Friday, November 8, 2013

Velvet Foot Mushrooms

Several years ago, Mort Shurtz girdled this tree as part of a TSI project (Timber Stand Improvement) at Valley Water Mill.  What we didn't realize at the time was he was just feeding fungus.  Mark Bower, who photographed it, tells me that a forest is just a fungus farm and the TSI is simply feeding it.

This beauty is Flammulina velutipes, a fungus that enjoys the cold, appearing in the last days of fall.  Its cap is slightly sticky with a rubbery feel.  It only grows on hardwoods, although if the wood is buried in dirt it may look like it grows on the soil itself.  The stem is darkened at the base and has a fuzzy or hairy surface.  Its common name is "Velvet Foot" and it is easy to see why in the picture of its stem below.

"Velvet Foot" stem - Mark Bower
The "enoki or "enokitake," mushroom you find in the grocery stores and restaurants, is a cultivated form of Flammulina velutipes.  DNA studies suggest that the haplotype found in North America may have originated in Asia and made it across the Bering Land Bridge at the end of the last ice age. This mushroom can add to its pedigree the title "astronaut" as Michael Kuo describes below.
"In 1993 cultures of Flammulina velutipes were flown on the Space Shuttle Columbia in order to determine how the mushrooms would handle low gravity. Like many wood-inhabiting mushrooms, Flammulina velutipes typically bends its stem near the base, then grows straight up, resulting in a cap that is more or less parallel to the ground--presumably so that spores will fall easily from the gills. Aboard the space shuttle, however, the mushrooms got confused, growing out of a simulated tree trunk at all angles. In other words, they lost their balance."  See research at
Not bad for a little fungus that ended up growing on a girdled tree at Valley Water Mill.

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