Standing around the fire this weekend in the rain, Bob Sturgeon put another log on the fire and revealed two logs of firewood that had developed a thick layer of white spongy looking yuck on their mossy exterior. The fungophile in me was on it in a flash, this was a very cool example of a triple growth. First the heavy green moss that had been on the tree’s bark for many years and then by this time of the year it looks similar to a fern leaf.
By August it will be a dry, brown patch of rust you can wipe off with your hand. On top of the moss grew a white slime that has tentacles probing the surface in every direction. One section was forming a geometric pattern, essentially getting itself together as an organism instead of just another white slime. On the log next door, the slime - mycellium had sprouted a few proto mushrooms. Very interesting, at one end of the log a few Thousandarius grew, a bumpy mushroom, black and growing in a half-spherical shape usually on the bark of tan oak. If you look closely the surface looks like it is made from the same fabric as your dog’s nose, common name, dog-nose fungus. It also shrinks to just a dry bump in summer.
At the ends of the firewood proudly sprouted a colony of Trametes Versicolor, common name, Turkey tail. This mushroom is so common in the wet season people walk right by it without slowing down. When you spot one that is in full bloom with healthy, bright colors, take a minute and examine what is going on with this beauty. The first thing that pops out is the various colors (versicolor) sported by this mushroom. Next you will see whiskers or ‘hair’ growing on the surface. The fungus grows in gentle folds or waves, cut one off a whole mushroom or look up from the bottom. The underside reveals delicate hairs usually in a creamy color, this is the spore bearing part of the mushroom. It sheds a very fine spore, nearly microscopic in size, these are the ‘seeds’ for a new mycellium to take hold and grow another colony of Turkey tails. Some ‘alternative medicine’ folk make a tincture of this little beauty. I don’t know what it is supposed to cure but it does not work on baldness.
If you would like to explore these mushrooms or check out hundreds of pictures of mushrooms common to California go to one of the easiest to use web sites: mykoweb.com and sniff around. You will find a wealth of information on many genera. Never use a photo to decide if a mushroom is edible, it must be looked at by an experienced mushroom guy you trust. Many people love mushrooms for photography, for study of species and some just for the joy of finding and identifying a mushroom.
Bill Hanson is a Sonoma County native and a lifelong sportsman. He is the former president of the Sonoma County Mycological Association. Look for his column in The Community Voice each week.