The Fungus From Another Land

On a cool, cloudy afternoon earlier this summer, we stewards hunted for garlic mustard in the marshy woods of Charles Ilsley Park. The air was crisp, and I could feel the wind brushing my back as I walked. I kept my eyes peeled for the biennial invasive, doing my best to contribute to ecological wellness. That was when something unusual caught my eye. I stumbled upon a wet, decaying log with fungal clusters along its back. After asking some identification questions, I found that this fungus was none other than the Golden Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus citrinopileatus).

How interesting! Each individual mushroom had a slightly different cap and shape despite being in the same cluster. The subjects in each cluster proudly displayed their bright yellow caps, earning this oyster mushroom its name.

Golden oyster mushrooms feasting on a log found at Charles Ilsley Park

Mushrooms Escaped from Cultivation

The golden oyster, or yellow oyster, mushroom originated in the woodlands of Russia, Japan, and Northern China, where it enjoys cool, shady woodland areas. The golden oyster thrives on decaying wood, especially elm, but is capable of growing on several substrates. Thanks to the variety of culinary and medicinal uses, the fungi has long been cultivated across Asia, and is now widely grown in the United States.

The joys of farming golden oyster fungi had consequences, though. According to Andi Bruce, a professional mycologist, the golden oyster mushroom escaped cultivation and made its way into natural habitats, the first known cultivated fungus to do so. As far as we know, their pale, pink spores are easily spread by the longhorn beetle, Callipogon relictus.

The golden-oyster mushroom’s bright caps at Charles Ilsley Park

Learning About Golden Oyster Mushrooms

The golden oyster mushroom made its first appearance in 2012, and has now been found in several states, including Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa. What will be impacted by this nonnative fungus? Or will anything be impacted at all? Only time will tell. On a positive note, while further research is needed, the golden oyster might have use absorbing toxins in the environment such as oil spills and wastewater. Maybe some good can come out of these chewy, fragile mushrooms.

Do the unknowns of the golden oyster mushroom shake you? Do you want to unravel golden information on this record-breaking fungi? Citizen scientists can help by taking photographs of specimens they’ve come across and posting them to iNaturalist! The Osmundson Lab from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is continuing to accept samples for future research. If you want to take a step further in future research contributions, consider submitting a live sample. Instructions can be found here.

A cool, shady woodland area in Bear Creek Nature Park. The perfect habitat for golden oyster fungi

What a mystery this fungus is! It will be exciting to learn more about the golden oyster mushroom as we learn more about its spread and ecology in North America. Who knows what else will unfold? The world is such a wonderful place full of secrets waiting to be discovered, a world beyond internet and textbooks!

When taking a stroll in one of our beautiful parks, ask yourself, “What can I learn on this path today?” Perhaps on a morning walk through Bear Creek Nature Park, you might notice how beautiful bee balm splashes the fields in purple swaths. As you take in the view, a refreshing smell may hit your nose. With further exploration you may find out it was none other than bee balm itself, giving you a refreshing aroma as a “thank you” for enjoying nature’s beauty. Maybe you’ll walk on Paint Creek Trail and hear a faint rustling in the tall grasses. In the brief moment of asking yourself, “What was that sound?”, an innocent fawn may race across the wet prairie, with its spots disappearing as quickly as its sound.

Nature is so beautiful and mysterious, with so much to admire and understand. Don’t just walk in the parks. Take time to admire blue birds in the sky, or milkweed waving to monarch butterflies. Take a moment to appreciate sensitive ferns and lupines, flourishing in the soils they stand in. When exploring our parks, your observance may lead to discoveries!

Vernal Pools: A Wetland Wonderland

Marquette’s Migration and the Blue-Spotted Salamander Surveys

My friends and I carefully tip-toed on the closed, wet road of Peter White Drive in Presque Isle Park in Marquette, Michigan on a rainy spring night. The air was crisp, filled with bellows of cheerful people of the Marquette community. The trees of Presque Isle Park surrounded the paved road, allowing the small creatures who travel over the pavement a sense of safety and peace when they make it to the other side.  

A blue-spotted salamander from Presque Isle Park in Marquette, MI

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to conduct blue-spotted salamander surveys in Marquette. These adorable, tiny amphibians are painted with what looks like flecks of blue sky scattered along their dark bodies. Blue-spotted salamanders are shy creatures that awake to the rising moon. They inhabit forested areas and are most commonly found at vernal pools in spring. Unlike other salamanders, the blue-spotted salamanders do not lay eggs in clumps, but rather with individual eggs flickered amongst leaves and sticks on the bottom of a vernal pool.

