- What Is Jelly Fungus: Will Jelly Fungi Harm My Tree?
- What is Jelly Fungus?
- Will Jelly Fungi Harm My Tree?
- Brown Witches Butter Tremella foliacea
- Brown Witches Butter: (Tremella foliacea)
- 1. Shelf Fungus
- 2. Cap Fungus
- 3. Jelly Fungus
- Piedmont Gardener
- Ask Mr. Smarty Plants
What Is Jelly Fungus: Will Jelly Fungi Harm My Tree?
Long, soaking spring and fall rains are vital to trees in the landscape, but they can also reveal secrets about the health of these plants. In many areas, jelly-like fungi seem to appear out of nowhere when moisture is abundant, sending home gardeners scrambling for answers.
What is Jelly Fungus?
Jelly fungus belongs to the class Heterobasidiomycetes; it’s a distant cousin of the mushroom. These fungi appear in a wide range of colors, from white to orange, yellow, pink or even black, and have a gelatinous texture when exposed to sufficient moisture. One of the most remarkable features of these fungi is their ability to absorb as much as 60 times their weight in water, turning them from tiny, dried up nubs to short-lived natural art in no time.
Many kinds of jelly fungus appear on trees, but among the most common are jelly ear fungus and witches butter. As the name implies, jelly ear fungus resembles a brown or rust-colored human ear in shape when it is fully hydrated, but on a dry day, it is more of a dried up, raisin looking fungus. Witches butter is often much smaller, so can almost disappear entirely when it’s dry – after a rain, it resembles bright yellow or orange globs of butter.
Will Jelly Fungi Harm My Tree?
Though jelly fungus on trees looks insidious, this is usually a beneficial organism. A few species are parasites of other fungus, but most help to break down dead tree matter – that’s why they’re often seen by hikers wandering in the woods. This is both good news and bad news for your tree.
The healthy tissues of your tree aren’t in any danger of being damaged by jelly fungus, but their presence indicates that your tree is rotting internally at the point where they’re feeding. If it’s a slow rot, it may go unnoticed for years, but as jelly fungus populations grow, their sudden explosion in weight during a rainstorm can cause these already weakened branches to snap.
A few jelly fungi aren’t anything to worry about, simply prune away affected branches and discard the material. If jelly fungi are widespread and feeding on your tree’s trunk, however, you should call in a professional arborist to assess the health of your tree. Trees with hidden internal rot are serious hazards in the landscape and by calling in an expert, you can prevent injury to your home and the people around it.
Jelly fungi belong to several orders within the subphylum Agaricomycotina, and are identifiable by the jelly-like consistency of their fruiting bodies, although they range widely in color and shape. This particular specimen found at a conservation area in Mashpee was rubbery and gelatinous (Think: the consistency of a gummy bear). Although many jelly fungi will shrivel and dry up if there is an extended period with no rain, when exposed to water they will return to their original form; they have the ability to absorb up to 60 times their weight in water, allowing them to transform from tiny dried up bumps to bulbous gelatinous shapes in no time.
Although it is difficult to positively identify exactly what species of jelly fungus this is, my guess would be that it’s Exidia glandulosa, also known by the common names of black witches’ butter, black jelly roll, or warty jelly fungus. It certainly fits the description of E. glandulosa, which is a common wood rotting fungus throughout Europe and North America, often found on dead or decaying oak branches as this one was. Other identifying features, which lead me to believe it is E. glandulosa, include:
- Fruiting bodies are sepia to black and disc-shaped, although their shape will warp and distort with age.
- The upper surface of fruiting bodies is dotted with small pimples.
- Fruiting bodies are approximately 1 to 1.5 inches in diameter.
- Fruiting bodies are often produced in the fall and winter.
Because jelly fungi only attack the dead and rotting portions of the tree, the healthy tissues of the tree are not in danger of being damaged. Although E. glandulosa often persists on fallen branches, the presence of jelly fungus on a living tree would indicate that the tree is rotting internally where the fungus is growing.
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Brown Witches Butter Tremella foliacea
Brown Witches Butter: (Tremella foliacea)
Above is a young specimen…and…, below a fully mature one:
- Similar Species
- Medicinal Info
- Habitat and Range
Above is a very light colored example. This “Brown” species varies considerably with different shades of brown… (or maybe there will be distinctions made and the species separated into a few diverse groups… We shall see!
