November 27, 2009

A Walk in the Woods: Large Shelf Mushrooms

Walking the same paths day after day, year after year, never becomes dull; there's always a new inflection of light, a new object seen, a slight change to notice. Occasionally, because of the time of day, or the turn of my head, I see something startling that once seen, seems utterly impossible to have missed. This happened a couple of days ago when I glanced at a large tree that seemed to have many shelf mushrooms climbing up its trunk. I clambered up to the tree and looked up and down, muttering "holy mackerel" and other assorted exclamations. There was a skirt of overlapping mushrooms around the base of the tree and many groupings of undulating shelves ascending its trunk, transforming the tree into a fanciful sculpture.


  1. What is the relationship of the mushrooms to the trees?

  2. Many shelf mushrooms live on dead trees and are useful in breaking down the wood. But I didn't know about how they affect live trees, so looked it up. It turns out they don't have a beneficial relationship:

    "The shelf fungi are a major wood rotting group. Once a tree is infected, the fungus cannot be killed. They cause millions of dollars in damage through lost wood production and lumber decay. The only treatment may be to harvest younger trees before the rot spreads too far. Cutting younger trees also has some negative effects. The loss of older trees has caused the local extinction of some shelf fungi. The infected trees also provide nesting sites for birds and squirrels. The rotten wood is easy to excavate and logs provide cover. These rots attack the top of a tree, the heart wood inside, and the base of the stem. The tree stem often breaks as a result even though the tree is still alive and has leaves. The mycelium, body of the fungus, decomposes chemicals in the tree cells."

  3. Disturbingly organic, like alien life forms.
    Great photos.

  4. Your wonderful mushroom photos remind me of Sylvia Plath's poem "Mushrooms", with the lines:

    We are shelves, we are
    Tables, we are meek,
    We are edible,
    We shall by morning
    Inherit the earth.
    Our foot's in the door.

  5. wow, Fresca, what an apt poem for this post. It echoes Linda's "disturbingly organic" and the description of wood damage, and puts it in terms of beauty. At times, seeing masses of mushrooms pop up suddenly in the woods, it does seem to me that they "shall by morning/inherit the earth."Thanks for sharing the poem.