Almost the National Symbol, Bad-ass bourbon, Bracket Fungi and A Tale of Tails.

      Last blog I introduced “Puddin'”- the champion Rose-comb chicken–as a foil for my mushroom story about the Rose-comb mutation in fungi. This time I’m going to use Puddin’s cousin from the Turkey family to take off on a mushroom story — this one was almost the National Emblem of United States…or so the story goes.   Remember this blog is about fungi but…..six years after the Declaration of Independence was sighed the Bald Eagle was adapted as the centerpiece of America’s Great Seal.    Image

For decades a story has circulated that the Bald Eagle was almost beat out by The Wild Turkey as our National Symbol because of the influence of Benjamin Franklin. The story goes like this: Ben was outraged that the Bald Eagle was being considered for our Great Seal and he wrote letters to the Continental Congress against it, This is what Ben said: “The Bald Eagle is a bird of bad moral character… He does not get his living honestly…he is too lazy to fish for himself…he watches the fsh hawk and when that diligent bird captures a fish the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him…he is generally poor and very lousy and a rank Coward…and I should prefer the Wild Turkey…for in truth the Turkey is by comparison a more respectable bird and a true original native to America…” This story continues, in the popular telling, that by some narrow margin Franklin was out-voted and the Bald Eagle was chosen as our symbol. This makes a good story but unfortunately it’s not true and has gained the stature of legend by a convenient disregard for the facts. In truth Franklin voiced his opinions only to his daughter and a year and a half after the great Seal had already been adopted. But some stories are just too good not to tell and this story has, as they say, got legs….

Wild Turkey though does have considerable appeal. Image

Notice how the Wild Turkey uses his fanned out tail as a backdrop, almost like a stage curtain, to frame his fine features. Wild Turkey is not only a handsome “true Original Native of America,” to borrow Ben’s phrase, but also a true original American Bourbon Whiskey… AND 101 proof at that!. As if 100 proof wasn’t enough? Wild Turkey are probably the original source of our domestic barnyard Turkeys and the star of our best American Holiday. Every November I’m thankful we can all celebrate the bird that was almost our National Symbol with a shot of 101 bourbon, massive amounts of food and the company of friends and family…and so I’m thankful for the Wild Turkey…. and I think that now we have set the table my fungal tale of Turkey Tail. Image

This is one of my favorite fungi: The “Turkey Tail”. You could call it a mushroom. That’s not exactly wrong. But most people think of mushrooms as the soft-bodied umbrella-shaped things found in the produce section of the supermarket. You know what I mean, Button mushrooms, Pizza mushrooms, Shiitake, Portabella. But Turkey Tails are mushrooms too, just a different kind. They are Polypores or more commonly Bracket Fungi. Instead of being soft-bodied they are tough and leathery. Instead of having gills beneath the cap they have tiny pores. And instead of having an umbrella shape they are shaped like so many little shelves. But they have the same job as every mushroom: they are the reproductive part of the fungi:  The Fruit. This beautiful Bracket Fungus, Trametes verisicolor to scientists, the Turkey Tail mushroom to you and I, is found all over the world busily decaying dead wood and recycling nutrients. Each individual little bracket or shelf has fuzzy bands of color on the topside and tiny pores underneath. It grows in over-lapping clusters on dead trees, stumps and limbs. The common name, Turkey Tail, comes from its remarkable resemblance to the fanned tail of a Wild Turkey. Take a look at the pictures above. The Turkey Tail mushroom is the visible reproductive structure or “fruitbody” of a larger fungus that exists hidden inside the wood it is decomposing. The Turkey Tail specializes in decomposing the lignin part of deadwood which gives wood its brown colors. The other part of deadwood, cellulose, is mostly left behind for the next group of decomposers to take care of. As the the Turkey Tail consumes the brown lignins in the wood it  get lighter and whiter so mycologists call these fungi, the ones that eat lignin, the  White Rot Fungi. The Turkey Tail fungus is one of those cases where both the scientific name AND the common name make sense. The scientific name, Trametes versicolor, translates roughly to “thin shelf with bands of many colors”. One of the most appealing things about Turkey Tail is it comes in a number of different color combinations as if it can’t quite make up its mind what clothes to wear. Image Sometimes the Turkey Tail palette is all earth tones, plain and simple like a humble Quaker. Other times it’s all neon electric blue like some crazy Smurf food. It’s a fungus you can keep discovering over and ove. Each individual bracket or leaf is small, less than 2 inches. They stack up on dead wood in tiers like so many little adjacent shelves… which is where they get an alternate name, Shelf Fungus. Each little leaf is thin and tough. People invariably ask “Can you eat it?”  The answer is “Well no it’s not edible unless you enjoy eating a chunk of old leather.” But there is another side to this story and that’s the story of mushrooms as medicicne. In China it is called Yun Khi  (Cloud Fungus) and in Japan it’s Kawaratake.  Throughout Asia Turkey Tail has been used as a tradition medicine and health promoting tea. The tea is made by drying the brackets, grinding them into a powder and steeping them like regular tea. It is claimed to boost the immune system, fight tumors of the liver and GI tract and promote good health. The health claims are so persistent that Western Medicine has begun to take a serious look at these healing and health promoting properties FROM A SCIENTIFIC POINT OF VIEW. In fact Turkey Tail is THE most studied wild medicinal mushroom in the world! Both The American Cancer Society and the National Science Foundation have  supported Turkey Tail studies and clinical trials to investigate the anti-tumor activity of two substances derived from the fungus.


