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Report From PIA – August 14

When I was in college and on my way to classes, I used to regularly pass by a poster hung on an office door. It pictured a child, or children, flying out the door of a school building, and the caption read, “The real classroom is outdoors: get into it.”

I’ve often said that one reason I am a gardener is that in my childhood I had a great deal of unstructured, unaccompanied time outdoors. Alone or with friends, I made stick houses, drew in the mud, ate plants without knowing if they were truly edible, and constantly observed the diversity around me. We were blessed to grow up in a time when children were pushed outside and told not to come back in until mealtime.

Being able to explore outside, and poke around observing the natural world is such a gift.

I was thinking about this today as I followed my nose, literally, to a stinkhorn fungus. The wooded areas at Poison Ivy Acres are filled with the scent of decomposing animals. Instead of emanating from a rotting carcass, however, the stench is coming from the fruiting body of Phallus impudicus.

The appearance and smell of this fungus is impressive enough, but since the head is slimy, and usually covered with flies or beetles feeding on that slime, the stinkhorn isn’t your normal garden variety of growth.

Nature is so complex, diverse and impressive… that poster that I passed by forty years ago is just as true today as it was then. The real classroom is indeed outdoors.

Too bad it isn't possible to cultivate these things... can you imagine a group of them at the front of the border? Now that would be the hit of the garden tour!

The fungus uses the flies and beetles to spread its spores... these beetles were impressive themselves, but camera shy. They scattered quickly when we moved the blade of grass in order to get a better photo.

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