Mar 15 2013

Fundamentals of Fungi: Would a Witch Really Spread This on Toast?

Possibly not, because it may not be actual witches’ butter.

Fungi I

Fungi I

I’d meant to get down to Juanita Bay, where I had my first encounter with witches’ butter, but that didn’t quite happen. Instead, I ended up at that bit of North Creek I haven’t fully explored. I wasn’t expecting any encounters with fabulous fungi. But there was a causeway out to an island, which may not be there if the pond fills up full, so I tramped over for a look and got smacked in the eye by brilliant orange.

Fungi II

Fungi II

It was occupying a snag beside the causeway. Most of us tend to think of snags as old dead things that just haven’t fallen down yet, but this thing was full of life. You should be noticing some Trametes versicolor on there, growing happily alongside the possible-but-not-probable witches’ butter. And then there’s this:

Fungus III

Fungus III

I’m not sure if that irregular brown patchy stuff is turkey tail fungus that didn’t get the memo about looking like an actual turkey’s tail, or if it’s something else altogether. Doesn’t matter – it’s alive. So is the lichen and moss that’s colonized. And then there’s the fuzzy stuff, which was also growing happily on a ginormous tree elsewhere in the park. I’ll show you it later. Right now, we’re busy with butter. Or not.

Fungi IV

Fungi IV

See, the reason I’m not convinced it’s witches’ butter is because it’s not all shiny and slick. There’s a close cousin of witches’ butter, Tremella aurantia, also known as golden ear, and it’s matte. So this is possibly that. Which means no self-respecting witch would ever spread this on her toast. Might use it as a centerpiece on the breakfast table, though.

Fungi V

Fungi V

Some of these may have medical applications, you know. Witches’ butter alone has a laundry list of potential effects, “including immunostimulatory, protecting against radiation, antidiabetic, anti-inflammatory, hypocholesterolemic, hepatoprotective, and antiallergic effects.” That’s a lot for a little fungus. And who knows if its cousin, which this might be, might do more? We can’t just walk away going, “Eew, fungus!” even if we don’t happen to think it’s pretty. It could be important to us someday.

I think it’s beautiful, though. Look at it adding a splash of color to a dreary scene.

Fungus VI

Fungus VI

Like biological flames, that. Lovely.


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  1. 1

    The compound in witches’ butter that has been shown to have the therapeutic effects, glucuronoxylomannan, appears to be widely studied. I may be facing a course of treatment with prednisone, which I can’t tolerate because I am prone to steroid psychosis. Studies show it is better tolerated than steroids and has similar effects. I would be grateful to know where I could obtain this compound for a trial.

  2. 2
    Donald Strong

    From a mycologist friend to whom I sent the link,

    “Very nice!

    The shelf mushroom is actually a species of Stereum- looks like turkey tail
    from above but is different below the cap.

    What is cool about these images is that they show the biology of the witches
    butter (or whatever Tremella species it is) quite nicely. These types of
    jelly fungi are really good mycoparasites. So the jelly is actually
    parasitizing the shelf mushroom. “

  3. 3

    That’s vorveous! And snags are also important to the UFD’s, of course.

  4. 4

    “Vorveous”! Should be gorgeous, of course. Serves me right for posting on the phone.

  5. 5

    I know from watching lots of television while growing up that eating certain margarine will cause a crown to appear on the consumer’s head – will eating witch’s butter cause a tall pointy black hat to appear instead?

  6. 6

    Yumyum, indeed! ;)

  7. 7

    Cool! Further confusing the issue, here in the UK “Witches’ Butter” refers to another jelly fungus Exidia glandulosa, which is black 8-)

  8. 8
    Lithified Detritus

    Actually, I kind of liked “Vorveous.” Thought for just a moment that I had learned a new word. :-)

    Slime molds are pretty cool, too.


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