Lolli attempts conversation with Beaver while Mozart surveys the frozen pond.

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.

Witch's Butter?

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…

Witch's Butter

Witch's Butter

Witch's Butter

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.  Peniophora rufaAccording to Michael Kuo at, 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.)

Here’s an awesome photo posted on Flickr by John Davis, which I think fits the bill for T. aurentia:

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…

Get confused:

5 thoughts on “Orange!

  1. Somehow, I don’t think a a walk for you is ever “just a walk”! Fascinating information about the different “witch’s butter”s. I’m quite the amateur when it comes to fungi, and thought witch’s butter was witch’s butter! Can’t wait until I am home with my photos so I can look again at what I have. I’ll have to bookmark this post as a starting point in referencing! Thanks! ~karen

  2. Mushrooms drive me nuts! I’ll find one so incredibly distinctive I’m sure I’ll be able to ID it in nothing flat, only to find I can’t find it in any of my six mushroom guides. Or else I find one that looks like about 10 others. I’ve decided to leave the IDing to the experts and just enjoy the many colors and shapes. But it sure is fun and instructive to take a stab at learning them. Fun post!

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