If you are a lover of plants and fungi, and live far enough from the equator, than the winter months are bleak. Everything is in a mode of hibernation. If you do venture out for a winter hike expecting to see forms of vibrant life, you question if you too should be hibernating. An optimistic person still sees wonder in winter hikes.
The sheer quietness is enough to put you in a meditative mindset. All there is to think about is where exactly to put your next step. Besides the complete stillness, there are also the perennial fungi that are attached to logs that can last for decades. Still then, identifying trees without leaves entertains the mind. The naturalist always finds worth in a hike, no matter what season. But once I see a particular species of fungi, I know the stillness that I was getting used to will transform. The forest will soon become noisy with birds, and have the fresh smell of photosynthesis. For me, Sarcoscypha coccinea signifies the change of season and all the excitement that it brings.
Also known as the scarlet elf cup, this is one of the few species of fungi that fruit in the early, cool spring. Its presence, along with morels, ramps, and trout lilies always signify that spring is finally here!! I find them in temperate deciduous forests all around Western NY. They metabolize dead woody matter from a variety of plants, including genera from rose, beech, hazel, willow, elm, and oak. Their ability to utilize all of these types of wood helps describe why this early season fungus is found in temperate ecosystems throughout the world. It is such a welcoming sight to see these bright red cups hovering right above the forest floor.