Friday, January 11, 2008

Witch's Butter and other Gooey Fungi

Earlier today I was looking very carefully at this photograph and I began to wonder if the right specimen didn't have at it's base a piece of field corn. So I went outside and poked at it. It certainly could have been a piece of seed corn, a little difficult to recognize at this point. That and it's color deepened my suspicion that these might not be lichen at all but rather a fungus. Then John of the comments section asked if they might not be Witch's Butter. Ta Da! Thank you John, that was just the tip I needed not having much in the way of fungi expertise.

Witch's Butter it is.
Tremella mesenterica, does come in rather assorted shapes, sizes, and different butterish and pinkish hues. And yes it most assuredly is a fungus. Fungi are parasitic. And this particular form is usually parasitic on other fungi or upon wood. Therefore the kernel of corn if it is there may or may not have anything to do with fungus brunch.
(Correction some are also parasitic on mosses, there is moss under my specimens, ferns or seeds. Ah ha)

All the literature says that the best time to find them is either in Spring or Fall under melting snowbanks. Okay, we had a melting snowbank on the glider but January in Wisconsin isn't Spring or Fall by a long shot. We just must be lucky.

Upon looking around I noted that these were a touch on the yellowish pinkish side , still Tremella mesenterica though. But once it goes pinkish it tends to be referred to as yellow or pink Brain Fungus but not always. Now brain fungus, that's a term that could keep one up at night.
Courtesy of

This specimen was the clincher in my making sure that what I had was also lumped in with what is called Witch's Butter. It turns out that Witch's Butter is the name commonly assigned to most collections of yellowish-orange jelly fungi and some black ones as well but those are most always another species.
Witch's Butter as we can see, come in yellow and pink, but also rose, brown, or black. The ones on the glider having just become visible due to snow melt are plump. In dry air they will shrivel up a bit but when the wet factor goes up again so does the surface tension of the "jelly".
As if you couldn't tell that these guys are different from other mushrooms, there are also differences in their spore making cells, the basidia. On your basic toad stool, the spores are found lining the ridges under the cap. The basidia of jelly fungi either have walls or are forked and they are on the upper surface.
And that attractive rubbery flesh may actually help keep them from drying out or freezing.
The jelly fungus Auricularia aricula, or Wood's ear is the only species normally sold in stores. It's used in soup. Not only do some people like the slippery sensation but they're crunchy at the same time.

Then there is Black Witch's Butter, Exidia glandulosa. This example looks rather like brain tar.
And somehow I don't think I'd want it in my soup. .
Donegal Browne

1 comment:

Neil Mahler said...

In the UK only Exidia glandulosa is called Witches Butter and Tremella mesenterica is called Jelly Brain.
These and other common names have been officially accepted by many major conservation and fungi organisations here in the UK as an attempt to standardise fungi names.

Unfortunately, the internet, having no boundary's, has enabled some people in the UK to pick up on the American usage/terminology and are starting to call T.messenterica Witches Butter by mistake.