Look at the little things

Stepping into the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve on the first day of October and felt like I had stepped back in time. The trees date back to the 1700’s and have Tarzan like vines wrapping around them, with the surrounding herbaceous plants covering the forest floor in a thick brown, orange and green canopy. While looking high and low at the various autotrophic species, one tiny red organism stuck out to me. Russula emetica came up when I put my picture of this little red and white fungi in my iNaturalist app. A small red topped mushroom with a white stem and gills, Russula emetica or more redmushroomcommonly the Sickener plays a vital role in the food web yet for some reason the IUCN Red List has never assessed the conservation status of the Sickener. This little fellow plays a major role in decomposing organic matter which releases nutrients for all the other plants in the preserve to use. While some members of the genus Russula’s are acceptable for human consumption, Russula emetica has toxic properties. Researchers have found many communities that eat edible members of the genus Russula, like those in the Highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, can easily identify the toxic genus Rusula emetica (Ruan-Foto et al. 2018). So next time you take a walk outside, take a moment to look down at the little things because you never know how interesting they may be.

Alyssa Mikesh


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