Week of June 12, 2022 – June 18, 2022
by Bridget Jones, Environmental Educator
Imagine that you have shrunk down to the size of an ant in the forest. From this perspective, trees turn into unimaginable behemoths, logs loom like rolling mountains, and leaf litter on the forest floor stretches into an endless sea. Although this view is not one we often see, there is an advantage to experiencing the forest from a new angle. By getting close to the forest floor, we can notice details that we might otherwise pass by from a greater height.
Observing fungi, for example, benefits from this shift in perspective. From above, fungi often come in shapes or colors that catch our eye. During a walk on the Harrison Loop recently, I noticed a cluster of brown, umbrella-shaped mushrooms growing on the side of a log. Their unique shapes made me wonder what they might look like from underneath. Getting down on their level revealed a thick forest of mushroom stems. From below, it was easy to see the mushrooms’ gills, the spore-producing part of the fungus that is typically invisible from above. From these gills come thousands of spores, which will spread into the woods to produce new fungi.
Farther down the trail, I noticed a bright orange fungus and knelt down to get a closer look. At this vantage point, I realized that one of the “mushrooms” was not a mushroom at all. A slug, in a shade of orange just a bit darker than the mushrooms, was hiding among the fungus. A second slug and a millipede quickly came into view. The slugs were feasting on the mushrooms, revealing the paler flesh inside the mushroom cap. This time, a closer perspective not only revealed more about the mushroom itself, but also about its relationships with other creatures in the forest.
At eye level with the forest floor, we can also see the recycling of nutrients play out firsthand. Fungi, slugs, leaf litter, and logs are all key players in the forest-wide process of decomposition, which breaks down organic matter and returns nutrients to the soil. When we observe a mushroom growing out of a tree or a slug crawling over a log, we’re watching the beginnings of new life in action. Next time you’re in the forest, spend some time observing life on the forest floor. The view from the forest floor might be different from our usual perspective above, but it’s always there at our feet, waiting for us to stop and look.