Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fungus, Part 1

At the Michigan Audubon's Cranefest they have a book sale. Boy, am I a sucker for book sales. Chock full of nature-related tomes, their sale is heavy on guides--bird guides of course, but pretty much everything else under the sun--butterflies, caterpillars, rocks, flowers, tracks and scat, everything for the budding naturalist. Lori already had a good book on lichens, but lacked a good fungus book. They had several, and I settled on George Barron's Mushrooms of Northeast North America, a Lone Pine field guide.

Eager to put my new book to the test, I paid special attention on my hikes in Wilderness State Park to all the slimy things growing on tree, stump and rock. It was a perfect time of year for it--fall is fungus time, and since the weather had been wetter up north than here at home, the area was replete with subjects. I actually began to feel a bit overwhelmed by the numbers of lichens and fungus I found, and am feeling so again as I begin to try to identify them all. However, it was fun having something new to look for, and lichens and fungi are small and force you down to ground level, where you begin to notice things you would have otherwise missed.

A disclaimer: in no way do I attest to the accuracy of any of these identifications! I have done my best with the resources I have to get an accurate ID, but sometimes all I have been able to do is get it in the right category (bracket fungi, coral fungi, etc.). The process can be baffling, and there are few guides that are comprehensive. While an image I took may look similar to one in the book, it by no means actually is--some individuals can not even be ID'd on sight, but require testing to be sure. So with that....

One of the first things I found was this grouping growing on the end of a cut log, a tree that had fallen across the trail. Along the log's outer edge grew a ring of purple-toothed polypore, Trichaptum biforme, a bracket fungus. Below that is another bracket fungus with some orange coloring, possibly Postia fragilis. Frustratingly, I have yet to identify the white fungus at the bottom.

Here is another small mushroom I can't ID. Anyone? click on the image to see a bigger version.

On this desiccated log is growing blobs of black witches butter, Exidia glandulosa, along side what I believe is cockscomb coral, Clavulina cristata, whose tiny little fingers stood less than an inch tall along the log.

A bit further along the same log grew common powderhorn, Cladonia coniocraea, a lichen. Lichens are completely different than fungi. Perhaps it is time for a few definitions.

A fungus is one of a group of organisms that share these qualities: They do not produce chlorophyll and lack the vascular system by which to move it; they also lack leaves, stems and roots, and do not produce flowers but rather reproduce via spores; they feed on organic matter by secreting enzymes that break down structures into molecules which they can absorb.

Lichen, on the other hand, is produced by a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus. The algae provides the fungus with energy through photosynthesis, the fungus provides the algae with nutrients and protection from the elements. They tend to grow on hard surfaces like rocks and tree bark, but some, like the trumpet lichen below, grow on softer, more decomposed matter. While fungi tend to be tender and so fairly short-lived (over the course of a season), lichen are quite hardy and live for years.

This common bracket fungus, Trametes versicolor, is also called turkey tail. Bracket fungus are tough and woody in texture and may survive many years. They tend to grow from the sides of trees, sticking out like shelves. Like all fungi they break down wood and help return nutrients to the soil for the next generation of plants.

I am pretty sure this is Austroboletus gracilis, a mushroom in the bolete, or sponge mushroom, family. They prefer soil under conifers, of which there is an abundance here. The undersides of bolets have tubes rather than gills, as most mushrooms do. It gives the underside of these organisms a solid look.

Apparently the forest rodents like A. gracilis.

I tight-roped a downed tree across some very mucky ground to get close to this impressive bracket fungus known as the red-banded polypore, Formitopsis pinicola. (It's times like these that I wish I understood Latin better so that the scientific names held more meaning for me.) This specimen was easily eight inches across.

Ah, puffballs. What child hasn't played with one of these? Puffballs can change radically in appearance over their lifespan, so I am not certain what these are--perhaps Lycoperdon perlatum, or gem-studded puffball. These are obviously older and have already erupted. They are edible, though they don't look all that tasty to me!

Last but not least is an image that perhaps most sums up what a boreal forest looks like up close. It's hard to look at a black spruce and not find lichens growing on the branches. The upper left arrow points to sinewed bushy lichen, Ramalina americana. Bottom right may be hooded tube lichen, Hypogymnia physodes. Bottom left could be N. bottlebrush frost lichen, Physconia leucolyptes. Again, I am only giving my best guess based on the reference material I have and what I can see in my photos.

I have another set of images to go over from the rest of this hike, and will post those next time. Since this post took me over four hours to put together, I may not post again until later in the week!

And if anyone has a positive ID on any of these, by all means speak up!


  1. What a fantastic collection of mushrooms. There are so many species, it's a world of its own. And it is so difficult to identify. I tried to look for the orange mushrooms, but I gave up! I'm sure my son can help me, or almost sure! `)

  2. Thanks, I can use all the help I can get!

  3. Hej Marie!
    My son comes here Saturday and I have told him to bring his big book about fungus. He's good at it, but he says it is sometimes difficult, because there might be small varieties in the various countries, but we'll try!

  4. Such a delight to come and read your posts and see your photographs! I must learn more about mushrooms. Sage to Meadow, Jack Matthews

  5. I am also searching for the name of the white fungus on the cut log....ever get it I.D.'d?

  6. Dr Joe: no, sorry, I have not. I find this to be the most challenging group to ID, and I think I don't have a good enough book! Thanks for stopping by!

  7. the orange mushrooms are the deadly poisonous galerina autumnalis

  8. The white fungus (and the red bit) is Root Rot or Root Fomes, Heterobasidion annosum (Fomes annosus), Polyporaceae. It grows mainly on conifer trees.