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Facebook Photography Challenge

Updated: Feb 28, 2019

Shared on Facebook during the first week of January, 2016:

Photography Challenge: I accepted the challenge to post one nature photograph for 5 days, each time with a challenge to another like-minded photographer. As a bonus, I elected to add information about each photo – although not required. Anyone welcome to join in!

Photography Challenge Day 1/5: the Western Jack (Omphalotus olivacsens)

Omphalotus olivascens, commonly known as the “Western Jack-o'-Lantern Mushroom,” is an orange-gilled mushroom that is native to California and Mexico and was first described as new to science in 1976.

A “saprotrophic” fungus, meaning it grows directly on wood hosts such as decaying stumps, buried roots, or at the base of hardwood trees, the Western Jack causes a white rot by breaking down the lignin (responsible for rigidity in wood and bark) in their host trees to use as energy.

Western Jack mushrooms are also bioluminescent! However, contrary to popular belief, they do not absorb UV light from the sun in order to “glow” at night; rather, the glowing phenomenon is caused by an oxygen-dependent chemical reaction. Studies have indicated that bioluminescent fungi aren’t always glowing, either; rather, a circadian clock controlled by temperature regulates the glow, allowing the mushrooms to only emit light when the surroundings become dark enough for insects (significant to the process of spore dispersal) to spot them.

Finally, for those who like to ask “is this edible?”: although the Western Jack may look (and smell!) appealing, all Omphalotus mushroom are poisonous, containing the toxin illudin S. While not lethal, consuming this mushroom leads to very severe cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Happy Tuesday to you from the Western Jack!

Photography Challenge Day 2/5: Black Witches’ Butter (Exidia glandulosa)

I am a total sucker for jelly fungus, so when I stumbled upon this black jelly at the end of last year I was completely elated! I was even more excited when I *thought* I’d found something special as I couldn’t locate the species in any of my mushroom ID books. Well, thanks to the internet, I didn’t make a complete fool of myself claiming I’d discovered something new to science; I googled “black witches’ butter” (this stuff looks exactly like a bright yellow fungus called “Witches’ Butter”) and by Jove if that wasn’t the actual nickname for what I'd found!

Known scientifically as Exidia glandulosa and more commonly as Black Witches’ Butter, Black Jelly Roll, or Warty Jelly Fungus, e. glandulosa is noted as being relatively common in the SF Bay Area, North America, and Europe. It is also known for being super squishy! (Which I had to mention ‘cause I like pokin’ it.)

Forming in dark blackish, rubbery-gelatinous fruit bodies up to 3 cm across, Black Witches’ Butter grows in single clumps or fuses together into rows along decaying hardwoods; it is firm when fresh (but becomes lax and distorted with age or in wet weather) and the upper, spore-bearing surface is shiny and dotted with small pimples (seen here).

Black Witches’ Butter is a natural recycler - a "saprobic" fungi - that gains energy through the extracellular (outside the cell) digestion of dead or decaying organic matter, in this case wood. Hooray for nature’s recyclers! Most typically found on recently fallen tree trunks, branches, or sticks (especially on Oak), this species is widely distributed in Spring, Fall and early Winter.

But is it edible (people always ask me)? Well, yes; yes it is – but why? Why would you want to eat this? If you’re that starved for a meal I’d suggest splurging on a .25c banana from Trader Joe's – but if anyone dare snack on this gelatinous sucker I’d certainly love to hear about it. :D

Happy Wednesday, everyone, and thanks for reading! Have you poked any Black Witches’ Butter today?

Photography Challenge Day 3/5: Shaggy Mane Inky Cap (Coprinus comatus)

I find Coprinoid mushrooms, commonly referred to as “inky caps” to be some of the most fascinating fungi! This prominent group of saprobes (nature’s recyclers) has gills that liquefy, resulting in the "ink" (which can actually be used to write!) indicated in their nickname. This process of literally digesting its own flesh, known as “deliquescing,” is designed to improve the spreading of spores; as the mushroom’s gills liquefy from the bottom up, mature spores are better exposed to wind currents for optimal dispersal. As their lifespan progresses, the gills begin to curl into themselves, changing the mushroom’s shape from oval (young, seen from the side) to bell-shaped (adolescent) and, eventually, more or less flat (mature).

Interestingly there are over 20 different species of mushroom that deliquesce – all of which have been adopted under the scientific name “Coprinus”. However, recent DNA studies show that mushrooms whose gills liquefy into black goo are not necessarily closely related to one another. In fact, the traditional genus Coprinus, which was conceived on the idea of deliquescing gills, turns out to hold mushrooms that are so far apart genetically that they do not even belong to the same family, let alone the same genus.

