Coral fungus

I almost stepped on this small fungus — it was maybe two and a half inches tall — when I was out for a walk today. I’m not competent to identify it, but between my field guides and iNaturalist, I’m thinking it’s a coral fungus in genus Clavulinopsis. Not that I’m particularly anxious to learn what species it is. I’m more interested in its weird beauty: delicate little sculptural forms rising up out of the woodland litter.

Coral fungus, perhaps genus Clavulinopsis


When I was walking around the cemetery this evening, I saw some spectacular shelf fungus growing on the side of a eucalyptus stump.

Sulphur Shelf (Laetiporus. gilbertsonii)

David Arora, in his comprehensive 1986 book Mushrooms Demystified, identifies this as Laetiporus sulphures, but the more recent book Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast (2016) by Noah Seigel and Christian Schwarz identify it as L. gilbertsonii — turns out L. sulphures was split into three species in 2001.

Close-up photo of the underside of L. gilbertsonii showing pores

Common names for L. gilbertsonii include Sulphur Shelf and Chicken of the Woods. As you’d guess with a name like “Chicken of the Woods,” you can eat it, and supposedly if it’s cooked correctly it does taste something like chicken. However, in a few individuals it can cause vomiting. (This apparently happens more often with the two western species, L. gilbertsonii and L. conifericola; not so much with the eastern species, L. sulphures.) I have a weak stomach, and I’m not an experienced mushroom hunter to begin with, so I didn’t try to eat it.

But it is beautiful, and finding it made my day.


We had a long dry spell which lasted through most of January and February. The soil got dry, and not much was growing. March has brought us some rain, and finally the soil is getting damp again. Although the total rainfall for this season is still only half what it should be, there’s enough moisture that weeds are starting to grow in our garden beds, and a few mushrooms have started to appear, sometimes in odd places.

Like this mushroom, probably in genus Psathyrella, which just appeared today, growing up through some rounded rocks spread around one of the memorials in the cemetery:

And this Turkey-Tail, Trametes versicolor, growing on a stump left after the cemetery crew cleared some brush last fall:

The shelter-in-place order in our county forbids us from driving to parks or nature preserves, but fortunately you don’t need to drive somewhere else to find nature. These mushrooms, and several others, were all within a five minute walk of our house. And by having to stay at home, I find I actually have more time to spend looking for mushrooms, flowers, insects, and tracks — I’ve uploaded more observations to my iNaturalist page in the past week than I had uploaded in the previous four months.


It has been a moist winter, and I’ve been seeing quite a few mushrooms walking around San Mateo. Most of the mushrooms I’ve been seeing are small and inconspicuous, but a few days ago I came across a showy large orange fungus in a hidden location. Today I went back and took some photographs:

I feel fairly confident assigning this to genus Gymnopilus, given the large diameter of the cap (6+ inches / 15+ cm), its orangeish color, and the fact that it is growing on decaying wood (a rotting stump that could be either a conifer or deciduous tree). Based on the description in A Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America (Kent and Vera B. McKnight, Houghton Mifflin, 1987), and without examining spores under a miscroscope or doing chemical tests, I’ll venture a guess that this is Showy Flamecap (Gymnopilus spectabilus, considered by some to be conspecific with G. junonius); however, this is an uninformed guess on my part, and it could easily be another Gymnopilus species. According to Michael Kuo, “identifying the species of Gymnopilus, in North America anyway, cannot yet be done with scientific accuracy.” (Laura Guzman-Davalos et al. [Mycologia, 95(6), 2003, pp. 1204–1214] found genetic evidence that the spectabilis-imperialis complex represents a clade, but they did not attempt to resolve the distinctions between species within this subgroup of Gymnopilus.) So it’s best to leave the identification as Gymnopilus species.

(Revised on Feb. 4. Written on Jan. 19 and posted on Jan. 25; I held this post for several days, because subspecies of Gymnopilus junonius from the eastern U.S. and Korea may contain psilocybin. I didn’t want some idiot to find this mushroom and, based on my very tentative identification, ingest it hoping for hallucinations. The mushroom in the photographs is now pretty well decayed, so that danger is past.)


Even though we’ve had less than half the amount of rain we should have received at this point in the rainy season — we’ve only gotten 3.05 inches, while the normal value is 6.52 inches — nevertheless the ground is damp and mushrooms are starting to emerge. Walking around the cemetery this evening, I almost stepped on a small cluster of mushrooms growing up in the middle of the gravel drive close to one of the mausoleums.

Ground-level view of mushrooms with mausoleum in the background

The caps of the mushrooms are about one half to three-quarters of an inch across, and the stipes are a quarter to half an inch tall. I find mushroom identification intimidating, so all I’m willing to say is that this organism probably belongs in the order Agaricales; perhaps it belongs in the family Agariaceae. When the mushrooms get larger (if they don’t get crushed) I’ll try to get some spores to see what color they are.