Fun Fungus Facts
The kingdom Fungi comprises some of the most important organisms, environmentally and ecologically. They are responsible for decomposition of dead organic material and most vascular plants rely on symbiotic relationships with fungi for their survival and success. And while many fungal species cause disease in both plants and animals, others are used in the production in antibiotics. Many mushrooms are edible and some are poisonous; wild collection without explicit identification can be dangerous, there are individuals which although poisonous highly resemble edible species. There are millions of genera and species of fungi, described below are just a few with interesting morphology, life cycle, symbiotic relationships and/or reproduction methods to hopefully spark your interest in mycology!
Chorioactis-devil’s cigar or Texas star
This star-shaped mushroom is one of the rarest fungi in the world. Found only in central Texas, it has also been referred to as the Texas Star.
This brown, cigar-shaped capsule opens up into the star shape when releasing its spores. It is said that a whistle-type noise accompanies its sporulation.
Hydenellum pecki-bleeding tooth fungus
The bleeding tooth, blood or juice fungus is found in North America, primarily in coniferous forests in the Pacific Northwest. It has also recently been discovered in Iran and Korea.
Upon discovery this fungal variety in the woods you may think you have found an injured animal, but further, closer investigation will show red, liquid oozing out of spore pores.
Calvatia gigantea-giant puffball
Easily identified by its size and shape, the giant puffball is typically the size of a soccer ball and round.
When immature the giant puffball is pure white throughout and edible. The fruiting body matures over one week, and the white gleba disintegrates to allow for the development of the internally produce spores. This class of fungi forcibly discharges their spores, illustrated in this picture where it appears to have exploded.
Gyromitra esculenta-the brain mushroom
Gyromitra esculenta is a member of the “false morels”, and is poisonous when not prepared to exact specifications and sometimes even when it is. It looks quite similar to Morchella esculenta, the very edible and very delicious common morel.
Brain fungus or false morels are widely distributed across North America and Europe, found sprouting in sandy soils under coniferous trees in spring and summer.
Amanita muscaria-the fly agaric
Amanita muscaria, the fly agaric or fly Amanita is probably the stereotypical mushroom we all picture in our minds when we hear the word fungus, I blame the Smurfs. It is highly poisonous and there are many subspecies within the genus, each with its own cap color.
The common name fly agaric or fly amanita is due to its being used to attract and kill flies when crushed up and added to milk.
Hericium erinaceus-bearded tooth fungus
Hericium erinaceus, goes by many names; bearded tooth fungus, lion’s mane mushroom, hedgehog mushroom, so called for its pom-pom or noodle-like appearance.
The bearded tooth fungus is generally edible but you want to be sure that you have a mature specimen in your midst before confirming your identification and collecting. These mushrooms are found in late summer and fall on dead hardwoods, usually American beech trees.