Nature Talks - pic1

A Google search was in order after Nature Talks columnist Cheryl Kimball found this stick in the woods. The bluish-green color in the center was very peculiar and puzzling.

IN THE PAST I have talked in this column about burls, those tumor-looking bumps on a tree’s trunk known also as “callus tissue.” To get scientific, Kevin Smith, Ph.D., in a 2012 article called “The Biology of Burls,” says: “A burl is the result of hyperplasia, a greatly abnormal proliferation of xylem production by the vascular cadmium” and, Smith goes on to say, that the rapid cell growth is highly localized and “the orientation of the divisions is irregular. That is what helps to produce the visually interesting and dense figure in the wood … ”

Burls are usually caused by an injury to the tree, such as from pruning (either naturally or intentionally), disease, insect damage or many other things. In the same publication (“Bark,” Issue 3, Fall 2012, published by the Massachusetts Tree Wardens’ and Foresters’ Association) is an article titled “Burl Bandits.” Apparently, theft of burls — valued by crafters — from “public” trees is a thing.

Burls are just one thing I observe in my almost daily walks in the woods. I am always finding something that is intriguing, often small. In the fall, I am on the lookout for those little puff balls made of rolled leaves that provide a cocoon for a type of wasp. Red-topped matchstick lichens always catch my eye. I wonder how that little arched root a couple dozen feet off the trail that looks like a fairy tunnel happened. The bonsai-like tree growing ever-so-slowly from a crevice in a large boulder gets examined every time I pass it by, which is at least twice a week.

I keep tabs on the dead trees where turkey tails are growing that might be a source for collection to try my hand at making paper from them someday. My phone is full of pictures of small features I find in the woods that fascinate me. Some I can figure out, some I can’t immediately explain.

One thing that recently caught my attention — and that I have seen before — was a piece of a branch on the ground that was brilliant green in the middle. I am hyper stick-aware these days because of our relatively new puppy, Lucy. She is a Labrador retriever and, like all Labs but also very much like our previous Lab who was Lucy’s great uncle, she likes to walk with a stick in her mouth. The stick she likes the best is my walking stick. On my walks with Lucy, I am constantly on the lookout for small pieces of sturdy sticks that I can trade with her for my walking stick.

The other day I picked up a stick but it wasn’t for Lucy. The stick — probably 8 inches long and maybe an inch in diameter — caught my eye because the center of it was a brilliant bluish-green color. The “why” of this is exactly the kind of thing that preoccupies me as I walk through the woods.

The first thing I do to try to find an answer to strange questions is to simply Google my question: “Why would the inside of a stick be bluish-green?” Two possibilities appeared.

Wikipedia says this: “Foxfire, also called fairy fire or chimpanzee fire, is the bioluminescence created by some species of fungi present in decaying wood. The bluish-green glow is attributed to a luciferase, an oxidative enzyme, which emits light as it reacts to liciferin.”

Reddit says this in answer to someone who asked about the “blue inside a stick I snapped in half”: “The wood is stained this color from a pigment produced by the mycelium (‘vegetative body’). On the rare occasion when this fungus produces mushrooms (‘fruiting bodies’), they are shaped like tiny cups and are also a splendid blue in color.” A reader on the forum also added that it is a “species of Chlorociboria. … in North America, it could be one of two species — Chlorociboria aeruginascens or aeruginosa.”

I’m not sure which is the correct answer in this instance, but a picture of the blue mushrooms was in the thread — now I am on the lookout for these, they are beautiful!

Steller’s Sea Eagle

On a bird note, readers who are serious birders have likely heard about the Steller’s Sea Eagle that has been spotted in New England. Audubon posted a great article by Nicholas Lund on the bird’s journey (https://www.audubon.org/news/inside-amazing-cross-continent-saga-stellers-sea-eagle). He witnessed it in person when it was spotted in Massachusetts, saying two bald eagles — who average 10 pounds and a seven-foot wingspan — in the same tree looked like pigeons next the Steller’s Sea Eagle.

A vulnerable species of only around 4,000 individuals in existence, the bird is native to eastern Russia, the Korean peninsula and northern Japan. Lund says the vagrant bird flew to this continent and across North America. The online article has a great graphic on the Steller’s wanderings. Last seen in mid-coast Maine, I plan to keep tabs on the next sighting and try to join other birders in witnessing this bird in person. I could use something new to obsess about!

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Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at naturetalksck@gmail.com.