Fundamentals of Fungi: Wood Mushrooms Can Be Beautiful

One of the things I’ve had to get used to round here is the stuff growing on trees. People told me as a kid that you could find north by looking at what side of the tree moss was growing on. This assumed the person attempting to ascertain north wasn’t living in Arizona. I spent a long time trying to find some moss in order to establish the truth of this claim.

Then I moved here to the PNW. Good luck establishing north by moss. It grows 360° around the trunks. It grows pretty much everywhere. And then you get these enormous patches of lichen and wild outbursts of wood mushrooms. It’s a wonder you can see bark.

Wood Mushrooms I
Wood Mushrooms I

Quite decorative, isn’t it just? But that one isn’t what caught my eye when I was tromping along North Creek on a recent winter day.

Wood Mushrooms II
Wood Mushrooms II

How lovely is that? Certainly click to embiggen. You fungi and lichen lovers should be screaming with joy about now. Here, have a closer look.

Wood Mushrooms III
Wood Mushrooms III

I love the colors. You have the blue-green lichen, the darker-green whatever-that-is that looks almost like it’s frosted with silver, and then these richly-hued mushrooms that remind me of the finest folded strata. Outstanding. And to think this stuff grows along North Creek. I hadn’t noticed before, but these lovely specimens were certainly attached to tame trees. This isn’t wilderness – this is an offshoot of the creek plunked down between office buildings and the wastewater treatment plant. I’m not sure if these had been growing on the trees before the branches came down – I couldn’t see any, but I didn’t look very long. These branches look fairly fresh, though, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the fungi hadn’t waited for them to fall.

Wood Mushrooms IV
Wood Mushrooms IV

I’m a fan of fan-shaped fungi. These are very decorative. Most of our wood mushrooms are of the big-and-pale variety, interesting mostly for their size and locations, sometimes for the patterns they’re growing in. They’re usually not this colorful.

Wood Mushrooms V
Wood Mushrooms V

They rather make these fallen branches look like they’re all decked out to go flamenco dancing.

Carl Zimmer says these are only the tip of the fungiberg. DNA studies have shown that fallen logs are colonized by a great number, many of them invisible to our eyes. And without them, we’d be buried in dead logs.

Wood Mushrooms VI
Wood Mushrooms VI

I’ve also heard they’re edible, but I’m not sure how to tell the yummy from the disastrous. Besides, these are too pretty to eat. Unless it turns out they’re delicious, nutritious and don’t taste just like chicken, in which case I’ll be nomming them next time. What say you, my darlings? Which species of wood mushroom are these?

Fundamentals of Fungi: Wood Mushrooms Can Be Beautiful
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10 thoughts on “Fundamentals of Fungi: Wood Mushrooms Can Be Beautiful

  1. 1

    I’m pretty sure I got this right, but I’m sure I’ll be corrected by those more knowledgeable. Fungus, mushrooms in particular, have become a bit of hobby of mine, half because of the tasty, edible ones and half because of the ones that are still edible but come with fascinating, and quite fun, side effects… as well as psilocybin possibly being a very good pain-killer for the worst cluster and migraine headaches.

    However, they only became a hobby about a year ago and, since I’m still in school, I haven’t had much time to devote to the hobby, so I’m very much an amateur in this in every true sense of the word.

    With that said…

    I’m pretty sure (though I could be wrong) that these are of the genus Ganoderma.

    I don’t know if any of the Ganoderma are specifically edible. There are look-alike species, such as Fistulina hepatica, but, at the very least, my Mushroom Encyclopedia (Rogers Mushrooms… for iPod Touch) does not seem to have any information on the edibility or danger of Ganoderma.

  2. 2

    At a guess, a subspecies of Trametes versicolor, which can be found pretty much everywhere on the planet with cool, wet conditions. If so, it’s edible but unpalatable: the sporing body is leathery and bitter. There is some research being done about whether a particular chemical in them might be effective at fighting cancer.

    In some subspecies, the different bands can take different colors, with burnt orange and earth-tone green being common.

  3. 3

    Actually, I can do even better…

    Here’s the website for Rogers Mushrooms. To find choice and edible wood-growing mushrooms, simply scroll down on this page and check “choice” and “edible” under edibility and “grows on wood” under habitat, all the way near the bottom, leaving everything else blank. Then click the “search now” link. That should give you about 46 wood-growing, edible mushrooms.

  4. 4

    I second the identification of Trametes versicolor, a type of bracket fungi.

