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Mysterious mushrooms part of life’s cycles

May 15, 2010
By Garry Brandenburg

Mushrooms are wild, wacky and weird examples of special life forms on earth. They may be mysterious due to the fact that most of the growth is underground and only at special times does it 'appear' supposedly out of nowhere. During the middle ages, when science was almost non-existent to explain natural phenomena, the sudden appearance of a ring of mushrooms was taken as proof of 'little people' dancing around the land at midnight. The fairy ring was the tell-tale sign of strange happenings.

Mushrooms may be edible or contain toxins, some of which are deadly if ingested. Knowing what type of mushroom one has in hand is absolutely critical. For those that ate anything put before them, mushrooms could be a witch's brew of poisons. People who ate the wrong mushroom at the wrong time became history. For survivors, it was very clear indeed that some mushrooms can kill. Trial and error is not a recommended method for discovering its edibility factor.

Mushrooms are special plants with the fruiting body above ground or growing on dead materials. They differ from most plants in that they contain no chlorophyll and must rely on organic matter for nutrition. There are three broad classifications of mushrooms: Saprophytes, Parasites and Mycorrhizae. The first lives on dead organic matter such as trees, dead wood, leaf litter, etc. The second, parasites, attacks living plants or animals. The last type has a symbiotic relationship with plants to help each other through nutrient production or extraction.

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Mushrooms come in all sizes and shapes. This unique one caught this author’s eye during a hike through the Iowa River Wildlife Area on May 5. It is — I think — a Hexagonal-pored Polypore (Favolus alverolaris). While the guidebook says it is edible, it also goes on to say it is usually too tough to be palatable. My intension was not to take it home to eat. I just admired its beauty along with all the other neat critters and greenery of the bottomland forest.

At least one well known mushroom, the Morel, is the one most people seek out. A bread wrapper bag full of morels will afford a tasty meal back home when fried up in a batter-like preparation. So the next time you are out and about, look for morel mushrooms but also let your eye wander to explore all the other plant and animal life going about its business of life. For mushrooms, we should be glad they are part of the natural recycling process of organic matter. Otherwise, with no decay, all past plant and animal life would just accumulate. And considering how old the earth is, that would be a huge heap of stuff. We need mysterious mushrooms to do their work.


One of the most recent birds to make an appearance has been the White-crowned Sparrow ( Zonotrichis leucophrys). Migration is on their mind as they begin a journey to the far northern arctic tundra lands of northern Canada, most of British Columbia, Alaska and high elevation Rocky Mountain sites. This is a big sparrow about 7 inches in length. In addition, it has long black and white stripes on its head, gray chest, a pink or yellow bill. They nest in low bushes or on the ground under shrubs. Foods are typically seeds, plant parts and insects.

May 15th is the approximate arrival time for Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Magnolia Warblers, and Dickcissels.

It doesn't really matter which bird you are looking at, they are all fun to observe and enjoy. One of the best ways to assist financially with birds is through the purchase of Iowa DNR habitat fees. The funds collected go toward state and county conservation board projects. Anyone may purchase a habitat fee at any electronic license outlet.


The dedication ceremony for the observation tower at the GrimesFarm is coming up in two weeks, May 29, at 10:30 am. A hill top location west of the Conservation Center is where the tower was constructed by staff of the Marshall County Conservation Board. The top platform for people is 33 feet off the ground which enables one to see many points of interest locally. The hike to and from the tower is great exercise. Try it, you will like it.


BOWHUNTERS kept track of wildlife sightings last season while perched in their tree-stands. If deer were not present, other critters may have shown themselves. It is the frequency of sightings that biologists were interested in. Last year was the sixth year of the survey process.Trend lines of other wildlife species can be deduced from the reported data.

The survey results from 2,027 archers contains data from 31, 102 hunting trips and 105,287.5 hours of observations.When combined with other data from biologists, a clearer picture of Iowa wildlife trends is possible.In addition to deer sightings of both antlered and antlerless, tabulated results were submitted for badger, bobcat, coyote, Gray and red fox, house cat, opossum, raccoon, river otter, striped skunk and wild turkey.

To read more about the survey and its methods, go to this web site: and look under "Bowhunter Survey."


If in your wanderings through wooded environments you should accidentally find a fawn whitetail deer, leave it alone. It is just fine. Mother deer is watching and only wants you to get out of her territory. Incidentally, fawns have about 300 spots, a natural camouflage to help avoid detection by predators.


The regular HUNTER SAFETY CLASS for May is coming up on May 20 from 6 to 9 p.m. and May 22 from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. Sign up for the class on-line at If you have already been put on the list by calling the Marshall County Conservation Board office, go to the website and register for a student account. It will make the paper work at the Thursday night session of the class go much faster. Additional hunter safety classes are scheduled for June 17 and 19 and August 19 and 21.


Free fishing days are set for June 4, 5 and 6. During that weekend, Iowa residents may fish without purchasing a fishing license. All size and creel restrictions apply.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.



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