Camarops petersii is one of the more alien-looking things you’ll come across in the woods of eastern North America. It looks like someone had a glob of tar in a paper bag, set the bag down on a log, and ripped away most of the bag leaving the tar sitting on a ripped circle of paper bag. The surface of this mushroom is black, wet, and pimply, reminiscent of a dog’s nose. This similarity has earned it the common name “Dog’s Nose Fungus.” C. petersii is one of the few mushrooms I advise against touching. It’s perfectly safe to touch, but your fingers will get covered in inky black slime. The first time I found this mushroom was a little jarring; its bizarre combination of features (including the fact that it was wet despite having had about a month of no rain) made the fungus look otherworldly.
Fungus Fact Friday
Coprinellus disseminatus is a tiny umbrella-like mushroom that makes up for its small stature by producing thousands of mushrooms at once. I found one stump last weekend that I estimate produced between 6,000 and 10,000 mushrooms. There were so many mushrooms so close together that from a distance they looked more like a single large crust fungus than lots of tiny mushrooms. C. disseminatus is also remarkable because it is an inky cap but its gills do not liquefy. You can actually get a spore print from this mushroom instead of a gooey black glob.1 Despite that, C. disseminatus disappears quickly like any other inky cap. Once, in my early days of mushroom hunting, I passed a stump with a few hundred C. disseminatus mushrooms in the morning. When I revisited it that afternoon, I found no traces whatsoever of the inky caps.
Bird’s nest mushrooms are some of my favorite mushrooms to show people when introducing them to the amazingly diverse world of mushrooms. The fact that there are tiny mushrooms that look like a bird’s nest still stuns me. The two most common bird’s nest mushrooms that I find are Cyathus striatus (FFF#147) and Crucibulum laeve. C. striatus is larger and more likely to be seen, but C. laeve is probably more common. C. laeve is most visible when young; in that stage it has a yellow to orange membrane sealing the top of the nest that makes it easy to spot on brown mulch, twigs, and other small pieces of wood. Once you find it, the mushroom is easy to identify; C. laeve is the only North American bird’s nest mushroom with white eggs and a yellow nest.
Pluteus cervinus is one of the first gilled mushrooms to appear in the spring, although you can also find it during summer and fall. Commonly called the “Deer Mushroom,” it features free gills, a pinkish spore print, a radish-like odor, and unique pointed cystidia (which you need a microscope to see). In Europe, the mushroom is called the “Deer Shield” (I think mushrooms in the genus Pluteus are called “shields” in Europe, though I’m not sure why) or the “Fawn Pluteus.” I was introduced to this mushroom as the “Fawn Mushroom,” a name which is not as widespread as “Deer Mushroom” in the United States.
Fungi appear in the news with surprising frequency. However, many of those stories do not provide any new information. Below is a summary of news stories that have taught me something about fungi from mid-February through mid-May 2018. Read each summary to learn about: gut fungi, ambrosia beetles, gravity detection, prehistoric mushroom use, diseases of toes, ants, frogs, bats, and ohia trees, and more.
Cerioporus squamosus (a.k.a. Polyporus squamosus) is a beautiful polypore that reaches impressive sizes. It is whitish with brown flecks on the top and is probably the largest mushroom you’ll find in the spring. It appears on dead trees and logs and is quite eye-catching thanks to its size and pale colors. C. squamosus is commonly known as the “Dryad’s Saddle,” “Pheasant Back Mushroom,” or “Hawk’s Wing” (this last name is the least common). The first name – which is my personal favorite – derives from the mushroom’s shape; its brackets seem to be perfectly sized and positioned to form a little seat for a weary tree nymph (dryad). The other two names refer to the mushroom’s coloration; a pale surface flecked with triangles of brown looks remarkably similar to the back of a female pheasant or the wing of a hawk.
Galiella rufa is easy to identify, which is unusual for a cup fungus. Its combination of light brown upper surface, dark brown lower surface, and gelatinous flesh make it instantly recognizable. Officially, the fungus’ common name is the “Hairy Rubber Cup.” This makes sense: its outer surface is covered with tiny hairs and the mushroom has a rubbery texture when you squeeze it. However, the name is kind of gross. I much prefer Michael Kuo’s idea of calling it the “Peanut Butter Cup Fungus,” after the disc-shaped chocolate and peanut butter snacks. The mushroom’s outer surface is chocolatey brown while the upper surface is peanut buttery brown. Additionally, both the snack and the fungus have a soft texture and tooth-like ridges around the upper surface. Unfortunately, the Peanut Butter Cup Fungus is inedible; the only peanut butter cups you should eat are the candies you buy from a store.
Some parts of the United States have been enjoying morel season for weeks now, but it’s just getting started here in the Mid-Atlantic states. Last weekend (on Earth Day, in fact), there were very few fresh mushrooms and the majority of those were the Half-Free Morel. Half-Free Morels tend to be the first morels to appear, so morel season seems to be proceeding normally (if a bit late) despite the erratic weather in March. Although I’d never found the Half-Free Morel before, it was instantly recognizable. Like the other true morels, it has a ridged and pitted cap as well as a hollow stipe. Unlike the other true morels, only half of the cap attaches to the stipe and the bottom half of the cap hangs down over the stipe. This distinctive morphology gives the mushroom its common name, the “Half-Free Morel.”
Aleuria aurantia has the common name “Orange Peel Fungus” because it looks like a discarded orange peel resting on the forest floor (I love mycology; more often than not, names make sense!). The Orange Peel Fungus is a cup fungus (see FFF#032) but is a bit more saucer-shaped than cup-shaped; it is roughly circular and usually has upturned edges. Often, the mushrooms become lobed and somewhat folded in on themselves. This really makes them look like orange peels, which also become wavy if the pieces are large enough. A. aurantia is small to medium-sized with the largest mushrooms growing about as wide as a small orange.
Phellinus robiniae, commonly known as the “Cracked Cap Polypore,” is a woody bracket fungus that is most easily identified by its habitat. This fungus grows almost exclusively on locust trees. In fact, the fungus is such a common pathogen of locusts that nearly every Black Locust tree has at least one P. robiniae mushroom on it. The mushroom is also distinguished by its furrowed cap – which gives the fungus its common name – and its dull brown pore surface.
Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae is a rust fungus known as Cedar-Apple Rust (sometimes abbreviated to CAR) that causes disease in Eastern Red Cedar and in apple trees. This fungus is unique among rusts because it produces large fruiting bodies. On cedar trees, the fruiting bodies resemble lumpy brown golf balls with long gelatinous orange tentacles bursting out of them. On apple trees, the disease causes more damage but produces only orangish spots. The complex life cycle of Cedar-Apple Rust means the fungus is easy to control, although these control methods resulted in a legal case that was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States!