    Bracket fungi, or shelf fungi, among many groups of the fungi in the phylum Basidiomycota. Characteristically, they produce shelf- or bracket-shaped fruiting bodies called conks that lie in a close planar grouping of separate or interconnected horizontal rows. Brackets can range from only a single row of a few caps, to dozens of rows of caps that can weigh several hundred pounds. They are mainly found on trees (living and dead) and coarse woody debris, and may resemble mushrooms. Some form annual fruiting bodies while others are perennial and grow larger year after year. Bracket fungi are typically tough and sturdy and produce their spores, called basidiospores, within the pores that typically make up the undersurface.

    Great photos Dana! I especially love that green ball of feathery moss in the 1st shot.

  5. 5

    I could stare at mushrooms, lichen, and mosses for hours (and have, especially when a certain fungus in the genus Psilocybe was involved). They’re so…fractal. And often full of little tiny critters on close examination. What fun.

  6. rq

    Beautiful photos. But be careful with eating fungi. As with most forage-foods – they’re supposedly nutritious, but most of them taste atrocious. Or so I’ve heard. I don’t have the guts to try (maybe when I’m old and the world has no more use for me, I can become the crazy experimenting mushroom-eating granny).

  7. 8


    Those shelf fungi didn’t wait for the tree to fall. The shelf typically grows, well, like a shelf, which is to say, horizontally. You can deduce the angle the trunk was growing at before it fell.

    They grow slowly and those are probably several years old. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the rings correlated to seasonal growth rates.

    Pay attention to any standing dead wood you see and you’ll soon have quite a few more specimens in your log book. They are actually pretty common here in the PNW woods.

  8. 9

    I’m thinking Turkey Tail myself, but in any event a polypore (shelf fungus, bracket fungus, conk; close enough to synonyms for our purposes). These sturdy fans are indeed a delight to the eyes (and some of them have interesting properties — there’s a different one sometimes called Artist’s Conk, because it stains when scratched and you can *write or draw on it with a fingernail or stylus.* I mean really — how cool is that?!?

    Some of them may be edible and possibly even tasty, but the texture of the thing is not unlike that of the fallen branch it’s growing on. Plus I don’t know how quickly these fairly-rigid structures regrow… Even if it weren’t for The Usual Advice (if you aren’t sure, don’t eat it!) I recommend leaving polypores lie, little (and big) works of woods art for the next passerby to admire.

    I think west of the Cascades would be good territory for Pleurotis species, notably P. ostreatus; I may be misspelling them but they’re worth looking up. The common name is “oyster mushrooms” and they are divine sauteed, baked (slices in a casserole dish with cream and a bit of cheese) and, my personal addicively-favorited, dipped in a light batter and deep-fried. I was not lucky enough to see them when I lived in the Wilamette Valley, but I didn’t see many elms (their preferred host) either. If you ever have the urge to take a mushroom off a tree (branch or trunk, standing or fallen) for eating purposes… learn to identify Pleurotis ostreatus, for its distinctive looks (easy to distinguish from other Growths On Trees) and the exquisitely high culinary payback. I’d rather eat oyster mushrooms than morels…

    You’ll also see boletes and other mushrooms that look “like mushrooms” but don’t have gills — the underside is covered with tiny sort-of-pinholes instead. Some are edible, some tasty, some very much the opposite of one or both. I never found a for-sure edible species that I was able to identify with total confidence, but they’re nice ground-scenery and I enjoyed taking spore prints and trying to catalogue them, having seen none of this group of mushrooms before moving north and west.

    Like birds and so much else in the world, fungi make interesting and often beautiful photography subjects whether you ever positively identify them or not. Like birds, once we start taking notice of them most of us want to be able to tell which is which! For purposes of deciding which if any to eat, try to cross check with different sources — and running it past another mushroomer is always good (someone with experience in seeing how the actual mushrooms vary from those lovely pictures in the guide books). For entertainment and amazement, plus my personal fave First Reference for identifying, you should check out David Aurora’s _Mushrooms Demystified._ I think you’d enjoy it.

  9. 10

    The edible group of bracket fungus that are commonly known as “chicken of the woods” as well as other names come from the Laetiporus family. they somewhat resemble the bracket fungi in Dana’s pics but coloration tends to be cream, sulfur yellow, and orange. They grow on a variety of trees depending on habitat and particular species of Laetiporus. Here in coastal British Columbia the ones I’ve found have been growing on stumps of Western Hemlock trees (Tsuga heterophylla).
    Stewed in a cream sauce they taste to me somewhat like chicken, but not everyone agrees. Only the younger specimens and the meat from the margins is edible as it becomes tough as it grows and will spoil after fruiting body ( mushroom) dies.

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