more turkey 3

The two substances are proteanaded polysaccharides PSP and PSK beta gulcan and are actively used in Europe and Asia as supplements in cancer treatments. Turkey Tail has been studied in the US and Canada since the 1980’s and shows great promise as an addition to the arsenal of substances used to fight disease. One of the good things about this fungus is that there are no known dangers or health risks from using it as a tea. It would be easy to slip into a whole essay on medicinal mushrooms at this point but the possible health benefits from Trametes versicolor is not the subject of this essay. I wanted to bring it up and encourage readers to look into the story of Turkey Tail on their own. Be aware that because of mass communication and social media there are thousands of people, some reputable and some not, who are selling Turkey Tail and its various derivatives ON THE INTERNET. They will promise you the moon and because it’s unregulated they suffer no consequences if they sell you a bag of dirt or anything else. It’s your responsibility to be a smart consumer or to find your own Turkey Tail and make your own tea. How common is Turkey Tail? It’s everywhere in the world that has broadleaf trees. This is one of the most common and ubiquitous fungi of every forest. It’s also one of the most beautiful fungi you can find. Next time you’re out in the woods look for the Turkey Tail. It’s out there doing its job; recycling the forest.

more turkettail

More Myco-morpho abberations: Part III

I touched on Rose-comb in the Mini-me blog and I thought I’d go back for another look at this oddity AND a bit more on geotropism, AKA gravitropism, because every active wild mushroom hunter will encounter these abnormalities sooner or later. When you first DO find one of these in the wild it’s a little bit of a WTF moment….?

Everybody loves chickens not to mention eggs. Well almost everybody. Chickens, for a long time restricted to rural backwater backyards are moving up in the world….they’ve become something of a suburban fad lately and their fancy designer coops are popping up like mushrooms in tony neighborhoods coast to coast. Rooster’s have this fancy ornament atop their head called a comb. It looks for all the world like a punk rockers spike haircut and at least in part it serves the same purpose…to attract a mate. The other thing the comb does is it works as a cooling system when it gets hot. The chickens lose heat through the comb.There’s a bunch of different kinds of combs, at least nine, and one we’re interested in today is the Rose-comb. Below is “Puddin”, winner of a big time rose comb competition. Yup, chickens compete in all kinds of beauty contests. Puddin is damn handsome with that extra special rose comb don’t you think? It’s pretty fancy and it sits atop the chicken’s head a lot like a mushroom rose-comb sits atop a mushrooms’ cap. You knew we’d get around to mushrooms eventually. Here it comes….


