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September 9th, 2008 - Metro Naturalists Class

On Monday, September 9th I went to Warner Nature Center at Marine-on-St. Croix, which is a bit like Avon-on-Trent but without all the sonnets, froofie collars and door-to-door personal care products.
The Minnesota Naturalist's Association puts on a Metro Training day every so often, featuring a local nature area or nature center. This time it was Warner's turn, and the topic d'jour: Fungi.

Here is our table of moldy booty collected on the field trip. 52 species of fungus, lichens and molds. Everyone was incredibly excited. And who wouldn't be?! Only 1, 948,000 more species and we'll have the whole set.
Of course, there are a great percentage of species that haven't been identified yet, and many that can't be decided whether to put them into animal, plant, or fungus kingdoms because their characteristics cross over the three so variably. Fungus is weird.
It can't photosynthesize like plants, but it is said that fungus is one of the largest contributors of carbon released into Earth's atmosphere. It's also a major decomposer of cellulose, which makes up 90% of our soil biomass.
Most of it is underground, with large fungal masses stretching for up to 10 sq, kilometers having been found in Oregon and other states. Some of it has been dated as being 8500 years old!
When they asked if we had any questions, I asked, "If you have a fungus that is 8500 years old, how do you know it's dead?"
The answer had something to do with counting rings of growth, but I've heard that some types can become completely dessicated, then rehydrate and after quite some time, COME BACK TO LIFE. Or I guess they were always living and showed MORE signs of life. Or something. This is where it gets a little weird: laying down the ground rules about what is life, what is a living organism. We can't even decide if it's animal, vegetable, or mineral, how can we be expected to answer the ultimate question? Only the fungus knows.

My favorite place at Warner is the bog. There is a narrow boardwalk stretching across an incredible wet bog with amazing smells, plants, animals, and fungi of all shapes and sizes. I was thinking I could crawl across the boardwalk on my hands and knees and probably not see the same thing twice. Probably an exaggeration, but the more you look, the more you see. And the SMALLER you look, the more you see. It's like being shrunken and dropped into a terrarium.

At the surface their are the ferns, Jewelweed, mesic prairie plants, and explosive balls of cotton grass.
As you move in closer, the wetness and color become more intense and as the plant and insect life changes, and it becomes a new world, at a whole new scale. I'd like to have one of those surgical cameras on a fiber-optic gooseneck and take it on a micro-hike around the inner neighborhood of the bog.

There were tons of Pitcher plants, all vying for the uninitiated insects looking for a nice long tubby.

Cotton grass has many faces. And hairstyles.

One of the funky funky fungus we came across. Kind of a neon confetti type of thing.
The aquariums at Warner were also top-notch. They even have a short-nosed Gar. The long-nosed Gar couldn't turn around in the tank, evidently.

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