The Perseid Meteor Shower peaked before sunrise this morning. The solar eclipse is fast approaching. We here in central Oklahoma will be treated to a partial (87%) eclipse beginning at 11:37 am on Monday August 21st. Maximum coverage will occur at 1:05 pm and the whole shebang is over by 2:34 pm. The eclipse will last nearly 3 hours. You still have time to order your solar viewing glasses.

The Perseid Meteor Shower peaked before sunrise this morning. The solar eclipse is fast approaching. We here in central Oklahoma will be treated to a partial (87%) eclipse beginning at 11:37 am on Monday August 21st. Maximum coverage will occur at 1:05 pm and the whole shebang is over by 2:34 pm. The eclipse will last nearly 3 hours. You still have time to order your solar viewing glasses.

The umbra (moon’s shadow that blocks all sunlight) comes ashore from the Pacific Ocean into Oregon, passes through Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri and exits South Carolina to cross the Atlantic. This deep shadow is a narrow 100 mile in diameter band. Totality is cool. My family was living in Germany on August 11th 1999 and by sheer luck happened to be in the umbra of a total eclipse crossing England, France and Germany. It was partly cloudy. My sons and I hiked up the tallest hill to wait for the clouds to move anywhere else. As the shadow blocked the sun (behind the clouds), it became darker, cooler, the wind seemed to swirl, the clouds parted, a few stars could be seen and the birds stopped singing. It was awesome …… and fast.

We here in Shawnee will be in the penumbra (less dense shadow) where some sunlight will peek out from above or below the moon’s shadow, thus requiring protective eyewear. Leaf shadows will become crescent shaped. If you miss this total eclipse, April 8th 2024 will be the next one in the US. That eclipse will enter Mexico and pass over the eastern half of our country before exiting Maine. The umbra will cross McCurtain and LeFlore Counties. Plan ahead.

The summer rains and warm temperatures have encouraged the fungi to become active. Normally mushroom development comes to a standstill in the summer because it is too hot and dry. Most schrooms prefer moisture. The boxelder in the backyard has struggled for years since Tornado Bob visited. Part of the tree is dead and has been the perfect snag full of holes and various organisms. Snags are standing dead trees that have become beacons for insects, fungi, woodpeckers and hole dwelling birds and mammals….until they collapse anywhere from 2 to 10 years. Snags can be seen poking out of manmade lakes or hanging on around the edges. These deceased trees compose 10 to 20 percent of a forest and perform countless vital functions from being food to providing habitats.

Covering the base of the boxelder tree trunk were impressive “Jelly Ears.” Light brown and tough as cartilage, the mushrooms, in the genus Auricularia, are wood decomposers. Boxelders (in the maple family) are not especially durable and strong when healthy, and the heartwood often has streaks of red. Not what you think. The tree does have heart, but the red stain is the tree’s defense against fungi that may try to invade. Once the tree has died, it becomes fair game for organisms that break down the wood as a food source.

Brilliant white puffballs have emerged under the Juniper shrubs, contrasting sharply with the reddish brown soil. Woody shelf fungi in earthen rainbow colors have developed on the ends of old firewood. The pine stump was sprouting tufts of brown hair. Wait a minute. This did not look like any fungi I was familiar with. The base of the hairs was surrounded by a dusting of what appeared to be cocoa. Strange.

Chocolate Tube Slime Mold was growing on the cut stump. Not a fungus at all, but a group of one-celled soil dwelling amoebas had grouped together when their food ran low They had been eating microscopic organisms that lived on the dead pine wood. The lack of food prompted the amoebas to bond tightly to each other and change their shape into stalks (fruiting bodies) that produced spores. The cocoa-like spores will blow away, germinate and begin life once again as amoebas. The amoeboid stalks will die. Their job is done. The amazing thing is how one-celled blobs of plasmodia move around to find each other and then form a forest of little trees to produce their version of seeds. The true miracle of life on a microscopic scale.

Slime mold is not a fungus, animal or plant. They come and go depending on what food is available. Dodder is a true plant that surfaces and disappears, also in search of food. A plant looking for food? Dodder, genus Cuscuta, is a parasitic plant in the morning glory family. The hundred plus species live mainly in the temperate and tropical regions. The tangled bright yellow, orange or even red vines have garnered many adorable names: devil’s guts, strangleweed, witches’ hair, wizard’s net, and hellbine, to name a few. Dodder has stems, minute leaves, and produces white to pink to yellow flowers that eventually form pea-sized fruit full of tiny seeds that can survive over 5 years in the soil.

When a seed germinates, it will sniff out a host plant by using chemoreceptors in its cells. The unsuspecting host plant sends into the air volatile compounds dodder recognizes and grows toward. It must find a suitable plant within 10 days or before the embryonic seed reserve becomes depleted. When successful, dodder climbs up its chosen plant and sneaks little food retrieval tubes inside the unaware plant. It then begins to suck up nutrients through miniscule straws much like drinking a milkshake. That does sound good. The dodder no longer needs roots. It will surf through the plant community of relatives vining and tucking into one plant after another, living the good life.

Most of the time dodder is a nuisance that crops up mid-summer, develops eye-catching patches of colorful threads and eventually fades away. How much damage is done is determined by the timing of when dodder launches its attack or if it is transmitting disease from plant to plant like a Typhoid Mary. Dodder loves alfalfa, clover, trumpet vine, chrysanthemums, petunias and certain other flowers. I found dodder in hot pursuit of Maximillian sunflowers in one field, and trying to choke native sage in another. The sunflower dodder vines were orange but yellow on sage.

Other and outer worldly things occur all the time. Look up or look around. There are surprising things happening all around you.