It’s the season for mushrooms, and we’ve had some beautiful ones this fall! Mushrooms, like most fungal fruiting bodies, are fairly ephemeral. An exception to this “here today, gone tomorrow” fungal phenomenon are the woody bracket fungi (conks). They live on and on, growing annually, for years, parasitizing living trees or decomposing dead ones.
Shown here is one called “artist’s bracket,” Ganoderma applanatum, that was growing on a sugar maple. Yes, artists like to use its lower surface to leave their mark. Carving into the creamy soft surface exposes the darker layer beneath. You can see that inner darker layer on the one shown here, which has been injured by some grasses that grew into the conk as it expanded. If you wait until the conk has dried, you can paint on that surface instead of carving into it. And usually an artist’s conk can be stood up on end for display — I have yet to meet an artist who doesn’t enjoy displaying their work.
Ganoderma is the most common genus of bracket fungi. (Ganoderma means “shiny surface.”) Ganodermas are used extensively in traditional medicine so are an important genus economically. But the most common woody bracket fungus in our woods is Black Locust Bracket, Phellinus robinae. (Phellinus means “corky.”) Dark brown and deeply cracked, these are found on many, many black locust trees on and around the Domain.
When trying to identify a mushroom or bracket fungus, a first step is to see if the lower surface is composed of gills or pores. Both of those shown here are pore fungi — spores are produced in straw-like tubes and released through pores. The Black Locust Bracket is broken, and several annual layers of tubes — looks like five? — are visible. The upper surface is covered in moss, giving it quite the “old man of the woods” look!