Above shows another very differently colored specimen…
New pics added 7-14-2019:
Tremella foliacea is often mistaken for the common “Tree Ear” Mushroom…
Tree Ear (Black Fungus in Hot and Sour Soup)
Tremella foliacea is variable and may represent a complex of similar species across its range. Chen (1998) described three new species in the “foliacea” group, based on microscopic differences and on DNA sequencing: Tremella vasifera from Germany and T. fuscosuccinea and T. neofoliacea from Taiwan. Tremella coffeicolor (synonym T. auricularia), originally described from Bermuda, is similar, but has larger basidia and spores. It is also known from the Azores, the Caribbean islands, and South America.
Tremella mushrooms contain high amounts of fiber and vitamin D. In a study done on mice, Tremella mushrooms were found to be among the top cancer and tumor-inhibiting fungi. Tremella mushrooms have been shown to be effective in treating leukopenia, the loss of white blood cells, in cancer patients undergoing radiation and chemotherapy. Tremella mushrooms have been found to help lower blood glucose levels and cholesterol, and can help boost the body’s antioxidant levels.
Tremella foliacea is a species of fungus producing brownish, frondose, gelatinous basidiocarps (fruit bodies). It is widespread, particularly in north temperate regions, and is parasitic on other species of fungi (Stereum spp.), that grow on dead attached and recently fallen branches of broadleaf trees and conifers. Common names include leafy brain, jelly leaf, and brown witches butter. The species is said to be edible, but is not much valued. Fruit bodies are gelatinous, pale to dark brown, sometimes purple-brown to almost black, up to 20 cm (8 in) across, and seaweed-like (with branched, undulating fronds). Microscopically, the hyphae are clamped and occur in a dense gelatinous matrix. Haustorial cells arise on the hyphae, producing filaments that attach to and penetrate the hyphae of the host. The basidia are tremelloid (globose to ellipsoid, with oblique to vertical septa), 10 to 19 by 8 to 14 μm, usually unstalked. The basidiospores are mostly ellipsoid, smooth, 6.5 to 10 by 4.5 to 8 μm, and germinate by hyphal tube or by yeast cells.
Habitat and Range:
Tremella foliacea is a parasite of Stereum species (including S. rugosum, S. hirsutum and S. sanguinolentum), growing on the host’s hyphae in the wood rather than on the host’s fruit bodies. Following its hosts, fruit bodies of T. foliacea are typically found on dead, attached or recently fallen branches of broadleaf trees and conifers.
The species has a cosmopolitan distribution and is known from North & South America, Europe, northern Asia, north Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
Tremella mushrooms are generally white or yellow-white, semi-transparent mushrooms, although some varieties may be brown in color. Tremella mushrooms are soft and gelatinous when moist, and tend to shrink and become leathery with age. Tremella mushrooms consist of a lettuce-like fruiting body, attached to a central base. The lettuce-like structures are relatively thin, being around 0.5 millimeters in thickness, and hollow. Inconsistent in size, they can range from 4 to 15 centimeters in length. Tremella mushrooms are lacking in flavor, and are more about texture rather than taste. They are somewhat rubbery and soft, but have a slight bite to them.
What’s growing on that tree? This is a question you may have asked yourself once or twice on a walk around your neighborhood, in the park, or out in the wilderness somewhere. If you’ve ever wondered about an odd-looking growth on a trunk, stump, or branch, you’re not alone. Many of us would love to be masters at identifying tree fungus, so that’s why we’ve made this handy guide!
Keep in mind that fungus growing on a tree is usually a good sign that the tree is decaying or dying. Because fungi feed on organic matter, they are often a sure sign that a tree is nearing the end of its life. Tree fungi come in diverse arrays of shapes and sizes. There are a few growth forms of fungus that are easily identifiable. We’ll go over some of the main types of tree fungus and how to identify them.
In order to identify a tree fungus, the main thing to look for is the general shape and texture. The part you see is actually the fruiting body of a fungus, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the organism is the hidden mycelium which the fungus uses to retrieve nutrients, like the roots of a plant. The most important part of a fungus in order to identify it, however, is the visible part. Here are 3 common types of tree fungus and examples to look for:
1. Shelf Fungus
This type of fungus is named after the easily identifiable shape they create. They look like little shelves that protrude from the trunk or branches of a tree. Although they all exhibit the same general shape, they can be all sorts of colors and textures.
Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma applanatum)
Another super abundant shelf fungus is the artist’s conk. You can find it growing on many species of trees, from conifers to broad-leaf trees. It’s a thick shelf fungus, with brown on the top and white on the bottom. If you think you’ve identified one, to be sure, try drawing a picture on the underside with a twig or even your fingernail, and see how the artist’s conk got its name!
Turkey Tail Fungus (Trametes versicolor)
One of the more common species of shelf fungus is the turkey tail fungus. This one can be found all over the world, and the psychedelic colors it displays make it easy to identify.
2. Cap Fungus
When one thinks of a mushroom, the first image to appear in their head is the shape of a classic cap mushroom. Although this type of fungus is more common growing on the ground than on a tree, it’s still possible to see them on a tree trunk.
Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
An incredibly common cap fungus is the oyster mushroom. These are eaten worldwide, and are the target of many a mushroom forager. They grow in clusters and are a creamy white color. Oyster mushrooms can be found nearly everywhere in the temperate regions of the world, growing on the trunks of broad-leaf trees.
Fly Amanita (Amanita muscaria)
Fly amanita mushrooms, also simply called amanita mushrooms, can be found anywhere. You may wonder why a mushroom that grows out of the ground is on our list of tree fungus. Well, it’s because it is a tree fungus! This one is associated with the roots of a tree, an incredibly common life strategy many fungi have. Amanita mushrooms are beneficial for their host, by reducing the number of parasitic fungi that would otherwise grow on the tree. Their easily identifiable, too. Look for the bright red cap with white spots.
3. Jelly Fungus
Another fungus name that describes the organism all too well is the jelly fungus. These gelatinous blobs are sometimes called snot fungus due to their gooey, amorphous forms. It’s relatively easy to recognize this type of fungus. Here’s my favorite example of jelly fungi:
Wood Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae)
Wood ear fungus is coppery red and resembles a shelf fungus in its shape. Due to its gelatinous form, it’s actually a type of jelly fungus. You’ll find this one on dead or dying branches of trees, usually in the colder months of the year. It can also be on fallen wood on the forest floor. Like oyster mushrooms, wood ear fungus is a delicacy in some countries, despite the weird texture!
Remember – don’t go around eating random mushrooms! Many are poisonous, hallucinogenic, or deadly, and it’s easy to mistakenly identify different types. Go with a seasoned mushroom forager who knows what they’re doing. If you’re curious about learning more about foraging for mushrooms, check out our guide on identifying edible mushrooms.
The name Jelly Roll (Exidia recisa, glandulosa, nigricans) conjures up images of home made pastries with jelly and sugar, but once you see a picture of this fungus you’ll see the humor in the name. A very unsightly fungus to say the least, but Amber, Black, or Brown Jelly Roll is in the group of fungus called jelly fungus or cup fungus, another common name for these species is witch’s butter. A very common fungus, they have a gelatinous texture, but the vast majority of them are edible, some are prized in certain parts of the world. This species is found growing on recently dead hardwoods.
Edibility and Culinary Use
It is rather tasteless with a gelatinous texture, but absorbs easily flavors it is cooked with. You can eat them raw or cooked. They are used to in salads and soups. They are also very commonly seen and make for a good snack when you’re in the mood for something a little different.
Studies on nutrition and health benefits of this particular fungus are rare but fungus of the same Family are know to have many health benefits including reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Similar species also have huge amounts of proteins, fats, polysaccharides and Iron, so eating them regularly could prevent diseases related to iron deficiency such as anemia. This species probably also contains Pectin, Calcium, Vitamin D, B1, and B2.
This species is sometimes is said to be inedible, but that probably only refers to the fact that this particular species is not commonly eaten.
This is one of those foods that are often overlooked because most people would agree, it looks gross. But Jelly Roll Fungus should be consumed much more than it is now because of its health benefits. It is easy to identify and harvest, and it works well when cooked or raw.