Two blue-spotted salamanders being observed under a lamp

The road closure in Presque Isle Park begins at the end of March and continues until the end of April each year, allowing amphibians to safely cross the street. Rainy weather, and 35-45 degree temperatures provide further inspiration for several salamanders, toads, and frogs to continue their travels to the vernal pools. One perfect, rainy night, my good friends and I counted 112 blue-spotted salamanders and two wood frogs!

A wood frog found with the blue-spotted salamanders, together on their vernal pool expedition!

This migration makes local news and is a huge opportunity to participate in citizen science! Thanks to an evening, annual road closure in Presque Isle Park, the blue-spotted salamanders can safely travel from their burrows to vernal pools, where they lay their eggs in the same pool they were born in. If you’re looking for an evening adventure, I highly recommend joining Marquette’s blue-spotted salamander surveys. Just watch your step!

Salamanders and Vernal Pools Throughout Michigan

Marquette is a long drive from southeast Michigan. Fortunately, Oakland Township has plenty of vernal pools bursting with life. You can travel just 10 minutes from home to witness these wondrous habitats found in our parks.

A vernal pool found at Charles Ilsley Park

Vernal pools are temporary ponds that are formed by the melting of winter snow or early spring rains. They are a true sign of spring! Vernal pools- or vernal ponds (“vernal” meaning spring) – typically dry out by the end of the summer, but flow with biodiversity while they are present! These pools are temporary nurseries for amphibious offspring, made possible by the lack of predatory fish. While vernal pools thrive in the early spring, they can still be found throughout the parks in June. If you come across one, it is likely in its beginning stages of drying out. The vernal pools at this time of year, depending on their size, may have significantly less water in them compared to spring.

The larval stage of the salamander with gills and tail fins. In June the salamander eggs have hatched and look like this larva.

Vernal pools can be found throughout Oakland Township’s parks. Various species from frogs, fairy shrimp, and salamanders inhabit these ephemeral ponds! On a lovely hike through Bear Creek Nature Park, Charles Ilsley Park, or Cranberry Lake Park, you just might hear the bullfrog sing or see a peaceful wood duck floating on a vernal pool.

Eastern redback salamander at Blue Heron Environmental Area. Photo by Camryn.
Gray tree frog at Watershed Ridge Park.

Why are Vernal Pools Important?

Vernal pools are important for forest ecosystem health. Not only are they a nursery for amphibians, they are a temporary source of food and water for numerous species such as raccoons, ducks, and egrets. They are often called the “Coral Reefs of Northeastern Forests” for their bursts of biodiversity, several species can be found here if you look a little closer into the water.

If you would like to get up close and personal with vernal pools, grab your bug spray and muck boots for Michigan’s Vernal Pool Patrol! This program allows community members to participate in community science to collect information on identifying, mapping, and monitoring vernal pools statewide. The Michigan Vernal Pool Database, where this information is submitted, can be used to guide management decisions on vernal pool conservation. After attending some training (held in early spring each year), you will be ready to contribute to the Michigan Vernal Pool Database! If this is something that interests you, follow this link to the Michigan Vernal Pool Patrol website.

Alyssa Radzwion from Oakland Township Parks and Ian Ableson of Six Rivers Conservancy observing tiny life in a vernal pool at Bear Creek Nature Park in 2019.

If you ever see a vernal pool, consider taking a moment to enjoy its beauty and small wetland critters. Vernal pools can teach us to enjoy the little things in life, and appreciate them while they are still here with us. Yes, life gets busy, we live in a world that requires us to always be on the move. But by living this way, we just might forget about the little things. Tell your friends and family you love them, take your dog out for a walk, buy that stranger in the coffee shop their latte. All it takes are the little things to make someone’s day.

Meet Emma: Devotee of Ecology

We’re excited to welcome our 2022 seasonal stewardship crew! Camryn Brent, Cassie Stitzman, and Emma Campbell joined us in the last few weeks and will be out in the parks doing much-needed ecological restoration work until the end of the summer. This week Emma Campbell shares her introduction. We are inspired by her lifelong interest in plants and ecology! Help us welcome her to Oakland Township.
-Ben

My name is Emma Campbell and I am thrilled to be working as a land stewardship technician this summer. I am a born and raised Ohioan. For the past four years I have lived a little over five hours south of Oakland Township, in Athens, Ohio. There I am a student at Ohio University and will be graduating with my Bachelor’s in Field Ecology and a certificate in Environmental Studies in December of this year.

