Category Archives: Fungi

Common Powderhorn (Cladonia coniocraea)

Common Powderhorn

Photo by Luciearl

Common Powderhorn (Cladonia coniocraea) is a widespread and very common lichen in Europe, Asia, and North America. In the United States it is found from the east coast to the Midwest, including Minnesota, on the west coast, and in the Rocky Mountains. It grows in the shade on decaying stumps and logs and often at the bases of trees. It is resistant to pollution and can be found in urban areas.

Common Powderhorn produces two types of green to grayish-green vegetative growth: a flat, overlapping, leaf-like scale that adheres closely to the substrate; and a slender, hollow, vertical stalk with a pointed tip. The undersides of the basal scales are white because they lack a protective outer coating. The surface of the stalk is mealy due to a covering of tiny reproductive granules.

Milk-white Toothed Polypore (Irpex lacteus)

Milk-white Toothed Polypore

Milk-white Toothed Polypore (Irpex lacteus) is widespread in Europe and North America. It is very common in the eastern United States to the Midwest, including Minnesota, but rare in the Southwest. It is exceptionally resistant to pollution toxicity. It grows on the bottom and sides of logs and fallen branches of hardwood trees.

The fruiting body is a stiff, dry, flat, spread out patch of spore surface attached directly to a branch or log. When growing on the side of a log or branch it may develop shelf-like, ⅜″ to 1½″ wide caps. The white, off-white, or cream-colored patches often fuse together creating a long row. There are 2 or 3 pores every thirty-second of an inch. The pore walls are thin and disintegrate unevenly. Eventually, only flattened, tooth-like projections less than ¼″ long remain. The flesh is thin and tough. It is not edible.

Witch’s Hat (Hygrocybe conica)

Witch’s Hat

Photo by Carrie Schunk

Witch’s Hat (Hygrocybe conica) is a small waxcap mushroom. It is common in Minnesota in deciduous and mixed woodlands. It grows on the ground in damp soil, alone, scattered, or in groups under hardwood trees, especially oak. In other areas it is also found under conifers and in grasslands.

When it first appears the cap is sharply cone-shaped and usually bright orange, sometimes bright red. As it ages fades to yellow or orangish and flattens out but retains a pointed raised center. Older caps develop black areas and eventually turn completely black. All parts of the mushroom turn black when bruised. The stalk usually grooved, often twisted, and never slimy.

Witch’s Hat was once considered poisonous due to four reported deaths in China, but those reports are now thought to be mistaken. It may be somewhat psychoactive. Eating it is not recommended.

Elegant Sunburst Lichen (Xanthoria elegans)

Elegant Sunburst Lichen

Photo by Luciearl

Elegant Sunburst Lichen (Xanthoria elegans) is an extremely widespread and very common lichen. It grows on rocks in humid to dry micro climates on all continents except Australia. It is common on rocky shores, especially where bird droppings provide nitrogen for its sustenance. It is very common on the rocky shores of Lake Superior.

Elegant Sunburst Lichen is very long lived and very slow growing: it grows at a consistent rate of 1 ⁄64″ per year for the first hundred years before slowing down a bit. The color of the upper surface varies with the amount of available moisture : in streams it is yellowish-orange, on rocks out of water it is orange, and in dry areas it is dark reddish-orange.

Eastern Candlewax Lichen (Ahtiana aurescens)

Eastern Candlewax Lichen

Photo by Luciearl

Eastern Candlewax Lichen (Ahtiana aurescens) is a medium-sized lichen that grows on the bark of cedar and pine trees. In eastern North America it is found in undisturbed old growth forests, where the dense shade, high humidity, and the texture of the substrate (bark), combine to create ideal conditions for its proliferation. In Minnesota it is found only in the Arrowhead region and usually in northern white cedar swamps. Habitat destruction due to logging of old growth forests threatens this species continued survival in Minnesota. For this reason, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has listed this as a Special Concern species.

Eastern Candlewax Lichen is identified by the yellowish-green upper surface that is not powdery, granular, chalky, or “frosted” in appearance; the lower surface that is pale brown, smooth, and shiny; its growth on cedar and pine bark; and its occurrence in the Great Lakes region.

Devil’s Stinkhorn (Phallus rubicundus)

Devil’s Stinkhorn

Photo by LizInMpls

Devil’s Stinkhorn (Phallus rubicundus) is native to the subtropical region of northern Africa, Australia, South America, northern Mexico and southern United States. It has spread throughout the eastern United States, probably in wood chip mulch imported from those regions. It is now common east of the Great Plains. It is found from spring through summer in lawns and gardens, especially where wood chip mulch is used. It grows on the ground, in wood chips or sawdust piles, singly or in groups.

