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Witches butter and other jelly fungi


Jelly fungus
Comparison of basidia
Comparison of basidia. A, basidia in most mushrooms; B, two types of basidia in jelly fungi.
Partly dried woods ear
Partly dried woods ear.remoistened woods ear
Remoistened woods ear.

Jelly fungi make rubbery, seaweed-like mushrooms. They are colored white, orange, pink, rose, brown or black. The mushrooms are shapeless, shaped like cups, railroad spikes or branched like coral. The common name of yellow to orange species is witches butter.

Jelly fungi are really different than other mushrooms. The basidia (spore-making cells) of most mushrooms are a single, club-like cell. They are found on ridges or lining tubes under the mushroom cap. The basidia of jelly fungi either have walls or are forked. They are located on the upper surface, not the lower surface.

The only species grown and sold in stores is clouds ear or woods ear (Auricularia auricula). It is used in soup. Some people like the slippery, crunchy texture.

Jelly fungi often grow on logs, stumps and twigs. Some species are parasitic on other fungi, mosses, ferns or seed plants. The best time to find them is in the fall or in the spring below melting snow banks. Their rubbery flesh may protect them from drying out and against freezing. They shrink when the air is dry and then swell up again when it rains. It may be why they are found in the spring and fall when other mushrooms are not.

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Last update: 09 Nov 06. © 2006, Robert Fogel, Ivins, UT 84738.