Taking a needed snack break at a campsite along the Zaleski State Forest backpacking trail.

I have had the great privilege of being born into an outdoorsy family. Spending summers in the panhandle of Florida with my native landscaper grandfather instilled in me a love of plants.

My grandfather showing me some trees in 2001.

This love of plants broadened into a passion for ecology in late high school and early college. In my sophomore year of high school I stumbled upon an article about Lycorma delicatula, the spotted lanternfly. L. delicatula is an invasive planthopper native to southeastern Asia that was first spotted in Berks County, Pennsylvania. This led me on a deep-dive of the effects of invasive species in ecosystems as a teenager. Over the course of several years I saw its rapid spread throughout the northeast, eventually making landfall in my home state in 2020. From there I learned to recognize invasive species everywhere I went. This further opened my eyes to the long-lasting effects of human disturbance.

As my interest in ecology unfolded, I became fascinated by the unseen. I am captivated by soil ecology and the importance of microbes in plant-soil interactions. Plant productivity is tied closely to the nutrients made ‘available’ to them by a whole host of soil microbes belonging to archaea, bacteria, and fungi. I am considering continuing my education and obtaining a graduate degree in soil sciences in the future.

At Ohio University I have worked as a research assistant on several species within the genus Lycopodiella. Plants within this genus are referred to as the bog clubmosses. As their name suggests, they commonly occupy bogs and wetland areas. My research involves collecting morphological data to identify hybrids. Several specimens that I have worked with were collected in southern Michigan region.

I am greatly looking forward to exploring natural areas in and around Oakland Township this summer. I am an avid hiker and backpacker. On many weekends throughout the summer you can find me donning a well-loved 1970’s aluminum frame backpacking pack passed down to me from my parents. I am planning a weekend backpacking trip to North Manitou Island later this summer. I would love any and all suggestions for Michigan trails before I head back south!

Preparing native seed mix for planting at Blue Heron Environmental Area.

Since starting two weeks ago, I have already learned so much from my co-workers and fellow seasonal stewards. I am confident that I will come away from this season with expanded knowledge and a solidified appreciation for all things Michigan.

Meet Cassie: The Girl Who Never Gives Up

We’re excited to welcome our 2022 seasonal stewardship crew! Camryn Brent, Cassie Stitzman, and Emma Campbell joined us in the last few weeks and will be out in the parks doing much-needed ecological restoration work until the end of the summer. This week Cassie Stitzman shares her introduction. Her enthusiasm and excitement are contagious! Drop a comment to help us welcome her to Oakland Township.
-Ben

Hello! My name is Cassie Stitzman and I am an Oakland Township Land Stewardship Technician for the summer. This is my very first field season! I’m excited to be part of the Oakland Township Parks and Recreation team and I am grateful for the opportunity. I am thrilled to work with people that are passionate about preserving ecosystems and meeting people in the community.

Me in a small field of Golden Ragwort at Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie

Growing up, I loved animals and was fascinated with their abilities to survive in the wilderness. I loved watching Meerkat Manor, reading wildlife books, and taking hikes in nearby natural areas. As I got older, I realized that there are a variety of careers in wildlife conservation. I graduated from Schoolcraft Community College with an Associate’s in Science in May 2020. During my time there I tried, again and again, to gain experience to no avail. Despite my discouragement, I didn’t give up and continued my search for conservation opportunities. My search led me to work at a dog daycare for two years and volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary.

Me holding a painted turtle at Bear Creek Nature Park

To continue my quest, I am currently pursuing my Bachelor’s in Fisheries and Wildlife Management at Northern Michigan University (NMU). At NMU, I was excited to gain new experiences and meet people with my same passion for wildlife. I joined the NMU Fisheries and Wildlife Association, a student club filled with other enthusiastic people. This club means so much to me and has given me many opportunities to gain experience. I’ve met new people, done camera trapping, and attended the 82nd Midwest Fisheries and Wildlife Conference.

During my first NMU semester, I tried to become an officer for Winter 2022, but was not elected. I reran to be an officer for Fall 2022, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve been voted as secretary for Fall 2022. I am so excited to give back to the club with new experiences, projects, and additional opportunities. I’m also assisting a grad student with research by sorting through a large data set of red fox images from iNaturalist. This data will be used to determine how red fox distribution may be influenced by environmental factors. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve made, and I look forward to more!

