The shriveled mushroom mystery
I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of trying to figure out the solution to a good mystery. So I was quite excited back in early February when Sandy and I received an email from our dear friend Geeta regarding a mushroom she found on her and Matt’s property. Geeta and Matt live on a wonderful homestead in the Cottage Grove area. While Geeta was walking around their goat fence trying to isolate the source of its electrical failure, she noticed an unusual looking mushroom growing on the ground. Her email read “I’ve never encountered anything like it – do you have any idea of what it could be offhand? If not, I’ll hit the mushroom books 🙂”. The email included this interesting picture of the shriveled mystery mushroom she had found. It looked roundish in shape, the surface was badly contorted and it had a slight sheen to its cap. At the time I didn’t know its actual size but not wanting to come up empty handed I thought I would toss out the possibility of it being in the genus Helvella or perhaps Gyromitra. Both genera contain plenty of mushroom species with contorted caps and at the time it seemed like a reasonable guess. I only had this one picture to guide my decision logic, if I might call it logic, and actually thought I was on to something.
Several days later I received an updated email from Geeta letting me know I was not on the right path to resolving this mystery. Being somewhat desperate for other likely candidates I started throwing out genus names like Phellodon, Jahnoporus, Albatrellus, and Scutiger. These genera contain larger mushrooms that, as they age, could possibly start looking like the mushroom in Geeta’s picture. Especially since the mushroom had been subjected to harsh winter conditions and could have been growing next to a highly radioactive meteorite. OK, perhaps I just needed more pictures at different angles and even a cross-section of its interior to put me on the right track. Several days later I received another email with these four pictures and the following message from Geeta. “I just gave that mushroom my best shot at identification and I think I can say with certainty it’s a polypore due to the honeycomb-like structure underneath and long tubes visible on cross-section but I have never seen one with those brain-like folds before. I’ve now been through my David Aurora books and the Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast and nothing looks even remotely similar. Google was also of no use. It was very large – at least two adult fists in size.” After reading that email It only took a few seconds for me to fully realize I had absolutely no clue as to what Geeta had found. It was time for me to think outside the box, which basically meant I needed to ask someone else.
Thinking about other reference sources I could access, both iNaturalist and Mushroom observer came to mind. Both websites would show these pictures to a much wider audience of knowledgeable mushroom enthusiasts. So I uploaded them and waited a week while checking daily to see who reviewed them and what the general consensus was. Well that wasn’t working out all that well as no one had posted anything. In the past, Sandy would receive several possible ID’s the same day she uploaded her mushroom pictures. I thought I might have posted mine incorrectly so I had Sandy check my accounts. She said nothing was wrong with my postings but that these websites are generally far less active outside of our typical mushroom season. I knew I couldn’t wait months to get a solution and unfortunately books, mushroom websites and my own limited knowledge of shriveled up mushrooms just wasn’t working. Just then, a mental power saving LED light flashed on in my head. We shop local, buy local, support local, so why not ask local.
Our Eugene based Cascade Mycological Society members consist of a great network of very knowledgeable people with lots of hands on experience in identifying our Oregon fungi. One of our very well informed members is Molly Widmer and I wasted no time in sending her an email with the pictures and as much information as I had gathered. Molly’s answer arrived in an email the next day. She said the mushroom was a desiccated Ganoderma oregonense. I found myself being elated, confused, and dumbfounded. It’s a mental state I often find myself in so it may not have had anything to do with Molly’s email response. I quickly forwarded her email to Geeta and shortly thereafter received this email back. “Honestly the mushroom looks nothing to me like a Ganoderma or Phellodon. I think Matt retrieved it from the compost bin – if so, will arrange to get it into your hands or that of an expert because I am truly confused.” Well, we can all surmise how getting this mushroom into my hands would work out so getting it to an expert like Molly was the optimum choice.
Subsequently, Sandy and I made arrangements with Matt & Geeta to meet at The Wheel APizza Pub for lunch where the handoff would take place. The next day Molly and her Partner Chris (also an experienced mushroom identifier) said we could stop by their house with our mystery mushroom for a definitive identification. With mushroom in hand (actually in a bag) we presented Molly with the mushroom and without hesitation she confirmed her original assessment as being none other than a badly desiccated Ganoderma oregonense. Ron Hamill, a very well known and respected mycologist, was also present and confirmed her conclusion. After arriving back home we sent Matt & Geeta an email confirming Molly’s original diagnosis of being a well desiccated Ganoderma oregonense. Hence, the mystery of the shriveled mushroom had been solved. Although, I’m still fond of my highly radioactive meteorite theory.
Unbeknownst to me, it is not that uncommon to find Ganoderma oregonense fruiting on the ground while decomposing some buried piece of wood or tree root. When found on the ground it will have an off center, fairly thick stem like structure which is attached to its underground food source. Ganoderma oregonense can be both saprobic and parasitic and typically produces its fruiting body from fall through spring. The actual mushroom is an annual so it will not continue to grow after it reaches full maturity and is done sporulating. And, as crazy as it may sound, Paul Stamets, who’s work was featured in the movie Fantastic Fungi, has a video on how to eat this mushroom when it is in its early stage of development and still soft to the touch. I have not tried to eat this mushroom but being the curious person that I am, might give it a taste the next time I encounter it.
Take care and if you ever come across a nicely desiccated mushroom, you might want to skip sending a picture of it to me as my track record for identifying such mushrooms leaves much to be desired.
Graphic of light bulb courtesy of freepik.com (free image download)
Photo of healthy Ganoderma oregonense taken by Tim Sage, Mushroom Observer
Mushroom Expert’s website with Ganoderma oregonense description
Paul Stamets video on slicing and eating the Ganoderma oregonense mushroom
Thanks to Matt & Geeta for finding, emailing us, and meeting us for a very enjoyable lunch to hand off the desiccated and somewhat slice-up mushroom they found, and for making this article possible.
Thanks to Molly for identifying our mystery mushroom, Ron Hamill’s insights into all things Ganoderma and Chris for putting up with us for half the afternoon.
Thanks to The Wheel APizza Pub for serving us a delicious lunch. We really enjoyed the food although I find the establishments name just a little confusing and I never get it right.
No thanks goes to Ron Patton who greatly exceeded his ability to offer solutions to the shriveled mystery mushroom but was courageous enough to write about his failings.