Friday, December 17, 2010
The Blushing Bracket has none of the traditional trappings of other Christmas flora like holly and ivy, poinsettias or pine boughs. So, imagine my surprise (and delight) when attending a Christmas party, to find two fungal brackets standing proudly in an elegant floral centerpiece of white roses and holly, saving the whole arrangement from predictability.
Name: This mushroom has a number of common names and I have chosen to use the alliterative one which rolls off the tongue more easily than Thin-walled Maze Polypore or Thin-maze Flat Polypore. The names are all attempts to describe some of the attributes of the mushroom. The binomial is Daedaleopsis confragosa where the genus name refers to Daedalus, the Greek character of myth, and the species name means “rough.” My friends and acquaintances in mycological circles simply refer to the mushroom by its genus name, pronounced “duh-DALL-ee-OP-sis.” The suffix -opsis means “similar to” so the name is telling us that it is similar to fungi in the genus Daedalea of which it used to be a member. When the taxonomists with their labyrinthine logic decided to reclassify this species, they chose a name that seems to say “big sorry – but can we be excused because it does in fact look like the thing we originally thought it was.” They could have just called it Pluto.
When and where found: In addition to specimens you might find in floral arrangements, there are several fruitings of this mushroom on a fallen tree along the Catbrier Trail in the Davis Corridor. The mushroom is an annual but its woody nature allows it to persist for several years. It is fairly common and will survive the snow and ice of winter so you can see it all year round. It grows on hardwoods, mostly willow and birch (rarely on oak) and mostly on dead trees.
Distinguishing characteristics: The brackets are fairly flat, tough and woody, up to six inches across, and have concentric bands of brownish and off-white colors. When growing on the side of a standing tree they are fan-shaped but when on the top side of a fallen tree they may form a full circle. Sometimes they have just a single tier, or sometimes overlapping tiers. On the underside you see pores which are the open ends of spore-producing tubes. In fresh young specimens the pore surface is whitish but turns pink if you bruise it, hence the name Blushing Bracket. The arrangement of the pores is the reason that the genus is named for Daedalus, the designer of the maze that contained the mythical man-eating Minotaur. The word “daedaloid” is an adjective in the lexicon of mycology and describes a maze-like pore surface. The pores of many bracket fungi are often circular and unchanging but in the Blushing Bracket and some closely related species the pores become elongated and daedaloid. In age, some of the cross-walls break down and the underside then looks like it has gills.
Lookalikes: Many bracket mushrooms are either wedge-shaped or have a convex top. This one is more-or-less flat-topped which is part of why it is sometimes called the Thin-maze Flat Polypore. Also, some of the daedaloid ones have tubes with relatively thick walls. This one has thin walls and is therefore sometimes called the Thin-walled Maze Polypore.
Home Decorating:. I hardly have a Martha Stewart bone in my body. I live my life in a deep sub-Martha zone but the fungi in the flowers got me thinking. If I had a Christmas tree, I would place one of the Blushing Brackets I collected from the Catbrier Trail on the top. Instead, I will hang it like a sun-catcher in front of a window, just below a string of Christmas fish.
References: Audubon Field Guide to Mushrooms, Gary H. Lincoff; Mushrooms of North America, Roger Phillips; Mushrooms Demystified, David Arora.
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