By Susan Sprout
…and will the real coral fungus please stand up! Do you remember the old television show that used that line? So, which one would you pick as a photo of coral fungus?
There is a fungus that grows in North America on the ground under mixed hardwoods and conifers. It is not your ordinary mushroom that resembles an umbrella. This one looks like coral, the kind that lives in warm, southern waters, and may, depending on its species, build up large coral reefs of calcium carbonate.
White coral fungus has an upright growth pattern not unlike its undersea look-alike. Its spreading branches are white on its many tiny, flat, tooth-like tips. Its middle part can be beige or pinkish before returning to white near its base.
The one I discovered near Essick Heights is Crested Coral Fungus or Clavulina coralloides. There are several different species of fungus in PA that resemble coral – white crowns with cone-shaped points, yellow, violet to purple, deep pink, with some stems pointing up and some down, growing singly or in bunches. The lovely white color of coral fungi can become gray to black at the bottoms of their branches when they are parasitized by another type of fungus growing in the soil around it. With a hand lens, you can see the little black dots as they invade their way upward on the stems.
(The real Crested Coral Fungus is #1)