April Mushroom of the Month: The Jelly Fungus

|Kevyn Fowler|

If you’re looking for some fresh air and safe social distance, there are few better places than the woods. Peace and quiet, lots of things and creatures to see and hear, and it’s a great way to unplug and recharge.

This time of year, waterproof boots are a must for keeping your feet dry, and believe it or not, ticks are out and tick checks are a must after every outing from now until early winter. The early season is tough for a mushroom hunter/photographer, but there are a few hidden gems to search for this time of year, and one of them is the Jelly fungi group. After the recent rains, these fungus swell up and are very common and easy to find.

Right now the Amber Jelly, (Exidia crenata) is really popping. Look on the ground for fallen hardwood, especially oak, branches. Usually the smaller twigs and branch ends are the favorite substrate for Amber Jelly.

Amber Jelly fungus
Amber jelly on fallen oak branch. Photo: Kevyn Fowler
Amber jelly fungus with sunlight shining through. Photo: Kevyn Fowler

A day or two after a good rain these swell up and are very pretty with the light shining through, like little jewels arranged on the branch. They will also shrink up when dried, and fill with water again following a good rain.

Here’s a stick I kept where you can clearly see this adaptation:

Jewel-like amber jelly fungus after rain. Photo: Kevyn Fowler
Dried amber jelly fungus. Photo: Kevyn Fowler

 Another very colorful group of jelly fungus are the Yellow Witch’s Butter (Tremella mesenterica) and the Orange Jelly (Dacrymyces group). The Tremella grows on hardwood species, especially alder, and the Dacrymyces will be found on dead and dying conifer species.These can often be seen from a distance, despite their small size, and sometimes grow all along the tree or branch or log they’re found on.

The Yellow Witch’s Butter has some interesting cultural history. In some Scandinavian areas, if you found this growing on the gate to your home or a fencepost nearby, you were supposed to pierce it with a pin to release the liquid and break the witch’s spell that has been placed on your home!

Yellow Witch’s Butter on an alder branch. Photo: Kevyn Fowler

One interesting thing about the Tremella mesenterica is that it isn’t actually feeding on the branch, it is parasitizing a much smaller fungus on the branch.

The Orange Jelly has a number of similar species, and I find them on standing dead or fallen, moss covered hemlock. They come in different shapes and sizes, but are always colorful to find and photograph.

Orange Jelly growing through the bark of a dead hemlock. Photo: Kevyn Fowler
Another related species. Photo: Kevyn Fowler
Orange Jelly fungus sprouting from a moss-covered log. Photo: Kevyn Fowler

The Jelly fungi are all considered edible, but are really unsubstantial and generally flavorless, and aren’t widely considered table fare. Some folks dry the Amber Jelly to make a kind of “raisin”, and also it can be used as a thickener or added to stir fry for something different.

These fungi swell and shrink around the rains of spring and fall, so watch for these little splashes of color and life during your Spring walk in the woods.

Next month: another early season arrival, the strange and wonderful Gyromitra esculenta, or False Morel.

——————-Disclaimer: you should never, ever eat any mushrooms unless you are 150 percent certain you know you have the right species. The old adage, “when in doubt throw it out” has likely saved many a novice forager’s life. Also the author (and NGXchange) assume no responsibility or risk arising from the information in this article.