Amber Jelly Roll ( Photo By: Andreas Kunze / Wikimedia Commons)
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Many Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) trees in the area are
getting covered with masses of orange goo-like stuff – kind of looks like something from outer space splattered over the trees. Actually, I’ve never seen it quite this heavy and widespread before. What “it” is is a fungus, called cedar-quince rust (Gymnosporangium clavipes). This is an interesting fungal organism that requires 2 different hosts to complete its life cycle. One stage occurs on junipers – in this case, the common eastern red cedar. There are actually several different rust fungi, and some look a lot alike.
This orange mass of goo will eventually dry, and release gazillions of spores, many of which will land on some host in the Rosaceae family, like apples, flowering quince,
mayhaws, pears, hawthorn, photinia, or crabapples. There they will infect the young foliage, causing yellowing, spotting and possibly heavy defoliation if the conditions are just right. Young developing fruit might also become affected, resulting in odd projections covering the fruit.
Dr. Kevin Ong, Plant Pathologist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service, has written a short article on a related species, cedar-apple rust. You can read it here.
Cedar-apple rust in late spring on eastern red cedar
Think your life is complicated? Be glad you’re not a rust fungus. If you were a rust fungus, you’d have one of the more complicated life cycles on Earth, because you’d need to find and live on two different (but specific) plants to survive and reproduce. To make life even more complicated, you’d have millions of babies (spores), and sometimes you wouldn’t even get to have sex before making your babies. Instead, they would just happen, spontaneously, when the time was right. Like, maybe one day you’d be sitting outside and it gets warm and rainy and all of a sudden you’re swelling and popping out spores. Crazy, right? But to top it all off, you might look like an alien.
Take, for instance, my personal favorite rust fungus, the cedar-apple rust, which I fondly call “The Orange Alien Fungus,” because that’s what I aptly called it before I knew its real name. The cedar-apple fungus (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae) has two hosts: cedars/junipers and apples/crabapples. In late spring, when weather gets warmer and wetter, hard, brown balls called galls that hang out on cedars all winter begin to become more gelatinous (gross) and grow orange alien tentacles (see picture). These tentacles release spores that, if they land on apple trees in moist conditions, can enter their next complicated life stage. These tiny spores released by the tentacles can travel 2-3 miles on the wind, so even if you don’t see any apple trees around, your cedar-apple alien could be making babies 2 miles away or more. Once on the apple tree, the spores will grow, and you will begin to see rust-colored spots on the leaves or apples of the tree. If you were to look at the spots under a microscope (I know you wouldn’t, but work with me here), you would see cup-shaped structures full of new spores (no sex, sadly). These spores stick to insects that transport them to new cedars, where they grow into the hard, brown balls that started our story. So, to summarize the complicated life of the cedar-apple rust, you would start out as a spore carried by an insect, grow into a hard, brown ball on the branch of a cedar tree, then grow orange disgusting tentacles, have sex and make baby spores, which would grow into spots on apple trees that make the kind of spore you originally came from.
Photos by Andre’ Surles, April 2012
Cedar-apple rust does not do much damage to cedar trees, unless you count being covered with disgusting orange alien balls as damage. However, cedar-apple rust can cause economic damage to apple crops. If you have to manage the disease, you can prune the galls off of cedar trees in the winter. Or, you can buy rust-resistant varieties of apple, which include the varieties called Redfree, Liberty, William’s Pride, and Freedom. Cedar-apple rust is just another example of just how complicated and weird being alive on Earth can be. I hope you’re enjoying your weird, complicated life as much as cedar-apple rusts must be.
Cedar-Apple Rust in spore-dispersal mode
I had never noticed Cedar-Apple Rust in nature until we moved to our current home over 22 years ago. At that time, the front door was guarded by two 40-foot-tall Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana). Their looming presence darkened the entry and kept a creaky wooden walk slimy with algal growth, due to the minimal air circulation permitted by mis-matched azaleas huddling beneath the cedars.
After a few warm spring rains, those front Cedars suddenly sprouted alien-looking bright orange growths that were slimy to the touch. Botanists refer to the dangling fruiting bodies of this stage of Cedar-Apple Rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginiae) as tentacles, but to my eye, they are more like fingers reaching out to slime any unsuspecting folks who approach too closely. The growths are cold and gelatinous to the touch, and, well, kind of gross.