My favorite of the Coprinoid fungi is the “Shaggy Mane Inky Cap” – and that’s not just because its fuzzy appearance has earned it the nickname “Lawyer’s Wig.” When young, the Shaggy Mane is prized as an excellent-tasting edible mushroom; however, the mushrooms deliquesce very quickly – regardless of whether or not they are still in the ground – so fresh-picked specimens must be eaten immediately. Careful, though! The mushroom can sometimes be confused with the “magpie fungus,” which is poisonous.

A sizeable, common fungus, the Shaggy Mane is often found growing on lawns, along gravel roads, and in waste areas. Fruiting in late Fall, I now look forward to “Shaggy Mane season” every year; these guys pop up outside my work building in groups visible from my 4th floor office window! Aside from the weekly stress over the imminent, mushroom-hacking groundskeepers, they are a delight to watch grow.

And thus you have the Shaggy Mane Inky Cap: a mushroom that digests itself!

Photography Challenge Day 4/5: Turkey Tail Mushrooms (Trametes versicolor)

Trametes versicolor, meaning “several colors,” is one of the most common mushrooms in North America. Found worldwide, their various hues of brown, orange, maroon, green (for those hosting green algae), and even purple and blue are reminiscent of the plume of feathers in turkeys - earning them the nickname “Turkey Tails”. These mushrooms are strikingly "zonate" with sharply contrasting concentric zones of color, and a fuzzy or velvety cap surface.

Found virtually anywhere there is dead hardwood to decompose, these saprobic fungi grow in dense, overlapping shelf-like clusters or rosettes on logs and stumps, year-round(!). Bracket fungi, meaning they form thin, leather/leaf-like structures in concentric circles, trametes versicolor have tiny pores on their undersides, which emit spores, and place them in the polypore family.

Turkey Tail mushrooms have been used to treat various illnesses for thousands of years in Asia, Europe, and by indigenous peoples in North America; records of Turkey Tails being brewed as medicinal tea date back to the early 15th century, during the Ming Dynasty in China. In Japan, the fungi is known as kawaritake, or "cloud mushrooms," evoking an image of swirling clouds overhead. In many Asian cultures, Turkey Tails' symbolize longevity, health, spiritual attunement and infinity. Since the late 1960s, researchers in Japan have focused on how Turkey Tails can benefit human health; extracts of the fungus have been found to boost the immune system and even help to fight cancer. To read more about how Turkey Tails can aid in cancer treatments (administered simultaneously with chemotherapy), you can check out this article by the world’s leading mycologist Paul Stamets:

And there you have it: the Turkey Tail mushroom. Gobble, gobble & Happy Tuesday, friends!

Photography Challenge Day 5/5: Bolete Mushrooms (Boletus sp.)

Have you ever seen a toadstool without gills? If so, you were likely looking at a bolete mushroom!

There are over 100 species of bolete mushrooms worldwide – stemming from an *original* bolete who decided, somewhere along the line of natural history, that the most successful way to pass along its’ spores was through tubes instead of “traditional” gills. explains these pore structures best: imagine taking a paper towel tube and affixing numerous seeds to the inside; repeat the procedure with many other tubes and then glue them all together. Now suspend these tubes from a board, so they hang downward, and wait for the seeds to fall out. You have officially created a model bolete! In nature, these tubes are so tightly packed that, when viewing a bolete from below, one sees only a sponge-resembling pore surface composed of tube openings. Any toadstool mushroom with this porous, sponge-like underside can be classified as a bolete mushroom.

With very few exceptions, boletes are “mycorrhizal” partners with trees. This means that they are involved in a symbiotic relationship with the roots of specific tree species. (Using gilled-mushrooms as an example: the whimsical red-capped, white-spotted Amanita Muscaria mushrooms favor growing under Pine trees, whereas the deadly Amanita Phalloides (Death Cap) mushrooms prefer to grow under Oaks.) Symbiosis occurs when the cells of the mushroom’s mycelium (root system) surround the tree rootlets with a sheath, allowing the mushroom to assist the tree in water and nutrient absorption, while the tree provides the sugars and amino acids that the mushroom requires. Thus, bolete mushrooms can be found in forest and urban ecosystems across the world - wherever ectomycorrhizal trees are present.

Edibility? According to mushroom connoisseurs, some boletes, such as the King Bolete, rank with the best-tasting mushrooms in the world when picked young and fresh. However, as with all mushrooms, it is important to identify any bolete carefully before consuming; although there are no deadly bolete mushrooms, many are considered poisonous due to their tendency to cause very unpleasant (but recoverable) gastrointestinal distress. A helpful hint: most poisonous boletes (but not all) “stain” blue almost instantly after being touched - meaning their flesh “bruises” a blue hue after handling (such as the one pictured here). Wondering if a bolete is edible? Start by poking it!

And there you have it! You’ve learned about a new genus of mushrooms. Now when you’re out in the woods and spot a mushroom-shaped sponge, you’ll know it’s a bolete.

Have a happy Wednesday, everyone!

Thus concludes the 5-day challenge. Big thanks to those who played along!

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