So that’s the famous rose-comb champion Puddin and he brings us to the other rose-comb, the mushroom rose comb. These can be found in wild mushrooms, they’re not that uncommon, and they can also occur in commercial mushroom farms. They are the ENEMY of mushroom growers. Rose comb disease can wipe out a whole mushroom crop. Environmental factors, specifically contact with petroleum products, triggers a genetic expression in the mushrooms that make gills grow upside down on the top of the normal cap. This ruins the crop for market no matter if your crop is buttons bound for the supermarket or Psilocybes bound for the black market. So growers take great care to eliminate petroleum product fumes from the growing environment. The same condition occurs in wild mushrooms and if you hunt fungi long enough you’ll find them. It’s fun to find them and usually perks up the conversation around the tables if you’re at a foray with other mushroom hunters. Here’s a wild mushroom rose comb.



Kind of strange huh? I have a collection of these weirdos and they can occur on almost any mushroom including boletes, polypores and as seen here on gilled mushrooms.. The cause of this in wild populations isn’t completely understood but like the commercial cause it may be related to environmental factors affecting gene expression during development. Apparently what happens is something affects the developing mushrooms gravitropic response for a period and the mushroom produces gills upside down on the cap or in some cases sideways. In other words for a minute the mushroom forgets which way is up. Below is a wild rose-comb on a Psilocybe mushroom with the gills on sideways. Photo by Michael Weese.


Mutations are strange things in the popular concept but they are also the source of change and evolution. It’s all part of the big bargain of sexual reproduction. Sometimes the mutation is beneficial and helps the organism survive and sometimes it’s not so good. Sometimes the mutation hides in the genes and doesn’t get expressed unless some environmental factor triggers it. So it seems is the case with mushrooms. For all I know there may be a very detailed understanding of the genetics of how rose-comb arose in mushroom populations but I’m not aware of it if that research exists. There is however a good understanding of how rose-comb works in chickens and.In some breeds of chickens rose-comb is now a dominant hereditary feature.  Keep in mind that domestic breeding of animals is just evolution ramped up to warp speed and guided by humans. So see if you can follow this explanation of rose-comb chickens in the chicken genome.

“Rose-comb is caused by a 7.4 Mb inversion on chromosome 7 and a second rose-comb allele arose by an unequal crossing-over between a rose-comb and a wild type chromosome. The rose-comb phenotype is caused by the relocalization of the MNR2 homeodomain protein gene leading to a transient ectopic expression of MNR2 during comb development.” Got all that? Me neither. I don’t really speak “genetics” at that level but what the authors later tell me it means is that the rose-comb feature in chickens changed from being an occasional aberration (like rose-comb in mushrooms)  to a regular expression of the phenotype by two simple consecutive mutations. Take another look at Puddin. Check out his rose-comb.. Two little changes in the chromosome and now he and all his offspring have that low hung double comb instead of one of the other eight comb styles.

This is unlikely to happen with mushrooms though. One big group of mushrooms are called basidiomycetes. These are all the fungi that produce spores from club shaped cells called basidia. In a regular mushroom the basidia are on the surface of the gills. On polypore fungi the basidia are on the inside of the tubes under the fungus cap.In terms of reproductive success it pays for these mushrooms to have their gills or pores face downward so when the spores fall off the basidia they can get free of the parent mushroom, get caught in air currents down below and float away.. If you think about it, if mushrooms started regularly producing gills atop the cap, facing the sun and the moon, the spores would have nowhere to go because of gravity. Gravity would prevent the spores from ever achieving escape velocity to get up and away from the gills and into the air to float away and start a new colony. So with the basidiomycete mushrooms the spores only have enough energy leaving the gills to get far enough away from the gill to let gravity do the work of pulling them down toward the ground and then tiny air currents can carry them away to new territories. This is not true with other groups of mushrooms like the ascomycetes but that’s another story for another day. Which brings us back to gravity.

