Every way of seeing the world has its specialist language. This blog will be a place where we can hold such gateway words in our hands like shining pebbles. Learning the names for things will lead us further afield and into the woods.

Mycorrhizae, Mycorrihiza, Mycorrhizas:

Refers to the symbiotic association between a fungus and a plant, to the role of the fungus in the plant’s rhizosphere—or root system.

And if you recall your high school biology course, symbiotic refers to a mutually beneficial relationship such as this case where “the fungus colonizes the root system of a host plant, providing increased water and nutrient absorption capabilities, while the plant provides the fungus with carbohydrates from photosynthesis.

Sources: Wikipedia; and the website for the New York Botanical Garden at

See blog post: Exploring the Mysterious Underworld of Plant Life:The Indian-Pipe Plant (Monotropa uniflora)

Unidentified mushrooms found along trail at Woodard Bay

Duff: The first time I remember hearing the word “duff” in conversation I unabashedly made a fool of myself by seizing on the word. Pretending not to see my friend’s eyebrows rise in astonishment at my ignorance as she explained its meaning, I exclaimed its aptness, how the very sound of it described its function. It was what I call a nugget of a word. So began my collection of words that allowed me in to that secret world all around me. This new language pinned down what I could see but not yet name; it allowed me to see, not just undifferentiated browns and greens of the forest, but its particular component parts. To step forward and see the dots—the bits and pieces of nature—that made up the heady swirl of a pointillist universe. And then step back and see the whole. It was exhilarating.

Duff, by the way, is the layer of fallen, not yet decomposed, litter of leaves, twigs, needles, cones, bark, and other organic debris that collects on forest floors and helps nurture and retain moisture for the living plants and trees. It is essential.