Category Archives: Mushrooms

Mushrooms: Coral Fungi

Photo of Coral Mushroom

A wide variety of unrelated mushrooms share a similar coral-like growth form and are collectively known as Coral Fungi. The colors of these decomposers range from leaf-litter-like tans and yellows, to eye-catching oranges, pinks, and purples. According to George Barron*, these mushrooms, while pleasing to the eye, are often difficult to identify to genus, never mind species level. Positive identification of many species requires examining key features with a microscope.

After some non-microscopic examination, I'd guess this mushroom is in the genus Ramaria (possibly R. stricta), but for our purposes here, I'll leave this coral fungus unidentified.

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*Mushrooms of Northeast North America: Midwest to New England (1999, p. 110)

Mushrooms: Fly Agaric

Photo of Amanita muscaria (Fly Agaric)

The Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) is a distinctive gilled mushroom found in parts of North America, Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. The cap is covered with irregular, white warts, and, depending on age, weathering, and subspecies, the cap color ranges from bright red to orange to yellow to white (the Yellow-orange, or guessowii¹, subspecies is shown here).

Also note the bulbous base, the membranous ring on the upper stalk, and the white, free (meaning they're not attached to the stalk) gills -- three features shared by members of the genus Amanita. Though the genus contains some edible and medicinal species, many others are strictly toxic.

A Peterson's Field Guide² describes the Fly Agaric as "a well-known intoxicant, reported to produce sensual derangement, erratic behavior, delirium, deep 'death-like' sleep, and in some cases, death." Many other sources simply call this species poisonous.

To view the following images in full-size, click here.

¹Many sources call this subspecies formosa.
²A Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants (1998) by Steven Foster and Roger Caras, page 200.

Mushrooms: Violet-toothed Polypore

Photo of <em>Trichaptum biforme</em> (Violet-toothed Polypore)

Trichaptum biforme is a common decomposer of wood and is widespread across North America. The fruiting bodies of this shelf fungus average 1-2" wide, and like Turkey Tail, often grow in crowded colonies. But whereas Turkey Tail has smooth, whitish pore surfaces, the pore surfaces of Trichaptum biforme are spine-like and violet-tinged, explaining a common name for this species: Violet-toothed Polypore. This mushroom is neither edible nor medicinal, but is nonetheless worth getting to know. For more info and photos, visit MushroomExpert.com. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Medicinal Mushrooms: Turkey Tail

Photo of <em>Trametes versicolor</em> (Turkey Tail)

Trametes versicolor is a wood-eating shelf fungus who can be found year-round in much of North America. It's common to find large logs covered with hundreds of these hairy, leathery fruiting bodies. (Michael Kuo's article covers how to separate this species from similar fungi.) The top colors vary widely but often include blues, browns, and creams; the outer margin is usually white. On the underside of these multi-colored shelves is a white or nearly white pore surface with thousands of tiny openings. This species is commonly known as Turkey Tail.

Greg Marley writes at length on the medicinal properties of T. versicolor (or extracts thereof) in his book Mushrooms for Health: Medicinal secrets of northeastern fungi (2009) and reports that, "Turkey Tail is the best-researched and most clinically tested of the medicinal mushrooms, at least by allopathic medicine standards" (p. 82). A formulation of Turkey Tail known as PSK is a leading anticancer medicine in Japan, often prescribed in combination with radiation and chemotherapy. (Read Marley's chapter for more details.)

Turkey Tail is too leathery to be consumed in whole form, but fungi foragers can prepare hot water decoctions (broths) and/or double-extraction tinctures of this mushroom. Just be sure to gather only actively growing mushrooms, with white growing edges and fresh pore surfaces. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)