urbpan: (dandelion)
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Almost identical to the gem-studded puffball, but smoother and with a greater taste for wood, is the pear-shaped puffball Lycoperdon pyriforme*. It's generally found as seen here, in its hundreds on a big fallen tree. These are at peak puffability, with large open pores at the center already discharging spores.

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* Pear-shaped wolf fart.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Not all of the fall color is the leaves. The turkey tail mushroom Trametes versicolor* shows bands of fawn and bluish gray here, but others might be green, pink, purple, chocolate brown, or creamy. Each patch of turkey tails you find is distinctively banded and clustered, even as the colors vary. Miniscule pores on the bottom of the thin leathery brackets release invisibly tiny spores. If they happen to land on a freshly cut log, there's a very good chance this fungus will result--turkey tail is a good competitor among wood decay fungi, making it one of the most commonly found throughout the northeast woods. The mushroom is known to contain compounds that fight disease, and is being vigorously studied for its medicinal value.

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* Many colored thin one
urbpan: (dandelion)
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After the first freeze, a whole suite of new mushroom species appear. These are "late fall oysters" Panellus serotinus*, distinct from true oyster mushrooms by their color--variable but never the plain gray and white of the Pleurotus fungi. These are sometimes collected as wild food, since often they may be among the only mushrooms around in November or December. (These were photographed in northern Vermont, which enjoys an earlier freeze than Boston). During one lecture I attended, the mushroom expert on hand declared it "the single worst edible mushroom I've ever tried." Maybe he didn't cook it long enough.

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*Late flowering little tumor
urbpan: (dandelion)
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My primary mushroom guide (Phillips) says that Bisporella citrina grows on dead hardwood. Here it's growing on a rotten chunk of picnic table, and I've photographed it in the past on a pine fence rail. Checking multiple sources confirms that it is also known to grow on dead conifer wood.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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The average mushroom emerges from its substrate, releases spores for a few days maybe two weeks, then withers or rots away. Ganoderma applanatum* emerges, releases spores for a while, goes dormant for a year, then grows another layer of spore producing cells over last year's. It can do this more many years, building up in thickness and diameter to huge size. Left unmolested it can look like half a trash can lid sticking out from a tree.

Fresh-spore producing flesh is white, often surrounded by a cinnamon-like dusting of its brown spores. Some craftspeople etch drawings into the mushroom at this stage--sometimes the mushroom is called "artist's conk." The fungus that produces this mushroom is found across the continent and can grow from almost any type of wood.

*Flattened, shining skin
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Certain trees produce anti-fungal chemicals in their wood. Certain fungi are specialists on this kind of wood, having evolved a resistance to these chemicals. Relative immunity to phenols means that Gloeophyllum sepiarium* can invade the wood of pine and other conifers before other fungi can.

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Unfortunately for those of us who own pine picnic tables, this fungus is rapidly destructive. By the time this narrow foam of mushroom material appeared from a crack in the wood grain, the cellulose making up the cell walls of the wood was well on the way to being digested.

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It's only a matter of time before someone goes right through this picnic table. Perhaps I'll show you a little later.

*Gloeophyllum means "with glutinous or
sticky leaves"; sepiarium means "dark, sepia-colored."
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Jack-o-lantern mushrooms, Omphalotus illudens* are a beautiful species of allegedly bioluminescent fungi. I haven't seen the glow yet, but apparently they have to be very fresh and taken someplace very dark. The fungus that produces this mushroom feeds on dead and dying roots, sometimes roots which are completely below the soil level. This mushroom has the distinction of causing the most mushroom poisonings in my geographic region. This is due to the mushroom's color and decurrent (running down the stem) gills giving the impression that it is an edible chanterelle. It ain't.

* The mocking navel.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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As someone who has been calling himself "The Urban Pantheist" for several years, you can imagine my delight upon discovering there was a mushroom named for an American city. Laetiporus cincinnatus is a cousin to the sulphur shelf, but without that yellow underside that characterizes the other chicken mushroom (or if you must, chicken-of-the-woods). The fungus that produces cincinnatus has an even stronger taste for oak than its relative, which can be found on many other hardwoods and even sometimes conifers. Cincinnatus also specializes on the roots of the oak, nearly always appearing on the base of the tree, or in many cases appearing to come straight out of the ground. This white-pored mushroom is also considered a choice edible, but all Laetiporus should be consumed well-cooked and with caution. About 10% of those who eat it find it undigestible--I, for one, made myself very sick by eating a meal of undercooked chicken mushroom.
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urbpan: (dandelion)
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Some people don't like parasites, but what if the parasite is large and colorful and delicious? Many people seem to love Laetiporus sulphureus*, especially foragers who may scan forests looking for their beloved "chickens," perched high on an oak tree. The oak tree, if it could express a preference, probably would rather not have this fungus in its heartwood, breaking down hemicellulose and cellulose and digesting the results. By the time the mushrooms have appeared, the fungus has been in the wood for years. The fungus continues to feed even if the tree falls down and dies.

