Monday, April 10, 2017

Hattie's Witch's Butter

On the April 1st wildflower walk, we had a guest mycologist named Hattie.  She is an expert on finding things on the forest floor as she is built lower to the ground. While we were engrossed in all the early spring blossoms and emerging leaves, she discovered this fungus.  Soon she was demonstrating it to all of the assembled botanists. 

Crust fungus (Peniophora sp.fruiting body parasitized by Witch's Butter - Mark Bower
The orange fungus is Witch's Butter.  Hattie could pronounce that (sorta) but didn't know the scientific name so we had to rely on Mark Bower to identify it as Tremella mesenterica. 
 This is a jelly fungus that is a common find on dead wood.  I had assumed that it is a saprophyte but it actually is a parasite.  As Mark explained, the mycelium of T. mesenterica parasitizes the mycelium of crust fungi of the Peniophora genus, a saprophytic species found mostly on oaks.

Witch's Butter - Mark Bower
The British also call this the Yellow Brain Fungus.  The fruiting body of the fungus (a mushroom to most of us) comes out bright yellow and gelatinous after a rain, then shrivels up some and turns orange as it dries up.  I prefer the name Witch's Butter because of the explanation from Tom Volk’s Fungi:
"Why the curious name for such an innocuous-looking fungus? Well according to some eastern European legends, this fungus appears on your gate or on the entrance to your house when you have been put under a spell by a witch! The only way to get rid of the hex is to prick the witch's butter with straight pins, which makes the inner juices of the fruiting body leak out, killing the fungus, thus allowing you to live your life witch-free once again. I'm guessing the witch's butter hex is probably not a true story, but I'm not taking any chances…"
I tried to explain some of this to Hattie but she just gave me the stare that said, "Really?"  You can see Hattie and her new buddy Drew in action in this video by Linda Bower, and you have one more chance to join in this Saturday.

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