I wasn’t out “naturalizing”. I was just out for a walk. I needed the exercise… so did the dogs. I needed to fill my lungs with fresh air. I wasn’t looking to learn anything new or to see anything all that different…
Then orange caught my eye, squeezing out from the bark of an Eastern Hemlock tree on the side of the beaver pond.
I photographed it (with both cameras)… assumed I knew what it was – Witch’s Butter – duh… and moved on.
Then I sat down to write a post about Witch’s Butter. I dug out books and surfed the ‘net… and got confused.
First of all, the common name “witch’s butter” can be applied to more than one species of fungus. So, I was right! But the question is… what species do I have here? I dug through other pictures of orange goo I have taken over the years. I had assigned Latin names to many of these at the time I took the pictures… but now, reviewing the resources, I’m no longer sure…
I’m no mycologist and to be honest, I’m not all that dedicated to identifying these to the species level… But as I read about the different jelly fungi, I became fascinated at the inter-relationships with other living and dead things. Some fungi feast on dead organic material, some on living (non-fungal) tissues, and still others parasitize other fungi.
I’ll give you some of the clues here, and maybe we can try to puzzle out which species is which from my photographs together!
Tremella mesenterica is found on decaying hardwood. According to Michael Kuo at MushroomExpert.com, T. mesenterica is parasitic on the mycelium of another fungus in the genus Peniophora which might be hiding under the bark even when you see no fruiting bodies. Peniophora are resupinate crust fungi. (I just learned that word, too – resupinate means “seemingly turned upside down”.) I don’t know what species T. mesenterica likes to parasitize… but I happened to have a picture of P. rufa, so I’m including it here. Hmm… #3 above was on a dead hardwood… Maybe that one is T. mesenterica? I didn’t see any Peniophora on that trunk, but I suppose it could be there hiding beneath the bark…
Tremella aurentia is “gregarious on downed hardwood” and parasitic on Stereum hirsutum (false turkey tail) and is described as “yellow-orange, shiny when wet, otherwise dull.” Hmm… in picture #1 above, the description is right. Those grayish/green mini-shelves could be old S. hirsutum as the normally orange stripes are reported to fade over time – and while it usually grows on hardwoods, is occasionally found on conifers. The tree was definitely still standing, however… and I THOUGHT it was still alive… Hmm… I’d still go with T. aurentia for picture #1 based on my sloppy naturalizing. (UPDATE 2/13/2010: I went back yesterday in an attempt to correct at least a bit of my sloppy naturalizing… the trees with orange goo were indeed hemlock, but they were also indeed quite dead… still standing, but dead.)
Dacrymyces palmatus is the only one of the three that is reported to live on conifers. I think my #2 and #4 above are probably this species… both were found on downed Eastern Hemlock. The intensely different shapes/textures confuse me… but then, these fungi are shape-shifters as they age, and depending on the weather conditions.
Mycologists are amazing. With over 70,000 species identified and named, they believe there could be in excess of a million more to be discovered. I suppose if I really really really cared, I’d be out there collecting spore prints, testing the fruits with various chemicals, examining bits of tissue and spores under the microscope…
But really, I was just out for a walk…
- Tremella mesenterica – Mushroom Expert
- Tremella aurentia – California Fungi
- Dacrymyces palmatus – California Fungi
- Stereum hirsutum – California Fungi;
Stereum hirsutum – Mushroom Expert
- Tree of Life Web Project – more information than you thought was possible about fungi