Mushrooms and Other Fungi
An indication of a damp, humid environment, mushrooms and fungi abound in Vicksburg National Military Park’s diverse habitat. From puff balls growing in open grassy areas, to fairy rings found on lawns after a rain shower, to the shade-loving oddities buried deep in the inner reaches of the gullies and ravines, this family of plants can be found at almost any time of the year.
Most fungi are known as saprophytes – decomposers of plant parts – and aid in the recycling of leaf litter, needles, various woods, mosses, lichens, and nut husks. Each mushroom has a specific decomposition purpose such as that of the Fairy Ring Toadstool (Marasmius oreades) growing in “fairy rings” on lawns breaking down the dead grass material. As new grass develops each year, these rings increase in size to recycle the old lawn debris.
Some mushrooms are known for their beneficial association with the roots of trees and shrubs, providing the plant with hard-to-attain nitrogen and phosphorus, while, in turn, supplying carbon to the fungi. Many of the trees associated with these species, including pines, oaks, birch, willow, and poplar, grow throughout the park’s landscape.
Some of the more interesting forms found in the park include, Northern Tooth fungus (Climacodon septentrionale), commonly found growing in deep woods, particularly on maple trees, and the stinkhorns (i.e., Mutinus elegans), found buried in the leaf litter of the ravines. Giant puff balls (Calvatia gigantea) dot the open areas below the Great Redoubt, while jelly fungi (i.e., Auricularia sp.) can be seen on both decaying conifer and hardwood logs and stumps throughout the park.
Did You Know?
President Abraham Lincoln, in speaking of Vicksburg's importance, is reputed to have stated early during the Civil War, "See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key, the war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket."