Medicinal Mushrooms: Chaga

Photo of Chaga

If you've been studying medicinal mushrooms much in recent years, you've likely heard about Chaga (Inonotus obliquus). Chaga is peculiar among medicinal mushrooms in that the part that is gathered for medicine isn't technically a mushroom (i.e., not a spore-bearing fruiting body of a fungus) but rather a sclerotial mass. For years, I hadn't thought much about this distinction, that is until I came upon the above tree late last month.

Photo of Chaga fruiting body

I immediately recognized the char-like growths on this dead-standing Birch (Betula sp.) tree, but was puzzled by the unfamiliar sight beneath the bark. Could this be a Chaga fruiting body? A little research turned up an article by Maine mushroom forager and author Greg Marley called Chaga; The Elusive Fruiting Body of Inonotus obliquus (Chaga) which confirmed my hunch. In the article (which includes photographs), Marley describes discovering a tree with a similar fruiting body during a November 2014 foray with the Maine Mycological Association.

Photo of Pore tubes of Chaga fruiting body

I should mention that, photographs aside, I didn't gather medicine from this tree. It's my understanding that Chaga sclerotium is best gathered for medicine while the host tree is still alive. I've included photos below in hopes that they'll serve as search images for you, in case you've yet to meet this fungus in the flesh. Don't expect to find chunks of Chaga lined up on a log or sitting on a shelf of Birch Polypore, as shown in the last photos; I arranged those scenes for your enjoyment.

For more search images and info on Inonotus obliquus, see David Spahr's article. For a discussion on Chaga conservation, see the two videos by Arthur Haines. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Mushrooms: Hedgehog Mushroom

Photo of Hydnum repandum (Hedgehog Mushroom) spines

A great many mushroom species have gills or tubes from which spores are released; a relative few have spines, or so-called teeth, instead. One widespread toothed mushroom who grows on the ground isĀ Hydnum repandum, the Hedgehog Mushroom. Author David Spahr speaks highly of this edible, typically bug-free mushroom, in particular noting the Hedgehog Mushrooms's pleasing aroma. Referring to his experience dehydrating them, he writes, "I do not think any mushroom makes my house smell better".* To learn more about Hydnum repandum, read Spahr's online article and visit Michael Kuo's authoritative site. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

*David Spahr, Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada (2009), p. 54. A free web-based version of the book can be found here.

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Bog Plants: Virginia Chain Fern

Photo of Virginia Chain Fern fall

This green season, I've made a habit of checking on a population of Virginia Chain Fern (Woodwardia virginica) every time I visit the local bog, and in late September the patch was dressed in rusty colors of early autumn senescence. Virginia Chain Fern is a specialist of bogs and other acidic wetlands and grows in all six New England states. Individual fronds are fairly tall (2-4') and may call to mind the sterile fronds of Cinnamon Fern. However, unlike Cinnamon Fern, Virginia Chain Fern doesn't grow in circular clumps or have tufts of woolly hairs along the stalk, and the two ferns have different vein patterns (see comparison photo below). (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Butterflies: Orange Sulphur

Photo of Orange Sulphur

Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme) butterflies live in fields and pastures throughout New England and have a flight periodĀ (mid-May through October) that more or less coincides with the green season. Late in the year, they can be found nectaring on many types of flowers, including New York American-aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii, pictured here). Males and females can be told apart by examining the upper wing pattern (see photos below): males have a solid black border; females have yellow spots within a wider black border. Some Orange Sulphurs lack obvious orange coloration and may be impossible to tell apart from the similar Cloudless Sulphur (C. philodice). (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)