Nut’n Fungi- Exploring Fickett Hammock

One aspect that is truthful about nature; there is always something to learn and to relearn. The last week of November has been filled with nuts and mushrooms, and seriously, what a learning curve I have. But that is OK. Nature is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the best way to learn is being in it. 

Fortunately, my husband was off work during Thanksgiving week, and we picked that Monday to go on a hiking date. It’s been a while since we visited Fickett Hammock in Hernando County, and being only fifteen minutes from where we live, it was a perfect day we had planned for a hike.

With all the work Environmental Sensitive Lands staff and the volunteers are doing at Fickett Hammock, it is becoming an enjoyable spot for a 2-mile hike. It’s a fantastic adventure to stroll under these luscious and towering pine trees. As branches from hundreds of oaks and hickories create this shaded canopy, the morning sunlight pierces through any open spaces along the path, and that indeed makes for a lovely romantic scene.

Most of the trail is wide, which personally is my kind of hiking trail. The paths are beautifully littered with leaves from at least four different species of trees, and let me not forget to mention a little wobbly. Keep a watchful eye while walking. There are spots where tree roots are above ground, and hundreds of fruit that have fallen from the trees above created a little obstacle course.

That Monday hike began a four-day exploration of educating myself about trees, specifically those located at Fickett Hammock. I will not shy away from admitting that I mistakenly called some trees’ fruit a nut.

Shown below are some of the prominent trees found at Fickett Hammock. Even though we are just ending the Fall season and entering the Florida winter, the vibrant green leaves and pretty blooms are, to say the least, non-existence. Still, as a nature photographer, all colors of the seasons are beautiful. 

Pignut Hickory – Walnut Family (ENH280/ST121: Carya glabra: Pignut Hickory (ufl.edu))

Supposedly the name comes from early settlers. The fruit’s small kernel (looks like a walnut) is known to have a bitter flavor, too bitter for humans, so what did the settlers do? They gave the fruit to the pigs.

The pignut hickory is a beautiful tree, as all trees are. The fruit will harden, turning dark brown or brownish-black during the fall season, and split open from the bottom to reveal the husk. Inside that husk lies the walnut-shaped seed, bitter enough to be loved by wildlife but not by people. 

Swamp Chestnut Oak– Beech Family (SWAMP CHESTNUT OAK (usda.gov))

The swamp chestnut trees have big beautiful leaves and produce a huge acorn. I love this nut with its bowl-shaped cap. From the looks of it, it seems like it might have quite a few stories to tell, like a Viking voyage across the bearing seas ready to discover a new world. Well, for me, that is.  I am sure many of us can agree there are always a few great story ideas that can be imagined from nature?

Laurel Oak– Beech Family (ENH-707/ST549: Quercus laurifolia: Laurel Oak (ufl.edu))

Laurel oaks have very similar acorns (fruit) as the water oak, so identifying them correctly without having the acorns attached to the branch is difficult. Luckily some fallen branches were available to identify these as laurel oaks.

Saving the best for last is the American Sweetgum. Even though it’s not a very popular tree due to its wicked spiked ball, it’s actually pretty darn cool.

American Sweetgum – (Liquidambar styraciflua L (usda.gov))

The American sweetgum leaves are similar shaped to that of a maple tree; again, the fruit quickly tells them apart. Its mature fruit is an incredible product of engineering. Here, these spikes capsules encased in its round module holds seeds that are either fertile and non-fertile. As you can see in the video, there’s a massive amount of aborted seeds, and even though seeds will not produce another tree, it’s still an essential food source for many birds and other wildlife. 

After looking through my photos, I have many questions, and I always want to learn more. As much as I wanted to dive into more in-depth research, I had to take a step back and save it for another day.

Many birds and wildlife use these trees for shelter, food, and nesting materials. The fruit these trees produce is an excellent source of protein, fats, and carbohydrates for many wildlife species to survive throughout Florida’s seasonal changes. 

Now let’s look at these shrooms!

What do fungi and hardwood oaks have in common? The calmness of a semi-shady environment along with the rich soil, of course.

*Please note: If you are not an expert, I mean really know how to identify mushrooms, please just take photos and leave them in the ground. 

Florida has over two hundred different species of mushrooms, and as with trees, and a very long taxonomy. 

Mushrooms are such a unique and mystical subject to photograph. I will have to spare my brain from overloading trying to research all the details about mushrooms and focus more on suggesting ways to photograph them. After all, this is about exploring nature through the lens. 

Common mushrooms are white, and we all know how much of a challenge it is to photograph white subjects, but while you are in these shaded areas, it’s a perfect setting. *Remember to adjust your exposure compensation and ISO as needed!

