Flora Fridays – October 6, 2023

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Happy October, folks! It is a busy month of harvesting, festivals, and Halloween. It is a great month to take a hike in Uwharrie Forest, sip apple cider, and get SPOOKY! Have you seen all the ghostly and ghoul-ly mushrooms popping up in the lawn and woodlands the past few weeks? Fall is one of my favorite times of the year to head to the forest to find edible mushrooms such as lion’s mane, chicken of the woods, and chanterelles. It is also a great season for family photos! Consider using this season’s flower fields, colorful leaves, hay bales, or corn stalk bundles as backdrops. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to some of what’s happening during October in Montgomery County fields and natural areas.

Lowe Warner Park (map), one of Troy’s hidden gems, has ample opportunities for family friendly outdoor recreation. For walkers and nature enthusiasts like myself, it has a paved path that weaves its way around the park in and out of forest and lowland ecosystems. This trail is great for a brief lunchtime walk, or you can add time distance with more loops. The park also offers well-maintained picnic shelters, a horseshoe toss court, and ball fields. It is not difficult to find either a tranquil place to sit, or space to run and play! 

small purple flowers  (Appalachian milkwort)

Appalachian milkwort, Polygala curtissii. This small purple annual flower grows at Lowe Warner Park in open areas along the walking trail.

New York ironweed

New York ironweed, Veronia noveboracensis. This tall perennial herb inhabits the low lying area of the walking path near Lowe Warner Park entrance. It grows in wet to moist areas such as bottomlands, stream banks, and in pasturelands.

Chicken of the Woods (COtW) is a wild edible mushroom that grows naturally in North Carolina from summer into fall. These are a type of polypore mushroom, and polypores do not have gills but rather tiny holes uniformly distributed on the underside, like a sponge. COtW mushrooms, genus Laetiporus, typically grows in large, bright orange clusters with layered, shelf-like caps. A defining characteristic is that COtW only grows on living or dead broadleaf trees and wood. This includes COtW emerging from tree roots, sometimes appearing to grow from the soil. Check the underside for tiny pores instead of gills, which is another distinctive feature. Ensure the mushroom’s colors are vibrant, the edges and tops are smooth, and check with reliable guidebooks from your local library. One service I offer as your Montgomery County Horticulture and Forestry Agent is help with mushroom identification, and I am happy to analyze specimens in question. Many mushrooms are poisonous and should be viewed as such unless research based evidence proves otherwise. Always consult an expert and at least 2 guidebooks before consuming gathered and foraged foods as accidentally consuming poisonous look-a-like plants or mushrooms can be fatal. Email Owen to ask about mushroom ID. 

Orange colored mushroom growing from a log

Chicken of the Woods mushroom growing from a fallen dead oak log. They may also grow from dead or living stumps, roots, trunks and logs of broadleaf trees specifically. Oaks and beech trees are good places to start looking.

Person in NC State shirt holding bowl of Chicken of the Woods

Freshly harvested Chicken of the Woods. To remove bugs and dirt, submerge in clean water and keep submerged for 30 minutes or until water turns yellow. Then shake the mushrooms dry, place in paper bag and refrigerate until use. Always cook foraged foods prior to consuming!

Shredded chicken of the woods

Chicken of the Woods can be shredded/pulled, barbecued, grilled, fried, sautéd, baked and broiled. Just like chicken! I like to simply bread filets and fry for sandwiches and snacking.

Join your neighbors, bring your friends for the 2023 Mount Gilead Fall Festival on Main, a delightful celebration taking place on October 21 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.! This event promises a day filled with family fun, delicious food, and exciting entertainment. Be sure not to miss the captivating garden tours, expertly guided by our Extension Master Gardener volunteers. Two garden tours will depart at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. from the corner of School St and Allenton. Explore the beauty of Mount Gilead’s community gardens and gain valuable insights into horticulture and landscaping. It’s an opportunity to learn, watch local fall foods being harvested, enjoy the vibrant fall colors, and embrace the community spirit. Mark your calendar for this fantastic autumn experience! Check out the Town of Mt. Gilead newsletter advertisement for the event.

Finally, check out the Smoky Mountain fall foliage prediction map for planning your travels to see the changing of the leaves.

Happy Fall, and happy Flora Friday. Take care now! See you next time.

–  Owen