Jack-in-the-pulpit found at Bear Creek, my favorite plant so far!

These endless opportunities fuel me with excitement and indecisiveness! Every position I encounter appeals to my interest and passion for conservation, and every time I learn about a new area of study I become instantly fascinated by it. Career areas that are exceptionally interesting to me are invasive species management, endangered species protection, and human-wildlife conflict. I don’t know what exactly I want to be, I just know that I want to contribute to conservation.

So far at Oakland Township Parks, I have enjoyed every second of my time here. From getting rained down on while hunting for garlic mustard, from spreading seed in the heat, and from seeing the beautiful wildlife on habitat restoration adventures. I love being outside, no matter what the conditions are. I love the challenge of being in difficult weather and I love the peace a cool, partly cloudy day can bring. I love coming into work everyday knowing that I am contributing to the wellbeing of the parks!

So far on my journey, I’ve learned that failure should only be motivation to strive farther and work harder. Never give up on your dreams, they just might come true!

Meet Camryn: My Journey to Stewardship

We’re excited to welcome our 2022 seasonal stewardship crew! Camryn Brent, Cassie Stitzman, and Emma Campbell joined us in the last few weeks and will be out in the parks doing much-needed ecological restoration work until the end of the summer. Since starting they’ve been busy completing training, pulling garlic mustard, and getting ready for the season. Camryn Brent shares her introduction in this post, so keep reading to learn about the unique background and skills she brings to our team. Look for posts from Cassie and Emma soon. Drop a comment to help us welcome them to Oakland Township!

-Ben

When people ask me how I became interested in conservation work I usually give a simple shrug and say I always felt drawn to animals. My oldest core memory was driving with my mom down Woodard to the Detroit Zoo, strapped in a car seat. My siblings were older, so when they were away at school my mom would take me to the zoo whenever she could. About twice a week, whenever my mom wasn’t running errands, we would steal away to our favorite place. 

Oddly, I don’t remember actually being at the zoo that well. Instead, I vividly remember feeling uncertain looking out the window at the urban landscape. I didn’t understand the contrast from the animals in the zoo to the cement roads and store fronts. A lot of my childhood I spent in my head playing out a life in the animated world of Disney’s Lion King. I felt safer in my head then staring out an alien landscape, devoid of my beloved African animals. 

Young me staring wistfully out of the car window as the world flew by

As I grew older, I began to piece together an understanding that people and animals often didn’t coexist because of the ways of human civilization. I still loved animals, but my ingenuous wonder at the natural world was pushed down. In high school I remained environmentally driven, which led me to enroll in the Fisheries and Wildlife major at Michigan State University. My first year away, my 18-year-old self broke down and I considered dropping out.

After that horrible first year I knew I couldn’t spend a summer at home or else I would never go back. I enrolled in two semesters of summer classes at Kellogg Biological Station (KBS). There I began to rebuild myself into the conservationist I am today. Surrounded by a community of ecologists, with most of class time spent in natural areas, I became acquainted with organisms I had originally relegated to background noise. Plants, insects, birds, and even mushrooms became new friends. Through the iNaturalist app, I could call them by a name. 

Spending time with a patch of Wild Lupine while attending KBS

When autumn rolled around, I realized I felt clear headed for the first time in my life. I felt a connection to the land and all the living things that inhabited it alongside me. Most importantly, I realized that people can be stewards to the land. That people could curate biodiversity around them, not just destroy it. I have been riding on a sense of wonder and hope ever since that summer. It’s now been a year since I graduated from undergrad and three years since my time at KBS. 

I am currently back living at home with my parents and my fourteen-pound cat, Billy. I view metro Detroit a lot differently then when I grew up. I enjoy learning about the land pre-European arrival, and also about the bustling city my great grandparents immigrated to. I like to listen to the history of both the people and land, and try to foster a healthier future with both in mind. I’ve come a long way from the little girl without a sense of place, yet I’ve retained my curiosity and awe towards nature. I now know I will always find community as long as there are natural spaces to explore.

Current me on a prescribed burn at Paint Creek Heritage Area -Wet Prairie along the Paint Creek Trail

Since I’ve begun working at Oakland Township, I have been able to appreciate the natural areas stewardship program’s ability to create a common wealth of folks, old and young, ready to learn and take action. With my past seasonal experiences, I realized that restoration and management efforts suffer without the backbone of the public volunteers and nearby residents. For this reason, I am grateful for the opportunity to work with a township that engages its residents in long-term safeguarding of its natural areas.

Hope to see you on the trails!