This species has the distinction of holding the record for most massive single mushroom--actually a fused collection of shelves--more than a hundred pounds. The forager who found it managed to cut some 70 pounds down to bring home.
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* Laetiporus means with bright pores and sulphureus means the colour of sulphur.
urbpan: (dandelion)

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Bondarzewia berkeleyi* is a mushroom so big that photographers traditionally place hats on it for scale. The greater part of the fungus is hard at work digesting "moist, poorly protected undersurface of tree trunk's thickest part" causing a disease called "butt rot," undoubtedly named by 12 year old with a forestry degree. Despite looking for all the world like a polypore mushroom, "Big Berk" is more closely related to Russula producing fungi. Future mushroom field guides are going to have to make a choice between grouping together species that look alike or species that are actually closely related.

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* Bondarzewia is named for A.S. Bondarzew; berkeleyi is named for British mycologist M. J. Berkeley (1803-1889).

urbpan: (dandelion)
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This little mushroom has a lot going for it. For starters, it has a long functional life--the average mushroom produces spores for about 2 weeks before turning into a pile of goo, or drying into bootlaces. This one is a tough customer, resisting rotting or drying, surviving changes in weather and humidity, stopping the production of spores in dry times, resuming when it gets wet again. You can find it basically year round in the places where it occurs.

That's another thing, it's found basically everywhere. Anywhere on earth that it gets above freezing long enough for spores to get in and start growing. The fungus feeds on lignin, a very durable component of plant cell walls that few other organisms try to break down. Wood, straw, hay bales, cheap paper (not the expensive bleached stuff--that has the lignin chemically removed) all contain it. The fungus is also known to invade animal tissues, including humans, though what it specifically is feeding on in these cases is not clear to me. Humans in the tropics feed on the mushrooms in turn, though field guides to temperate species list it as inedible. The only person I know who tried some (at a market in Indonesia) found them to be rubbery and flavorless.

The most fun fact about the split gill mushroom Schizophyllum commune* of course revolves around its sex life. In fact, I use it as an example in my mushroom classes, when describing how different fungal reproduction is from plants or animals. Say you found yourself stranded alone on an island, tasked with repopulating the earth or whatever. If one other person arrived, there is just about a 50% chance that you and this other person with have compatible reproductive types that can result in offspring, on account of our crude binary sexes. Now compare that to split gill: there are more than 28,000 different kinds of mating types, meaning the chances that any two mycelium that encounter each other will be of different types are much greater.

(I blogged about this fact before, and the comment thread is golden)

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* "Splintered leaf; Shared"
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Sometimes a mushroom can only be identified to species if you know what kind of wood it's growing from. If these Reishi (or "Lingzhi"*) mushrooms are growing from a conifer, then they are Ganoderma tsugae.** If the dead log is from a hardwood tree, they are Ganoderma lucidum.** Either way they are part of a species complex of similar-looking glossy durable fungal fruiting bodies, valued in Asian traditional medicine for a very long time. There are many products available containing reishi mushrooms or their purported essence, including chocolate, tea, and coffee. There are kits to grow your own, or you can wild forage it--it's a pretty common group of wood-decaying mushrooms.



* ...Lingzhi is made up of the compounds ling 灵 "spirit, spiritual; soul; miraculous; sacred; divine; mysterious; efficacious; effective" (cf. Lingyan Temple) and zhi 芝 "(traditional) plant of longevity; fungus; seed; branch; mushroom; excrescence".

** [Reishi mushroom's} botanical names have Greek and Latin roots. The generic name Ganoderma derives from the Greek ganos γανος "brightness; sheen", hence "shining" and derma δερμα "skin". The specific epithet lucidum is Latin for "shining." Tsugae is derived from the Japanese word for "hemlock" (tsuga 栂).
urbpan: (dandelion)
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One thing I emphasize in my mushroom classes is that identifying mushrooms to species is really really difficult. I tell them that they should join a mycology club, consult no fewer than 3 field guides, make sure all of the field markings match (including spore color, which may take hours to obtain), and to notice if there are any other species that could be possibly confused with the one they suspect. Still many species can not be identified without using a microscope to look at some features.

