and old apple trees.   Another good place to look is in areas of disturbed ground. Mycelia produce mushrooms in response to environmental stress, so morels are often found around: Areas disturbed now or in the past by water–old flood plains, near rivers, and near washes.  Old logging areas or places with lots of downed trees.

Foraging is an excuse to wander in the woods.

Learn to identify morels.

Learn to identify morels.

Burn sites.  Morels thrive on the nutrients that burned trees release back into the soil.  Soil composition is another thing to consider.  Morels are often found in soil that is a mixture of sand, clay, and decaying organic matter.  However, above all remember that even if you don’t find any morels, time spend walking in Vermont’s woods is never wasted.

Learn how to identify morels.

For the inexperienced mushroom hunter, a few pointers to keep in mind:  Learn how to properly identify morels. There are poisonous false morel look-alikes that can make you sick or even kill you.  A good rule of thumb is when in doubt, throw it out.  Carry your finds in a mesh bag. Wild mushrooms spread through the dispersal of spores, and the more spores you allow them to drop the better the chances of more mushrooms in the future! Baskets or paper bags don’t allow spores to spread, so find something with large holes in it.

Don’t pick every last mushroom you see. It’s tempting. But leave a few so they can continue to drop spores and you and others can enjoy them for years to come.  Don’t directly ask someone where to find morels. Any mushroom hunter worth his/her salt won’t tell you anyway.  It’s easy to get lost in the woods, especially if you’re looking at the ground for mushrooms. And finally, bring a friend. Don’t wander the woods alone.


By |2021-01-11T10:36:32-05:00May 1st, 2014|Natural Life|

Wild birds: Put out a feeder, and they will come.

Bird feeders under our 50-year-old apple tree.

Bird feeders under our 50-year-old apple tree.

Of country life in Vermont’s many simple pleasures we’ve learned to enjoy, a particular favorite is lounging on the October Country Inn’s backyard deck in the late afternoon and watching the local wild birds dart back and forth among a variety of bird feeders hanging under a 50-year-old apple tree.  We are constantly amazed at the variety of birds that visit our feeders.  The general rule for feeding any wild animal is: do not feed when it might cause harm.  With birds there are few situations in which we can imagine harm being caused, so we say, go ahead  and feed the birds.  We like to think that, although our feeders may not significantly help overall wild bird populations, it certainly helps the birds in our neighborhood.

Bears are hungry in the Spring.

bears love bird feeders in the springHowever, there are other considerations.  In the Spring, a time when a generous supply of bird food would be greatly appreciated by the overwintering wild birds and early arrivals, it is also a time when the local population of black bears emerge from their winter dens in search of food.  Backyard bird feeders are an attractive food source for hungry bears during this time of year.  This is an example of where feeding a wild animal does it more harm than good.  It is not a good idea to encourage bears to mix with humans.  Not good for humans, and therefore not good for bears.

Sit nearby and watch the wild birds.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

Apart from taking bird feeders down in the Spring, there is little other downside.  Our little corner of Vermont has a remarkable variety of really beautiful wild birds.  On any day our feeders may be visited by the following variety of birds:

  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • American Goldfinch
  • White Breasted Nuthatch
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak
  • Purple Finch
  • Blue Jay
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Downy Woodpecker

Place feeders in areas with nearby cover to provide escape.

American Goldfinch.

American Goldfinch.

Wild birds are most likely to eat where they feel safe from predators.  Place feeders twelve feet from a brush pile, evergreen tree, or bush.  Birds can quickly fly twelve feet to reach safe cover, yet predators cannot use it to hide within striking range of the feeder.  A list of healthy bird food choices follows:

  • Black-oil sunflower seeds are high in fat so it provides good energy.  Seeds are small and thin-shelled enough for small birds to crack open.
  • White Proso millet is high in protein.
  • Suet cakes are commercially made to fit the standard sized feeder.
  • Nyjer seed is a favorite of finches.
  • Cracked corn.

You will be pleased.

We use a sunflower seeds, millet, and cracked corn mix in one feeder, a nyjer seed feeder, and a suet cake feeder.  Even if you’re not fortunate enough to live in rural Vermont, hang a few bird feeders out wherever you live.  It will provide countless hours of soul enriching pleasure, and the neighborhood birds will love you for it. 

By |2021-01-12T15:01:37-05:00August 20th, 2013|Natural Life|
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