The fruiting body at first is whitish to pale brown and egg-shaped, and resembles a puffball partially submerged in the ground. Inside the “egg” there is a gelatinous layer, a spore mass, and all of the fully-formed parts of the mature stinkhorn. When conditions are right the “egg” ruptures and expands rapidly. In one or two days it produces a distinctly phallic structure with a stalk and thimble-like head. The rapid expansion is possible because all of the parts are fully formed and compressed inside the “egg”, and because the individual cells elongate, rather than new cells being produced. As the stinkhorn expands the gelatinous layer mixes with the spore mass producing a shiny, putrid slime that covers the cap. The foul-smelling slime is irresistible to flies, which feed on it, lay their eggs in it, and transfer spores when they fly to other stinkhorns.

Green Reindeer Lichen (Cladonia mitis)

Green Reindeer Lichen

Photo by Luciearl

Reindeer lichens are the primary source of food in winter for caribou (reindeer), hence the common name Reindeer Lichens. They are long lived, surviving 100 years or more, and they are slow growing. A clump crushed by a footprint may take decades to recover.

Green Reindeer Lichen (Cladonia mitis) is very common in Alaska, throughout Canada, and across the northern United States except in the Pacific northwest. It is especially common in white spruce and black spruce forests. It forms dense mats with other reindeer lichens that can form a continuous carpet on the forest floor. A single clump often contains more than one species of reindeer lichen.

Green Reindeer Lichen is similar in appearance to Gray Reindeer Lichen (Cladonia rangiferina). The terminal branchlets of the former spread in all directions, while those of the latter are swept in one direction.

Hygroscopic Earthstar (Astraeus hygrometricus)

Hygroscopic Earthstar

Photo by Luciearl

Hygroscopic Earthstar (Astraeus hygrometricus) is a late season, small or medium-sized mushroom—small when closed, medium-sized when open. The fruiting body looks like a puffball at first. As it matures the outer layer of the case splits into 6 to 15 pointed rays, exposing a nearly spherical spore sac. When fully expanded, it can be 3″ or more in diameter. When moist, the rays arch backward to the ground, raising the spore sac, and facilitating distribution of the dust-like spores. The rays sometimes have a pale foreground with dark cracks and crevices, appearing like dried, cracked mud in a dry lake bed. In dry conditions they fold back over the spore sac and become hard. At maturity, the spore case ruptures through a pore at the top, and the spores are disbursed by the wind.

Hygroscopic Earthstar has a global distribution. It is common in North America, Central America, and Europe, and has been collected in Africa, Asia, and Australia. In the United States it is common in the Great Lakes and coastal states, uncommon in Minnesota.

Hygroscopic Earthstar is similar in appearance to true earthstars but it is not even closely related. It is an example of convergent evolution, where species of different lineages evolve similar features. It is identified by the following characteristics: the rays are hygroscopic, expanding in moist conditions and covering the spore case in dry conditions; the upper ray surface is often pale with dark cracks and crevices; the lower ray surface is covered with matted, blackish, hair-like fibers; the spore case is stalkless, roughened by numerous particles, and ruptures through a single, poorly defined pore at the top; and the spores are very large, but this can only be seen under a microscope.

Purple-bloom Russula (Russula mariae)

Purple-bloom Russula

Photo by Kirk Nelson

Purple-bloom Russula (Russula mariae) is a medium-sized gill mushroom. It is common and widespread in deciduous and mixed woodlands and forests of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. It is found from June through October, singly or in groups, on the ground near hardwoods. It obtains its nutrients from the rootlets of oak and other hardwood trees.

Purple-bloom Russula is easily recognized by the flat, dry, velvety or powdery, purple cap.

Mica Cap (Coprinellus micaceus)

Mica Cap

Mica Cap (Coprinellus micaceus) is a very common mushroom in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America. In the United States is seen from coast to coast. It occurs from April through October in forests and woodlands, in suburbs, in urban areas, and sometimes indoors. It grows in dense clusters on decaying stumps and logs, and sometimes on the ground on buried wood.

When young, it is dome-shaped, yellowish-brown, and covered with glistening particles. As it matures it flattens out, the particles wash away, and the cap becomes gray at the margins. As the mushroom ages the cap turns black, the margins become tattered, and the gills dissolve into an inky black liquid that drops to the ground.