Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Low Standing Fruit

When the weather outside is wet and cold, and the flora all but dormant, I often turn my eye and nature-studies towards the winter wildflowers. Aka - fungi.

And I've found that the trick to learning fungi is the same as for learning birds - skip the LBJs - the little brown jobs. Or, in shroomer parlance - the LBMs - the little brown mushrooms.

I also recommend you skip the little white mushrooms and the little beige mushrooms, too. They're just too frustrating to sort out while you're getting to know the lingo and key characters for IDing all the amazing kinds you can find.

Plus, you can return to them if you run out of the easy to ID, interesting and unusual species.

Which in the world of fungi, can nicely take a long time. California has over 600 species.

As an example, here's a sampling of the interesting and unusual I've seen in the Santa Cruz Mountains over the past few years.

Let's begin with a real weirdo. I give you Bird's Nest Fungi, Crucibulum laeve. It grows on decaying wood, bark, pine cones and like. Each "egg" is full of spores and typically gets splashed out of the "nest" by raindrops. They then dry, pop, and distribute the spores around the area.

bird's nest fungi - crucibulum laeve
Bird's Nest Fungus, Crucibulum laeve

But you don't have to just look for weirdos. There are many traditional stalk-and-cap species that can be unusual and interesting too. Both in color and names...

righteous red
Righteous Red Waxy Cap, Hygrocybe coccinea

a witch's hat emerging parrot waxy cap
Witch's Hat, Hygrocybe conica, and Parrot Mushroom, Hygrocybe psittacina

golden waxy cap - hygrocybe flavescens miss scarlet
Yellow Waxy Cap, Hygrocybe flavescens, and Scarlet Waxy Cap, Hygrocybe punicea

underside of scarlet waxy cap fresh, bright amethyst laccaria
Close ups of Scarlet Waxy Cap and Amethyst Laccaria, Laccaria amethysteo-occidentalis

Madrone Reds, Tubaria punicea, on a burnt madrone stump

Btw - you might think bright red and orange colors would indicate poisonous species. But not so much. At least to us. In fact, most of the beauties above are supposedly edible or only mildly upsetting. The latter meaning you may also find them in the world of fungi medicine - as laxatives.

Btw2 - the above panoply shows why many mushrooms make great fabric dyes.

Some species do succumb to visual stereotypes, such as this monster poisonous bolete:

Satan's Bolete, Boletus eastwoodiae (previously Boletus satanus), under live oaks

Stepping away from that traditional shape again, they can get bizarre fast...

fluted black elfin saddle - helvella lacunosa white elfin saddle - helvella lactea
Black Elfin Saddle, Helvella lacunosa, in black and white forms

fairy fingers - clavaria vermicularis
Fairy Fingers, Clavaria vermicularis, under redwoods

golden spindles - clavulinopsis fusiformis club coral - clavariadelphus occidentalis
Golden Spindles, Clavulinopsis fusiformis, and Club Coral, Clavariadelphus occidentalis

yellow coral - ramaria rasilispora
Yellow Coral, Ramaria rasilispora, under live oaks

Cups, ears and peels are some of the coolest and most colorful. And with names like scarlet cups, orange peels, and wood ears, they too have some character.

scarlet cup fungus false black cups
Scarlet Cup Fungus, Sarcoscypha coccinea, False Black Cups, Pseudoplectania nigrella

looks like a choir ear cup fungus? otidea?
Wood Cup Fungus, Peziza repanda, and a Wood or Donkey's Ear of some kind

scattered peels black cup fungus
Orange Peel Fungus, Aleuria rhenana, and True Black Cup Fungus, Plectania melastoma

And then there's puffballs. Some as big as your head, and others looking like eyeballs. And, surprisingly, many are edible. But I'll just have to take their word on that.

monster puffball puffballs ready to blow
Western Giant Puffball, Calvatia booniana, and Common Puffballs, Lycoperdon perlatum

Jellies are also fun finds. Some, such as Witch's Butter, are actually parasitic on other fungi.

staghorn jellies
Staghorn Jellies, Calocera cornea, growing out of a madrone log

witch's butter
Witch's Butter, Tremella aurantia, parasitizing False Turkey Tail, Stereum hirsutum

jelly babies - leotia lubrica
Jelly Babies, Leotia lubrica

And how about this fractal beauty?

fractal fungi
Frizzy Lion's Mane, Hericium ramosum, also on a madrone log

So get yourself out and see some shrooms. It's easy. Just go in the days and weeks after good rains, and sample different habitats. Some species grow on the ground on leaf litter or tapped into live trees' roots, and others decay logs and like. They specialize to wood/tree types as well, so check out alder, oaks, madrone, manzanita, pines, spruce, firs and redwoods for different species.

But I don't recommend eating any. Unless you really, really know for sure. And even then...



  1. Lovely photographs and post. Generally with the posts, a favorite image jumps out, but this one just has so many!

  2. These are some of the best mushroom pictures I have ever seen. The last one is like the finale rack of a fireworks show. Eye-popping, all the way through.

  3. So,these represent 28 out of a possible 600 California species? I am soooo looking forward to you hunting down and photographing the remaining 572. Fantastic pictures!

  4. Wow amazing. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Well I can sure see why folks would get hooked on looking and finding the interesting and amazing fungi. Beautiful pics

  6. How did I miss this? Fantastic photos—they definitely make me want to look at shrooms a little more closely (and take more photos).

  7. Ahhh, just found this through another site, lovely.


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