While looking for spring wildflowers the other day (none to be found) I was instead drawn to one of the most common sights in the hardwood forest — the brightly striped disks of color on rotting logs and stumps produced by the turkeytail fungus. Both the common and scientific names of this mushroom suit it well: the color pattern does kind of resemble the striations of a turkey’s tail, and the species name, Trametes versicolor, (thin body with variable coloration) describes its physical appearance.
Dense clumps of fruiting bodies lined the bark and sapwood of some cottonwood logs. I was struck by the variation in the color in this collection of mushrooms.
Turkeytail is a common bracket (shelf-forming) fungus found through the world, but differs from other bracket fungi by having a smooth underside dotted with pores, through which the spores are broadcast. Like other fungi, it is a primary decomposer of wood, especially the lignin fibers that give wood its rigidity and strength.
The zonation of color looks like growth rings, with its alternating light and dark bands. The base color seems to be gray-blue, but bands of buff, rusty orange-brown, and darker brown-black alternate with the base color.
The bands also alternate in rough vs smooth texture, with the rough areas coated with fringes that stick up vertically from the surface of the fruiting body. What purpose could this serve, I wonder? Are the fringes for capturing moisture?
Some patches of turkeytail bore light green bands, especially those bands with rough surface texture.
Ah, the green color is due to algae that have colonized the fringes in that zone.
There could be a mutual benefit to the co-existence of algae and fungi here, like their symbiosis in lichen, where the fungus benefits from the sugars manufactured by algal photosynthesis, and the algae benefit from the moisture and minerals harvested by the fungus.
Turkeytail is also variable in the distribution of fruiting bodies, sometimes forming long lines of mushrooms along the length of a rotting log or sometimes circular rosettes around a central point on the log.
It almost looks like a forest flower — well, it will have to do as a stand-in for spring wildflowers until the weather warms up here.