Fungi, Slime Molds, & Rusts

Fungi, slime molds, & rusts are not only beautiful, but they provide valuable decomposition services. They also serve as food for our diverse wildlife and nutrient conductors to our native plants.


Sarcoscypha austriaca, Scarlet cup

Fungi is mainly classified based on their reproductive structure. There are 7 Phyla currently proposed.

Fungi is responsible for most of the decomposition of fallen trees and dead limbs. The real impetus of fungi is not the fruiting body but rather the mycelium that is deep within the wood, litter, or ground. 

Some general questions to note in your field guide that are helpful to making an accurate ID are:

  • On what strata did you find it? (certain type of tree, decaying wood, dirt, manure,etc)
  • What type of odor does it have? Many mushrooms have a distinct aroma and this can be key to making an ID.
  • Does it have gills, pores, or ridges?
  • What color are the gills? This is easily told by making a spore print.  Cut the stalk off and put the cap on a piece of transparent or wax paper with a cup over it so it remains moist. Leave it overnight and you’ll have the print in the morning. By using the wax paper, you can put different colors underneath it to see if the spores are light colored or dark colored.

Fungi found at Driftless Prairies….so far:

Calvatis gigantea -Giant Puffball
Conocybe tenera group – Brown Dunce Cap
Coprinopsis lagopus -Inky caps
Cyathus striatus – Dung-loving Bird’s Nest Fungus
Lentaria micheneri
Morchella esculenta
– Yellow Morel
Morganella pyriformis – Pear-shaped Puffball
Mycena galericulata
Stereum complicatum
– Crowded Parchment
Trametes versicolor – Turkey-tail

Fungi, Slime Molds, and Rusts

Slime Molds

Stemonitis sp slime mold

Slime molds have 2 life phases that have been described as “animal-like, creeping” and “fungus-like, fruiting” states. Doesn’t knowing just that one description intrigue you about these?? Some of their fascination is because they “possess characteristics of both animal and fungi.” They look like fungi but can move like animals!

Another intriguing aspect to these slime molds is that they have varied forms and colors and are incredibly beautiful. Many painters and photographers have made them their favorite subjects. If they are gorgeous with the naked eye, they are even more so under a microscope! Most slime molds are very small, under 1 or 2 millimenters.

Slime molds identified at Driftless Prairies:

Stemonitis sp
Fuligo septica


Allodus podophylli, Mayapple Rust,

Rusts, named for their distinctive red-orange colored spores, are fungi that cause plant diseases and can be seen from spring through fall on infected plants. Keep an eye out for bright colored rust spores in May or June after a warm rain. 

All rusts are obligate parasites, that is they require a living host to complete their life cycle.

Some rust fungi take advantage of insects to aid fertilization for sexual reproduction with a system similar to that of flowers. They produce brightly colored clustered cups (aecia) that even secrete a sweet fragrant nectar. Most rusts are host specific and identifications of them can be made based on which plant they infect.

Rust found at Driftless Prairies:

Allodus podophylli – Mayapple Rust 
Puccinia andropogonsis


A diagram of the lifecycle of rusts

Rust life cycle