Chicken Fat Mushroom (Suillus americanus) is a widespread and very common “Slippery Jack” mushroom. It occurs in North America east of the Rocky Mountains. It is very common in the United States from the northeast to the Midwest, and in adjacent Canadian provinces. It is common Minnesota in the northeast, north-central, and metro regions. It grows on the ground, usually in groups but not clustered, exclusively under eastern white pine. It is found from mid-July to mid-September in mixed and coniferous forests and anywhere else its host is found.
When young, the cap is bright yellow, convex, and slimy. As it matures, the cap becomes broadly convex and sometimes has a small bump in the middle. The mature cap is sticky or slimy when moist, and frequently has reddish-brown scales, streaks, and/or patches, especially near the margin. The underside of the cap is a sponge-like pore surface.
Chicken Fat Mushroom is edible but the taste is not distinctive, and the cap becomes slimy when moistened. After removing the slimy skin and the spongy pore surface, there is little left to enjoy.
Photo by Luciearl
Whitewash Lichen (Phlyctis argena) is very common in Europe and North America. In the United States it occurs in the northeast to the Great Lakes region and in the Pacific northwest. It grows on the bark of oak and other deciduous trees, rarely on conifers, and rarely on rock. It neither harms nor benefits the tree.
The vegetative body may be thick or thin, smooth or granular, small or large. It may appear as a small, well-defined patch with a distinct pale border, or as a large, irregular patch with diffuse pale edges, like a smear of paint. The upper surface is pale grayish-green or greenish white and smooth when fresh, becoming grayish-white rough as it ages. It rarely has the disk-like reproductive structures common in many lichens. When it does, the disks are minute, gray to black, and flush with the surface, sometimes hidden by it.
Photo by Luciearl
King Alfred’s Cakes (Daldinia concentrica) is a common fungus that occurs on all continents except Greenland and Antarctica. It grows on dead or dying deciduous wood, especially ash. The fruiting body is ball-shaped, stalkless, and hard. It is brown when young, black and shiny when mature. The surface is densely covered with minute, pimply bumps. These bumps are tiny, spore-bearing chambers just under the surface. When the spores are mature they burst open during the night and eject up to an inch or more large numbers of black spores. These spores are often visible on the bark near the fungus long after they have worn off the fruiting body.
The common name King Alfred’s Cakes refers to a story told about a British monarch. King Alfred fled from a battle and took refuge in a peasant woman’s house. The woman asked him to watch her cakes in the oven. Preoccupied with his own troubles, he let the cakes burn. This earned him a scolding from the woman who did not know her visitor was the king.
King Alfred’s Cakes is also called Coal Fungus, but not just for its appearance. An older, black specimen, when broken to expose the interior, will readily take a spark from a fire steel. Blow on the glowing spark and it will grow in size. Left alone, it will smolder for a long time. Placed against dry tinder and blown upon, it will ignite a fire. Another common name, “Cramp Balls”, refers to the belief that when carried in a pocket it can prevent or cure leg cramps.
Photo by Ginger Halverson
Common Bird’s Nest (Crucibulum laeve) is called that because it looks like a bird’s nest with several eggs. It occurs on all continents except Greenland and Antarctica. It may be the most common bird’s nest fungus in Canada and the northern two-thirds of the United States. It grows on sticks, wood chips, humus, vegetable debris, and manure. Although common, its small size makes it difficult to see.
The fruiting body is a very small bowl-shaped “nest” containing several tiny, egg-like capsules. When young, it is yellowish, densely hairy, and topped with a yellowish lid. Eventually, the outer surface sloughs off and the lid ruptures and disappears. The mature mushroom has a hairless, brown, shiny, outer surface, and a smooth, white inner surface. Inside the hollow nest are several tiny, white, circular, flattened capsules (eggs). The eggs are attached to the side of the nest by a long, thin, elastic, white cord that can be seen only with a hand lens, a needle, and a lot of patience. The eggs are disbursed by raindrops and wind. Common Bird’s Nest may be edible but is too small and tough to be worth the effort.
Photo by Luciearl
Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) is a very common, very widespread, easily recognized mushroom. It has a worldwide distribution, found on every continent including Antarctica. It may be the most abundant woodland puffball in North America, though in Minnesota Pear-shaped Puffball is more common.
Common Puffball grows on the ground in woodlands under trees, on roadsides, in open areas, and even in urban areas. It is found from July through November usually in clusters. It is shaped like an upside-down pear, with a broad, round or flattened top and a narrowed stem-like base. Its white surface is densely covered with small, white, cone-shaped spines and more numerous tiny, white spines and granules between them. The spines are easily rubbed off and as the puffball matures they turn brown and fall off, the large ones leaving conspicuous pockmarks. A raised pore forms on the top of the maturing puffball. When ripe the pore ruptures, exposing the spore mass. Pores are disbursed through the opening by wind, rain drops, falling twigs, and curious hikers.
Common Puffball is edible when firm and white but is bland and may be bitter.
Photo by Luciearl
American Starburst Lichen (Imshaugia placorodia) is found in the United States from Maine to Minnesota and south along the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, in the northern Great Plains, the central and southern Rocky Mountains, and the southern Intermountain Region in the southwest. It grows on the bark of pine trees. It is almost restricted to pitch pine, jack pine, and Virginia pine in the east, and to ponderosa pine and Douglas fir in the west. It is rarely found on oak. In Minnesota it is found only on jack pine.
American Starburst Lichen is identified by its leaf-like growth; grayish-green upper surface that usually has black, pinprick-like dots across the surface and on the margins; brown, spore-producing cups that are sometimes abundant enough to conceal the leaf-like base; and its occurrence restricted to jack pine bark.
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) 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.
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.
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.