Now is when keen observers hit the brakes on their truck, ease up on the ATV gas pedal or stop a morning hike to determine if what they saw was real or imagined.

It could be the varied summer temperatures, plentiful rainfalls, or daytime humidity coming to an end that help to bring so many autumn outdoor peculiarities to the forefront. Whatever it is, these quirks in nature are piling up in August.

Can a knowledgeable person explain what they are?

Some are not so much quirks but real things that grow that way. They are growths of fungi, diseased plants, a few animals and sometimes simply weathered objects.

Plants fight amongst themselves as any gardener can attest. Quack grass rhizomes have no problem growing entirely through potato tuber stems. Some plants, corn and crabgrass included, do better during hot, humid weather. Remember the saying about the temperature being so hot we can hear the corn grow? Now that’s over and those weird flowers are growing out of the stalk tops. Corn and crabgrass grow best, warm weather grasses they’re called, with their modified chemical pathways to make sugars in ways most pants didn’t evolve.

Split names give away many fungal secrets and describe their somewhat supernatural forms. Tooth fungus, hedgehog mushroom, stinkhorn fungus, and slime mold fungus-like plops of yellow goo.

But rusts are best described as rusts. Imagine a pipe or iron beam rusting so fast that the debris piled up underneath the item. Rusts are fungi that produce so many spores that they fall as dust on the items, leaves, and fruits below.

One rust on elderberry grows into a horn-shaped, twisted-orange ring that defies all imagination as to what it really is, caused it or where it came from.

Other leaves are dotted with rust spots; sometimes there are sooty spots on maple leaves.

Fungi fight among themselves, too, even entangle and grow together to become something unlike either of the separate parts. The lobster mushroom, more common in northern Wisconsin, is red on the outside, white on the inside, just like boiled lobster. One mycologist suggests it be used as lobster helper.

Black knot on cherry branches are a disease that looks like something you’d never buy at a state fair, dung on a stick.

One more fungus fooler is corn smut. Mostly on the corn ear and nearly replacing the fruit kernels with purple to black bulges of enlarged cells with gobs of black spores. Most sweetcorn is quickly tossed when inflected with corn smut but some folks eat it, consider it a delicacy, and even sell it fresh and canned.

Animals, all by themselves, get into the act of deception, too, best seen locally as a walking stick, which is easily detected when it is not perched on a stick but a screen or rock. But walking sticks rarely expose themselves that way.

When it is 90 degrees and feels like 100 degrees, check out the seed cones of fir trees. They grow in all shades of green, brown and purple but instead of hanging pendant, the stand upright on fir tree branches. Now they’re exuding more than enough resin to drip and form icicles that are as far from freezing as the actual temperature is.

Try to convince someone that the “lemons” hanging pendant from the mayapple herbs are edible. They smell like they should be and even though the plant is quite toxic and can be deadly, but the fruit is fine, when properly prepared.

Keep noticing and the begin digging for the answers.

Contact Jerry Davis, a freelance writer from Barneveld, at sivadjam@mhtc.net or 608-924-1112.

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