As mushrooms grow they orientate their reproductive surface (gills,pores) downward toward the earth.I already visited this concept in the “Mini-Me” blog essay but I want to visit back once more for just a bit. The “Mini-Me” blog was about rose-comb AND gravitropism IN ONE MUSHROOM. That’s rare. Usually though you can go out in the woods and see examples of gravitropic growth responses all over.  The tendency of mushrooms to grow either toward or away from the center of gravity (the Earth)  is called gravitropism (also geotropism) and means, roughly, turning toward gravity. With mushrooms the gravitropic response is centered at the apex of the stem, where the stem joins the cap. In normal development the stem has negative gravitropism, which means that it grows away from gravity. The effect is that the gills always face downward so that when spores drop they can fall freely between the gills and get caught in the air column below the cap and float away. If for some reason the mushroom cap get twisted or loses its horizontal orientation metabolites in the cells “sense” this imbalance and the mushroom compensates by growing faster or slower (or both!) in order to recover the horizontal orientation of the gills (or pores). You can easily see how this works next time you find an Amanita mushroom. Pick it, bring it home and lay it on a flat surface. The Amanita will keep growing and in a few hours the stem will arch upwards trying to get the cap back to horizontal.


See what’s happening here? After a couple of hours lying on the table these Destroying Angels are starting to change their growth direction so the gills face downward. Amanitas are famous for doing this but other mushrooms will too. Sometimes the results are more dramatic, especially with polypores like the Artist Conk Polypore. Take a look at  this…


In the upper part of this photo the Artist Polypore was growing out of the side of a standing dead maple tree. There’s two of them and WHEN the tree was standing they were displaying regular fungal gravitropism. The fertile side of the fungus holding the pores, was pointing downward toward the earth. Then the tree fell over. Now the fungus had to reorientate 90 degrees to get the pores back in position for proper spore release. If the tree limb was moved again the polypore would re-position a third time and so on as long as the fungus stays alive and the host keeps moving. So mushrooms can tell stories. This fungus tells a story about the history and post mortem of this maple tree. And that is the main purpose of this blog. To tell stories. Mostly fungal tales but one thing leads to another and so…expect anything.

NOTE++ If the subject of gravitropism interests you see FUNGI MAGIZINE Vol 5:4 Fall 2012 for Britt Bunyard’s article “Which Way Is UP” and excellent essay on gravitropism.

MINI-ME!! More FUNGAL morpho-deformities: Mushrooms get confused.

Mini-me, which way is up and positive geotropism.

You either like Austin Powers or you don’t, no middle ground here. Even if you don’t like the juvenile comedy of Gold Member or The Spy Who Shagged Me there’s always memorable characters in these classics . Fat Bastard comes to mind but my favorite is Dr. Evil and his one-eighth sized clone Mini-Me. Dr.Evil and Mini-Me are inseparable. The mushroom deformity here on this blog page is a fungal Dr Evil/Mini-Me aberration. A mini mushroom growing out of a normal mushroom. It’s actually even more than that: It’s an upside down mushroom cap growing out of the top of a normal mushroom cap with a complete mini-mushroom growing out of THAT!

DNA is a set of chemical instructions. A section of DNA that has the instructions for making a protein is a gene.Some genes also have instructions that direct how and when the parts of an organism develops. Mistakes happen. Instructions get lost, mis-translated turned off and then turned on again. The results can be…welll..unpredictable. 

This mushroom is called Lactarius vinaceorufescens and though it’s not edible it’s a very cool mushroom in it’s own right. The flesh of this mushroom is filled with a milky liquid that mycologists call latex. The latex of mushrooms is not the same as the latex of rubber trees although the color and consistency is similar. But they’re two different substances. If you scratch the gills or break the stem of this mushroom it weeps a white milky latex and then…here’s the cool thing…the milk turns YELLOW. In a matter of seconds, once it’s exposed to the air, the white latex turns bright chrome yellow. Other members of Lactarius have latex that is differently colored to start with OR changes from milky white to some other color. People call the Lactarius mushrooms Milkies or Milkcaps.

So what’s going on with THIS particular mushroom? Mini-Me here has gotten scrambled instructions from his genes.and a mistake was made and then, later in development an attempt to correct the mistake. Normal growth of a mushroom follows what biologists call geotropism. All that means is as the mushroom grows the gills beneath the cap point downward toward the earth’s center of gravity.


