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The Wonderfully Named Fungi

Jelly fungi have great names. Some are delicious sounding: jelly drops, orange jelly, golden jelly cone, apricot jelly and black jelly roll. At the other extreme, some are graveyard spooky: willow brain, goblin ear, jelly tongue, Judas’ ear and, best of all, witches’ butter. Growing in forests, the appearance of these gelatinous mushrooms ranges from blobs of jelly spilled onto a decaying log, to ears sprouting from a tree trunk, to globs of brain tissue smeared on a branch. Like …

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Wood-Sorrels

A Burst of Tartness On a hot summer day, I often pop a wood-sorrel’s clover-like leaf into my mouth to experience a burst of citrusy tartness. The practice is a long tradition, as for millennia Native Americans have enjoyed them. Three species of wood-sorrel are native to our state. The yellow-flowered yellow wood-sorrel (Oxalis stricta) and gray wood-sorrel (O. dillenii) are common, weedy species that bloom spring through fall in lawns, gardens, pastures and other disturbed habitats. The former is …

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Nebraska’s Fascinating Ferns

Spore-producing ferns are ancient plants, first appearing in fossil records about 360 million years ago, a time when amphibians were venturing out of the oceans to become the first land vertebrates. For tens of millions of years thereafter, the climate was extremely hot and humid and ferns flourished in the Earth’s expansive swamps, some towering to tree height. Although the flowering and seed-producing angiosperms, such as deciduous trees, grasses and wildflowers, eventually came to dominate the Earth’s flora, ferns continued …

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Plains Onion

The Not So Plain Plains Onion Of our state’s six species of native onion, the Plains onion, though small in stature, has the largest, and in my opinion, most elegant flowers. Unlike the other onions, its flowers are scented, a sweet fragrance reminiscent of hyacinths or cloves. Unfortunately, hidden among the prairie grasses, this uncommon little onion is rarely seen, except when exposed by its colorful May blooms. Rose-colored Petals Aptly named, the Plains onion (Allium perdulce) grows throughout the …

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Reflecting on the Crown-tipped Coral

One morning last July, I was riding in a UTV down a trail at Indian Cave State Park with ecologist Krista Lang, when I blurted out “Stop, stop, stop!” What had I seen? What had so excited this botanist? There, deep in the oak woods, growing on a log, was a beautiful crown-tipped coral mushroom. One of our missions that day was to photograph mushrooms, and this was a perfect specimen — fresh, big and immaculately shaped. But there was …

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Feathers: Nature’s Abstract Art

Nature’s Abstract Art About 20 years ago on a Sandhills hunt, I was arranging a few harvested grouse for a classic “I shot my limit” photo when I noticed something far more enticing — the feathers on the bird’s back accentuated in warm sunlight. After taking the photo, I was immediately hooked and have been photographing feather close-ups whenever the opportunity arises. For bird hunters, feathers to photograph are easy to come by. Gaudy rooster pheasants are decked out in …

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Saving Saltwort

Returning salt to salt marshes. The state endangered plant saltwort grows in salt marshes in Lancaster County and nowhere else in our state. Unfortunately, decline of the marshes during the past 150 years has left this species hanging on by a thread. I held little hope of saltwort surviving in Nebraska until I recently learned of a creative new restoration method for returning salt to the damaged marshes. A Uniquely Adapted Plant Within salt marshes, saltwort (Salicornia rubra) grows mainly …

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Marshes: A Winter Refuge for Pheasants

Nothing beats hunting a frozen-over, snow-covered marsh for wily rooster pheasants in the dead of winter. At this time, pheasants are concentrated in the marshes’ thick cover, and tracking birds in fresh snow is almost a guarantee for success. Wetlands occupy about 1.9 million acres in Nebraska, or about 4 percent of the state’s area. Major complexes include the Rainwater Basin wetlands in south-central Nebraska, the expansive wet meadows and marshes of the Sandhills, the salt marshes around Lincoln and …

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That’s Water-clover

Not a lucky four-leaf clover. Every now and then, I get a familiar call: “I found a huge patch of four-leaf clovers in a wetland. What’s going on?” I respond: “Those are water-clover leaves, not those of the lucky four-leaf clover. So cancel the trip to Vegas.” Once, a perplexed biologist studying waterfowl food habits in playa wetlands called: “I found this big, dark brown seed in a duck’s crop and can’t figure out what plant it is from.” To …

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Hasenpfeffer – German Rabbit Stew

A forgotten family recipe When I was growing up, once a year my family would shoot a few rabbits while hunting pheasant and quail. The following weekend, using the rabbits, Mom would undertake what she called “the task of making hasenpfeffer.” Then, my uncles and older male cousins on the Steinauer side of the family would gather at our house for an evening meal of hasenpfeffer and gravy-smothered dumplings. This was followed by endless games of five-point pitch played for …

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