My interest in forest fungi started when I was hiking Vermont’s Long Trail in 2008 and I kept coming across these white fiddlehead looking plants called Indian Pipe or Ghost Flower. I took photos of them and the other new plants, trees, bugs, and animals I saw and started researching them after each of my section hikes to learn more about the woods around me.
How do you discover fungus in the forest? You need to look around more when you hike, not just at the vast expanse of woods around you, but at the root systems on the forest floor or at dead and diseased trees. Slow down when you see something new, get down on your hands and knees if you have to, and get a really close look. You’ll be surprised at how satisfying it is to observe a mushroom or fungus closely and then to learn about it more when you get home.
Close observation of fungi like this also helps put into perspective the cycle of change which is occurring constantly in the forest. Some trees are growing, some are dead, and others are being broken down into their raw elements to help continue the growth cycle. This activity is constant, but our human minds obscure it, chopping the world into frozen scenes that hide the chemical processes and change around us.
For example, on my latest hike through the Catskills, I saw many different types of fungus and mushrooms, some familiar and some not. Take the Bear’s Head Tooth Fungus above. It grows from the center out and feeds on dead trees. It’s also edible and supposedly tastes like lobster. I first learned about it in 2008 when I was section hiking the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts. It’s pretty rare but I spotted it a few times on my hike.
In contrast, the Red Belt Fungus is a common sight in the deciduous and coniferous forests of the northeast US. It’s a hard plate-like and woody protuberance characterized by a red or brown band running along it’s outside edge. It thrives in deciduous and coniferous forests.
Another cool fungus I spotted is the Crown-tipped Coral Fungus growing on the forest floor. It’s scientific name is Clavicorona pyxidata. This was new one for me and I found it growing on the forest floor in a grove of old growth red pine and spruce trees.
Nearby, I saw common Turkey Tail or Tramates Versicolor has a fan-like shape with overlapping bands of white, blue, black or brown stripes. This is a very brown specimen, but the variegated stripes are clearly observable on close inspection of the individual fans.
Finally, I also saw Witches Butter (Tremella Mesenterica) for the first time. It has a jelly like appearance and not only feeds on dead trees, but other fungi in a parasitic relationship. There is a rich history of folklore about this fungus which is said to be left by witches after rainfall.
Perhaps, I will tell you more about it when Halloween comes around this year!