It works like an umbrella. The shape of a mushroom is umbrella like to keep the rain off the gills because the gills have the reproductive cells, the spores, and so mushroom design protects the spore forming gills from rain. When everything is working right the spores fall off the gills and float away on tiny air currents to form new mushroom colonies away from the parent. This mushroom was doing fine and then for some reason got a bad set of instructions.A gene malfunction. A screw-up. The mushroom formed an upside down cap on top of the regular cap with the gills facing the wrong way! Not good! Then somebody in the gene department caught the mistake, made a correction and sent a new set of instructions out to form another mini mushroom on top of the up-side-down cap on the middle of the first normal cap. See it? And so Mini-Me the mushroom sits atop Dr Evil and the mushroom world is back in order. Sort of….

BOLETEBILL: What’s in a name? Who IS this guy and WHAT is he talking about??

This blog is a baby and can barely walk. So I start with baby steps. The goal is to express some ideas and share stories about fungi. So where did this blog name that I use BOLETEBILL come from?

My name is Bill.

Bolete is a general, non-technical term for a specific group of mushrooms. Boletes are the fleshy, soft-bodies mushrooms that have pores under the cap instead of gills. the most famous bolete is the King Bolete, Boletus edulis. In Italian it’s Porcini, “Little Pig”. Boletes are the group of mushrooms that I study the most. Boletes are my special interest of study. My specialty.

Way back in the beginning of time, in 2001, I discovered that people were having discussions on the internet on places called “message boards”. I’m a Nature Nut, a science geek, a lover of wild things. I joined an early message board called Natural History L where people talked about all the things I loved: trees, butterflies, birds, ecology, mushrooms, bugs, environmental issues, rivers, fields, turtles, dragonflies…you get the idea. This was a fantastic disdivery…I had found my people, later to be known a my peeps. This group was dominated by butterfly enthusiasts and much of the talk was about taxonomy and evolution. I dove right in the deep end, head first. the peeps here all had “internet nicknames” that communicated their interests- bugman, dragonlady, save-the-bay, earthmomma,harrysparrowhawk, deathcap-dave, and so on….so for purposes of this ONE group, this new thing “the message board” I chose the name boletebill..I figured this will communicate my interest, mushrooms and which ones I specialize in, the boletes and my real name. I thought if I ever join another group I’ll use my real name or another “internet pseudonym”…but that never held…Image

Later when I discovered other groups, other social media I used my real name. But invariably someone would comment “hey Bill are you the BOLETEBILL from Natural History L?” And I’d have to say “Yeah, that’s me.” and so that name has followed me, even though I’ve tried to abandon it, to send it away, to deny it… it comes back. It FINDS me. So I chose to embrace it. Accept.

So boletebill is my internet identity, my tag, my user name and finally the name of my first blog.

BOLTEBILL’S Fungi of Southern New England.

And that’s what I want to write about..


This is a rosecomb of Laccaria longipes and something not rare but unusual. This is a developmental abberation and similar to the same thing that produces small inverted secondary gills on the surface of a “normal” mushroom cap.

Fungi and Natural History

This is my first blog attempt. As I learn how to use it this space it will be where I post my observations and discovery of the Fungi of southern New England. Since I’m an all round Naturalist I’ll wander past mushrooms into every other area from time to time including birds, flowers, insects and everything else under the sun….and moon. Here goes…

One thing leads to another. After each of the Great Extinctions on planet Earth vast opportunities arose in the biological vacuum left behind. New forms arose to  fill in these voids. The biological solutions to fill in the available niches are always new, unique, magical manifestation. The forms called dinosaurs in one era become birds in another. In other words the story of evolution. This is what interests me, this unfolding of the mind of god that is the never-ending story of evolution. For me Fungi are the key characters in the story line. For me mushrooms carry the plot, direct the action. But it could have been anything. For others it may be bugs or turtles or microbes. But my muse is the lowly fungus. Who speaks for the lowly mushroom? I DO!