Beautiful Appearances May Be Deceiving

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

Earlier this past summer, like a serpent slithering through a rock-garden wall, dainty lavender flowers with yellow stamens, suspended by a green vine appeared among the large boulders east of our rental. Lately the florets were replaced by mouthwatering plump red berries, cherry-like in size. Near and among the leaves were fresh growths of ‘blackcaps,’ better known as wild blackberries, now preparing for next year’s growth. At last, the brain clicked on, forager beware! A year or so ago we warned of a somewhat poisonous berry with name of solanum dulcamara, or in our terms, bitter nightshade or bittersweet nightshade. The spot in which the harmless appearing vine was growing fit all research papers reviewed.

The berry we were about to consume is poisonous, harmful to humans, especially naïve children; also, to pets (having caused loss of livestock) and is a “weed of concern.” It grows in natural areas, pastures, roadsides, vacant lots, is a perennial and is considered an invasive. (There’s that word again, ‘invasive’) as are thistles, Queen Anne’s Lace, and so many more weeds and foreign insects of late. Needless to say, the berries/vines/plants will be gathered using gloves and eventually burned, being extraordinarily careful not to ingest the smoke produced.

Heavy precipitation has largely avoided the Minnesota River Valley in the Henderson/LeSueur area. The words that best describe local rain showers might be “spotty,” or “scant.” In spite of this, fungi of numerous species may be found in moist shady spots or on rotting trees, in or near woods. For instance, at a local grassy area we discovered four absolutely perfect , white plate-sized flat and beautiful fungi. Little sprinkles of tan frosting crisscrossed the cap/topside. The fungi appeared good enough to eat. Boing, boing, boing…bells went off in the cranium! Upon scanning the internet, the images that most closely described the intended delicacy were…another poisonous ‘roon, the green-spored lepiota. (Please, if there’s a mycologist in the audience, correct our diagnosis.)
But, here’s the ‘zinger.’ They are not totally deadly to adults, more so to dogs and children! Eating one could result in violent upset tummies, which may require hospitalization. Upon returning to the park site where we first discovered the fungi, we discovered all sizes of children’s footprints about, and said mushrooms had been reduced to pancakes! The fungus we will enjoy this autumn is the orange-hued basketball sized Chicken-of-the-Woods. We can almost savor their aromatic flesh even while writing about them. We’ll also look for the bracket fungus, Pheasant Tail fungi.

In spite of many cloudy days and infrequent moisture, sunflowers have experienced a great summer of growth and marvelous color. One Russian sunflower planted near our rental grew fourteen feet in height…until the ‘BLOW’ of Saturday evening, August 27th. TIMBER! Down the giant plummeted. Pride cometh before a crash. A conversationalist communicated this week to ask, “WHAT are the boxelder bugs doing on my sunflower blossoms? Sometimes I see as many as eight per sunflower head.” Those aren’t boxelder bugs, rather, milkweed bugs. Similar in color, bright orange, black on carapace, they appear to be ingesting something, but what? See the photo attached. How many bugs do you view, and oh yes, there’s a honey bee with the bugs, gathering pollen we assume.

In other news, our designated driver has searched high and low for ‘our’ trumpeter swans and cygnets. Everyone was excited when white pelicans invaded the waters of Bucks’ Lake August 27th through 29th. Those weren’t swans, folks. Hopefully the impending early waterfowl season will not repeat last year’s calamity. Seven swans a-swimming went a-flying the first day of the season. Three returned; the pen, (female) the cob, (male) and a single juvenile. Is there a difference in size between a Canada goose, a teal duck, and a Trumpeter Swan? Ponder.