Sunday, October 19, 2014

Electrified Cat Tails

Mushrooms and moss (c) John Ashley
"Electrified Cat Tails" moss with mystery mushrooms
I've spent the last several decades diligently determined to never learn the identity of a single mushroom. So far so good. It's not that mushrooms aren't interesting - they are. It's more because mushrooms can be dangerous to wanna-be mycologists, especially hungry ones.

We recently discovered this pair of thumbnail-sized mushrooms while stumbling down a steep, deeply-shaded river canyon. Their true identity remains a mystery to me.

Mosses, on the other hand, are a step up from mushrooms because, one, I've never been tempted to taste them, and, two, If I did I doubt I would end up in the emergency room. I could be wrong about that, but mosses just always look friendly somehow.

Of the six native mosses listed on the Montana Heritage Program's (incomplete) field guide, this one looks to me like "Shaggy Moss" (Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus). Another common name is "Goose Neck Moss." But I prefer a third common name because it's much more likely to stick in your memory - "Electrified Cat Tails." This one looks fuzzier than most other mosses because its leaves grow on the stems as well as the branches. It's also a safe bet because it's the most common moss found growing on Montana's western slopes.

If you want to try your hand at mycology, here are a couple of dichotomous and photo identification keys for Montana's mushrooms. Good luck but, still, don't eat your discoveries.