Before you get down on your knees or lay entirely on your stomach to get those eye-level shots, under all that leaf litter is a perfect hiding place for many reptiles and insects, like snakes, spiders, and other creatures that can bite and sting! So be careful and be aware! You really wouldn’t want to squish this little critter, would you?😍

If you have a camera with that tilt screen view, sweet; however, if you don’t, I do have a  suggestion- Feelword Camera Field Monitor. My thought here is some of us are not as young as we used to be, and the more we have to ‘struggle’ to enjoy photography, the less we want to do it. And we don’t want that, right?

So you stumbled upon a mushroom, and if it’s not perfect, that is even better because life is seldom perfect!

Marketing your business with nature photography

A question to ask yourself: What is the main reason you are photographing this mushroom?

  1. Are you photographing just to photograph?
    • Are you just strolling, hanging out, and enjoying your day?
  2. What are you going to use this photograph for?
    • Is it going to be used for an article, presentation, social media, stock photography, or products? This question is very significant depending on where you will place the mushroom in your frame.
    • Should it be vertical or horizontal?
  3. Did you want to tell a story?
    • Your story is the surrounding area. Just don’t snap a photo where you stop. Look around, what do you see? Ferns, moss, branches, other plants? Do you feel there is a story that could be told?
  4. Build your species observation profile?
    • Think angles! When mycologists (a person who studies or works with fungi) are trying to identifying mushrooms, use this list to help them correctly ID it.
      • Mushroom
        • Full & Close up
        • Texture
          • Mushroom caps can have different textures- scales and lines
      • Mushroom basic parts – do your best not to damage them
        • Cap
        • Cap base
        • Gill
        • Stalk
        • Roots

If these mushrooms are not growing on your property, you will need to get permission from the landowner or obtain a permit to collect on any state-managed property.

Onward to the lichens! (pronounced as LY-ken)

Commonly we see lichens growing on tree bark and branches. They may appear to be odd, and one may think causing some type of damage to trees, but actually, lichens is a sign of air quality—the more lichen, the cleaner the air.

There are four primary growth forms — crustose, foliose, fruticose, and squamulose. – (LICHEN BASICS – North American Mycological Association (namyco.org)

  • Crustose lichens are firmly attached to the substrate
  • Foliose lichens are leafy in appearance 
  • Fruticose lichens coral-like shrubby or bushy growth structure
  • Squamulose lichens have small scale-like lobes

Did you know there are lichenologists, people that study lichen!

There are over four hundred species of lichen in Florida. Lichen is a mixture of fungus and alga- a mutualistic relationship (an association between organisms of two different species in which each benefit). They are also extraordinarily slow-growing and may grow only 2mm a year. I think a rabbit could travel a hundred miles by the time a lichen grows a millimeter!!

Keeping photography in mind, I would like to focus on the commonly seen lichens. Photo tip-if you have an extension tube, this might just be a great time to play with it! There are so many things we don’t see that your macro with an extension tube can reveal. It’s like opening a whole new world!

Christmas Lichen (Herpothallon rubrocinctum

What a perfect time to put some fungi in this holiday season! Commonly outlined with a red border, the Christmas lichen is easily identified by its distinctive patterned colors of red and white growing sporadically on tree trunks.

Bearded Lichen (Usnea longissima Ach.)

Another lichen favorite is the bearded lichen. You can see these dangling from non-living branches, and they make great nesting material for birds. There are a few species of bearded lichens; the most common are bushy or bristly. These are super cool to photograph, and if you want to get creative, this is just one species of lichen to help jumpstart your science fiction story.

Ruffled Lichen (Genus Parmotrema)

These are Foliose lichens. They resemble a flakey and somewhat look like peeling paint. These are fantastic hiding places for insects.


This is a continuous and ongoing process of learning, and that is why I enjoy writing these articles and sharing them with you. It’s not about learning all the details of what you are photographing; it’s about knowing just enough to inspire you to photograph it. I do hope this article will encourage you to do just that.

Repetitiveness is the most useful tool for anyone that wants to learn. I went to Fickett Hammock four days in a row to ‘look and learn.’  Every time I took a step, I tried to identify as many species as possible, whether it flew, crawled, or slithered. 

When you photograph nature, it’s not all beautified, and personally, I don’t like sprucing up anything I photograph to look pretty. I kind of enjoy photographing plants and their leaves the way they are naturally- chewed, torn, battered, beaten, half-eaten, slammed, old, decaying, crimpled, and even pooped on. To see nature is to see it naturally.

Enjoy your ventures!


Links: 

Lichens and Air Quality Monitoring (nacse.org)

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