The brittlegill fungi come in an incredible variety of colors, and often change hues throughout their growth. I found this one under a conifer in near proximity to a small stream, draining a swampy pond in the hills behind my house.

A spider has found refuge under its cap and is free to leave anytime, but the conifer needles have stuck to the sticky cap as the mushroom has escaped the ground. Now the weather is dry and the cap is no longer sticky and is just smooth to the touch.

If you look at the base of the mushroom, the creamy dirt is in fact a result of one of the most valuable and miraculous processes happening under our feet – the droppings of an earthworm. It’s pure unadulterated soil!

Many fungi species help the trees get access to nutrients, while the earthworms eat organic matter like leaves, pine and conifer needles and out the other end return it as the best soil you can get. And it is all for free!

A healthy lawn, flowerbed or garden as a whole, will have countless earthworms, and if you let the leaves stay on the ground in autumn, you will soon see that the earthworms gather the leaves in heaps all around the ground. It is amazing to see how fast they accumulate the fallen leaves and pine needles and draw it down into the ground and return it all as small mounds of fresh dirt!

If you do not see this happening in your lawn it is most likely damaged by chemical fertilizers or the ground is contaminated in other ways or so densely packed that it cannot hold sufficient oxygen to support much of earthworms, and plants for that matter.

To prove my point I love to take those open to it on a little walk to a known healthy lawn or forest nearby when it’s dark and damp during autumn, and then jump! The sound of countless earthworms contracting and thus releasing their hold on dead leaves is just amazing. Just like you throw a stone into a pond, the tiny waves spread out, but there the waves are sounds of the dry leaves being release by the earthworms. Many will think the rustling sound is an animal, like a mouse or an insect escaping as you approach, as it is so abrupt, but use a torch and you’ll see they are hard at work!

There is a big lawn on public land nearby where the lawn is covered with leaves from huge birch trees in the autumn. But if there is no significant frost for a while most of the leaves will be gone before the frost takes hold. In any case there will be no leaves left as the spring and new growth has returned. So why are garden owners so obsessed with raking the leaves off their lawns, when the earthworms will do it for free?

As you look for fungi where there is soil, check for those creamy dirt twirls – that is the gift of our hard-working earthworms.

This image is a close-up of some very important processes and a sign that these are healthy and vital at this location, under a mature Norwegian spruce in a mixed species forest (you see spruce needles stuck on the cap, and pine needles on the ground).

Elevation: 51 meters

  • Aperture: ƒ/3.5
  • Camera: NIKON D4
  • Focal length: 105mm
  • ISO: 640
  • Shutter speed: 1/25 s

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