Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is one of the most common large polypores in coniferous forests throughout North America. It is used to prepare fabric dyes of various colors, but is also a significant pest to the timber industry in western United States.
The fruiting body is a large, bracket-shaped polypore (conk). It usually appears on the ground as a rosette or an overlapping tier of brackets at or near the base of a large coniferous tree. In Minnesota it is most common on white pine. It attacks the living roots and the heartwood of older trees, causing the disease called red-brown butt rot. The lower 10 to 20 feet of the trunk, the most valuable part for the timber industry, is weakened or hollowed, making the tree susceptible to falling over. On young trees the fungus causes root rot which is also fatal.
The cap is 2″ to 12″ wide and circular when growing on the ground, semicircular or fan-shaped when on a trunk. When young it is soft, spongy, light brownish-yellow to orange, and densely covered with velvety hairs. As it ages it becomes hard, less hairy, and turns dark brown from the center outwards. Older specimens are brittle and dark brown or black, looking something like a cow pie. It is probably poisonous.
Hexagonal-pored Polypore (Neofavolus alveolaris) is one of the first mushrooms to appear in woodlands in the spring. It occurs in Europe, Japan, and North America east of the Rocky Mountains. In the United States it is especially common east of the Great Plains. It first appears in May, the same time as morels, and persists through November. It grows on fallen branches and small logs of hardwoods.
The fruiting body is a semicircular to kidney-shaped, shelf-like bracket. When it first appears in late spring it is orange or orangish. It is at this stage that it is most easily recognized. The upper surface is covered with minute scales or delicate fibers. As the season progresses it fades to yellowish or nearly white. It usually has a short, stubby laterally positioned stalk. The pore surface is white to pale yellowish and is covered with conspicuous, large, diamond-shaped or six-sided pores. The pores are not all hexagonal, as the bracket’s common name suggests.
Hexagonal-pored Polypore is not poisonous but the bracket is too small and the flesh is too tough to be edible.
Hooded Sunburst Lichen (Oxneria fallax) is a widespread and very common lichen. It occurs throughout Europe and across North America, and is very common in Minnesota. It grows on bark on the trunks of hardwood trees in humid to moderately dry conditions. It forms rosettes up to 1½″ in diameter that often fuse together into large colonies.
Hooded Sunburst Lichen is leaf-like and divided into small lobes. It is deep orange where exposed to the sun, orangish-red to reddish-orange in partially shaded areas, and pale greenish-yellow in deep shade. Tiny, crescent-shaped slits, are formed on the margins at the tips of the lobes. Within the slits powdery, greenish-yellow clusters of cells are produced. The cell clusters are dispersed by wind and rain, and can form new rosettes when they land on a suitable surface.
Disk-like, spore-producing structures are rarely produced. When present, the disks are stalked, orange, up to ⅛″ in diameter, and shaped like a plate. Each disk has a ring of tissue around it that resembles the tissue of the lobes.
Devil’s Urn (Urnula craterium) is one of the first mushrooms to appear in forests and woodlands in the east. It occurs in the United States east of the Great Plains, and also in Washington State. It is common in Minnesota but often overlooked due to its dark color and its somewhat leaf-like appearance. In addition, it is often buried or half-buried in the duff. It appears in the spring usually in groups, sometimes singly. It grows on or next to decaying logs, on twigs, or on the ground attached to buried wood.
The mature mushroom is 1¼″ to 4¼″ high and ¾″ to 2¾″ in diameter. The fruiting body is a closed orb at first, and looks a lot like Dead Man’s Fingers. It soon opens at the top becoming deeply cup-shaped. The margins are curved inward, toothed, and appear torn. The sterile outer surface is rough and pinkish-gray or dark brown at first, becoming smooth and black to brownish-black with age. The fertile inner surface is smooth and brownish-black to black. There is usually a distinct narrow stalk at the base. The flesh is tough and leathery or fibrous. It is probably not poisonous but is too tough to be worth eating.
Phyllosticta minima is a common and widespread fungus. It occurs in eastern North America and west to the Great Plains. It causes a disease known as Purple Bordered Leaf Spot on maples. It infects mostly Amur, Japanese, red, and silver maple, but also mountain and sugar maple, and in other areas, Tartarian and sycamore maple.
The infected leaf develops small, round, tan spots with purple or brown margins. Tiny, black, pimple-like fruiting bodies form in each spot. The dead tissue in the middle of the spot sometimes breaks away, leaving a small hole.
Infections are most common in wet years and on the bottom third of the tree. Some infected leaves may eventually turn brown and drop off the tree, but most trees are able to withstand the infection. Control involves removing leaves with spots from the tree, and raking up and removing fallen leaves. That prevents further infections in the current growing season, and reduces the number of infected leaves that will overwinter.
Gilled Polypore (Lenzites betulina) looks very much like a Turkey Tail but the pore surface on the underside has gills. It is widespread across Europe, Asia, and North and South America. In the United States it is very common from the East Coast to the Great Lakes states, south to Texas, and on the West Coast. It is less common in Minnesota where it is at the western edge of its range. It is found usually in overlapping rows or columns on logs and stumps of a wide variety of hardwoods, especially oak and willow.
The name Gilled Polypore sounds like an oxymoron but accurately describes this mushroom. The fruiting body is a small, fan-shaped to nearly round, shelf-like bracket. The upper surface is concentrically zoned with varying textures and and colors, and is densely hairy. The gills are white when young but darken as they age. The flesh is thin, tough, and inedible.
Tree Lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria) is common in the northeast and north-central regions on Minnesota. It is found on trees, mossy rocks, and wood in mature coniferous and deciduous forests. It is sensitive to atmospheric pollution and is considered a good indicator of a rich, healthy, unpolluted forest.
Tree Lungwort is leaf-like and is divided into large lobes. The lobes are often attached at just one end and hang loosely. They are pale brown to olive-brown and papery when dry, bright green and leathery when wet or moist. The upper surface has a conspicuous network of ridges and depressions.
Tree Lungwort is a favorite food source for moose in northeast United States. It was once thought by herbalists to be a remedy for tuberculosis because it resembles lung tissue.
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.
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.
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.