This fungus completes its life cycle by alternating between two host plants — Eastern Red Cedar and members of the Apple family. The Apple family is enormous, including everything from Quince to Crabapple and Serviceberry. In my yard, I think the alternate hosts for the fungus were the sad-looking Crabapples that the previous owner had planted near the driveway, not far from the giant Junipers. The Crabapple leaves were covered in orangy spots, which I realized were the fungal growths in their Apple guise. The Crabapples tended to lose most of their leaves by mid-summer; they never bloomed well either.
After I realized what I was dealing with, we cut down the sick Crabapples. To increase air flow, we limbed up the Eastern Red Cedars, which previously had branches nearly to ground level. By the next year, the orange slimy fingers of spring were less abundant. And when we performed a major landscape overhaul to the front entry — removing those two Junipers in the process — evidence of Cedar-Apple Rust almost disappeared.
But we have a number of other large Eastern Red Cedars growing in our yard. They were here when we moved in, and I love these trees. Not only do they smell wonderful (their heartwood is what cedar chests are made from), they provide year-round cover for birds and other wildlife — and an important food source. The bluish-white berry-looking fruits on the female trees are beloved by many birds, including Cedar Wax Wings. These fruits aren’t actually berries. Junipers are conifers; the fruits are mature cones. But the birds don’t care about botanical distinctions; they just enjoy the feast provided by blue-cone-laden 40-foot trees.
This year’s humid, unusually warm April seems to have awakened quite a number of slimy orange fungal fruiting bodies. Spores travel far on winds, so they could have come from any Apple-family member in a neighbor’s yard. And when I added Serviceberry trees to my yard, I knew I might exacerbate the Cedar-Apple Rust. So far, I haven’t noticed an impact on them, but I’ll be keeping a close watch as the humid summer progresses.
If you want to grow Apples in the southeastern Piedmont, your best bet is to plant varieties that are known to be resistant to Cedar-Apple Rust and other fungal diseases. Personally, I find most fruit trees to be more trouble than they’re worth in my climate. Constant vigilance is required to protect the trees against disease and insect damage. Frankly, I just don’t have the time to watch them closely enough.
And by not needing to worry about protecting Apple trees, I can enjoy the gelatinous orange fingers of spring that adorn my big Junipers. They’re actually kind of cool — in a slimy, horror-film kind of way.
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Sunday – October 04, 2009
From: Battle Creek, MI
Topic: Edible Plants
Title: Orange/yellow fungus on a dead oak
Answered by: Nan Hampton
I have a large dead oak tree which has an orange/yellow fungus growing at the base and also high on a spot where a branch had broken off. I’ve read a couple of things from the internet about this fungus but haven’t found out about it being harmful to people or animals. And what about burning this wood once the tree is down? Can the fungus be removed and the wood used? If not,and if this is harmful,how do we dispose of it? If the wood is left lying around will it spread to other trees?
Your description of the fungus on your oak tree sounds like one of the sulphur fungi, Laetiporus sp. These are also called ‘Chicken of the Woods.’ The ones that would occur in Michigan on hardwoods are Laetiporus sulphureus or Laetiporus cincinnatus. Laetiporus gilbertsonii grows on hardwoods along the West Coast. There are also ones that grow on conifers—Laetiporus huroniensis in the Great Lakes Area and Laetiporus conifericola on the West Coast. They are apparently edible and delicious when cooked and eaten when they are young and tender. They are reputed to taste like chicken. However, we would NOT recommend eating any mushroom unless it was identified and declared by a mushroom expert as completely safe to eat.
By the time you see the yellow/orange mushroom (the fruiting body that produces spores) growing on the outside, the health of the tree has been pretty severely compromised by the mycelium of the fungus growing inside the tree. This particular mushroom causes the heartwood to rot. Probably the wood of this dead tree is not useful for much except as firewood. Burning the wood should be a safe way to dispose of it. The heat of the fire should destroy any spores and the fungus growing in the wood. It has probably already shed its spores and they will create new growths of the fungus when they encounter the proper conditions. The way to protect other trees from this fungus is to avoid injury to the tree that would allow the fungus to enter. Aging trees with broken limbs and large open wounds are very susceptible to fungus infection.
Now, that being said, since we can’t see it we don’t know for sure if this is the mushroom that is growing on your oak tree. If this doesn’t look like your fungus, you can send us photos and we will try to identify it. Please visit Mr. Smarty Plants’ Plant Identification page to read instructions for submitting photos.
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