Then there's this one, dryad's saddle Polyporus squamosus* that I identified while zipping by on a morning run. This species is one of the few that comes out this early in the year, one of the few with the shaggy "pheasant's back" pattern on the cap (such markings, if they are attached at one side are called "scales" as opposed to warts, which can be easily rubbed or washed off), and distinctively large and fairly fleshy. Polypores are mushrooms that are produced by fungi that feed on dead wood, and are characterized by a spore-producing surface covered with many holes--the openings of tubes lined with cells that make spores. Most polypores are woody or leathery, but a few are fleshy, and some people insist on eating them. They are mostly indigestible chitin, and foragers are advised to take only the freshest softest bits and cook them for a long time. I have not eaten dryad's saddle, but I suppose I will some time, to report the experience if nothing else.

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* Many holes, scaly.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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When I cut down a dozen or so little Norway maples in my yards, there were several benefits. First, I had the satisfaction of removing an invasive species before it had the opportunity to reproduce. Second, I got some firewood out of it. And relevant to this post, I got to see what kind of fungi were waiting to feast on the remains. These bluish clubs tipped in white will grow longer and eventually turn black. Throughout their life, these fruiting bodies earn their common name "dead man's fingers" (Xylaria polymorpha.* The fungus that produces them feeds on dead roots underground, pushing fingers through the soil to reach the air and spread their spores.


* Xylaria=pertaining to wood; Polymorpha=many shapes
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urbpan: (dandelion)
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The first really "mushroomy" mushroom of the year is this one: shaped like an umbrella, yellowish-white stalk, purplish cap, thick and robust and sprouting from wood chips.

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The partial veil that protected the lilac gills when the mushroom was young persists on the stalk as a rough ring. In age, the cap goes from incurved and bell-shaped to convex, to allow spores at the center of the gills to get free.

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Pulled out of the substrate, the mushroom brings along its rhizomorph (root-like) mycelium). The fungus feeds on fecal coliform bacteria, and catches nematodes, as well as breaking down wood chips for energy. This species Stropharia rugoso-annulata* is a European native that lives in North America only in human-made environments: mulch beds, gardens, and wood-chipped pathways.


*"Stropharia" refers to a sword belt--a reference to the partial veil remnant on the stalk. "rugoso-annulata" means "rough-ringed," which refers to the same field marking.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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It may not be as lovely as some of the mushrooms that appear in summer and fall, but Exidia recisa is among the loveliest mushrooms that typically appears in the winter. Translucent, gelatinous, and the color of maple syrup, this mushroom appears on dead twigs blown down in winter rainstorms. In dry weather it dehydrates to a black crust, but can swell back up and resume releasing spores if it gets wet again.

Attempts to give it a common name are surprisingly clumsy, considering how common the mushroom indeed is. "Willow brain" is evocative, but the fungus can grow on a variety of trees; "Brown witch's butter" misses the mark, texturally speaking. The field guides tend to be maddeningly brief when discussing this fruiting body--it often gets a single line at end of the description of another similar-looking or related species.

On the question of edibility--something that occurs to hungry foragers this time of year, when pickings are slim--I have a story I tell my students. I showed a friend--one who is reading this on livejournal and tumblr--how to identify the mushroom when dry and reconstitute it, and she has eaten a great deal of them. And she's still alive.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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Fresh and wet these Stereum ostrea mushrooms can be vibrant orange in color. When faded they are sometimes confused with other similar zoned bracket mushrooms, leading to the common name "false turkey tail." The underside of this fruiting body shows that it is not closely related to its lookalikes. Other brackets are polypores, releasing spores from tubes under the mushroom, while Stereum simply has spore-releasing cells on the smooth surface below the colorful top.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Mushroom-shaped mushrooms usually last 2 weeks or less before rotting away. These black warts can persist for multiple years. These are the fruiting bodies of Hypoxylon fragiforme, a fungus that feeds almost exclusively on the wood of beech trees. Also called, ahem, "beech balls," these fruiting bodies start reddish but turn black over time.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Easy to overlook but worth looking at, sometimes it's hard to believe ceramic crust Xylobus frustulatus is a living thing. What appears to be a crackled coating of off-white paint is actually the reproductive structure of the fungus living in the log. The wood it feeds on is usually old and barkless, and is almost always oak.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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"Bootlaces" on a dead tree. These are the mycelial threads that the parasitic fungus Armillaria sp. uses to spread from area to area, colonizing new hosts. Armillaria is a complex of fungi species collectively called "honey mushrooms" for their edible yellow-brown mushrooms.

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