Discovering Spring Mushrooms in the Enchanted Cook Forest
Over Memorial Day weekend, my best friend and I visited Cook Forest, a wooded state park along the Clarion River in northwestern Pennsylvania. A prime location for a mushroom walk, there were plenty of mushrooms to discover and photograph!
We went to a particularly special part of Cook Forest called the Forest Cathedral, which contains one of the largest old growth forests of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) in Pennsylvania. Some of the trees here exceed 3 feet (almost 1m) in diameter and 200 feet (61m) in height and date back to the era of William Penn who founded the Province of Pennsylvania in 1681, making some of the trees over 300 years old.
We started our walk behind the Log Cabin Inn on the Longfellow Trail. A short walk up, there is a memorial to the Cook Forest Association. Thanks to their effort, in 1927 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was able to purchase 6,055 acres from the Cook family, who owned the land and built a profitable timber business from it, establishing the first Pennsylvania State Park to preserve a natural landmark.
Now, let's get to the mushrooms I found in the Forest Cathedral in Cook Forest. The end of May is prime time for mushrooms in Pennsylvania: there's plenty of rain and it's the beginning of warm weather.
Entolomatoid mushrooms growing on the forest floor in Cook Forest.
Right after the memorial, I spotted a number of 3-4-inch-tall brown mushrooms growing terrestrially on the forest floor littered with pine needles and leaves. I wasn't able to identify these mushrooms, but they are likely entolomatoid mushrooms, meaning they belong to the Entolomataceae family, which is a large and diverse family of pink-spored terrestrial mushrooms with gills that are attached to the stem.
Marasmioid mushroom, potentially Mycetinis opacus, growing on a conifer twig.
As I was down on the ground, taking photos of the brown entolomatoid mushrooms, I noticed tiny white mushrooms with convex caps growing on conifer twigs everywhere around me. Their habitat and morphological features led me to a general ID of marasmioid mushrooms. Upon further digging, a potential candidate for a closer ID is Mycetinis opacus, which grows primarily on sticks and twigs of great rhododendron and eastern hemlock trees, which are very abundant in the forest.
The English common name for this slime mold, red raspberry slime, references the texture of raspberries, but Czech scientists thought it resembled more of a strawberry, so the Czech scientific name references that fruit instead.
The next colorful surprise was hiding on the underside of a hollow log. While not a fungus, Tubifera ferruginosa, or commonly known as the red raspberry slime, is a slime mold that creates tiny bright pink fruit bodies that form clusters resembling the texture of raspberries. Slime molds used to be part of the fungi kingdom, but they turned out to be quite unrelated to fungi, though they often form spore-bearing structures that resemble those of the true fungi. Like this one, many fruit on wood, but they do not form a penetrating and absorptive mass of hyphae in the wood substrate. Instead, slime molds form structures called plasmodia: masses of protoplasm which can move and engulf particles of food like an amoeba.
A mycena mushroom, possibly M. leptocephala, which grows in conifer woods like those of the Forest Cathedral in Cook Forest. Notice the typical bell-shaped cap.
It wouldn't be a real mushroom walk without finding at least one Mycena along the way! With over 500 species worldwide, Mycenas are some of the hardest mushrooms to identify. Many are grey or brown and are fairly small with thin, fragile stems and bell-shaped caps, which become flattened with age. The closest potential ID could be Mycena leptocephala, which grows terrestrially in conifer woods, unlike Mycena alcalina, which tends to grow in clusters in a similar habitat and is a bit more stocky. Like many other Mycenas the margin of the cap is faded and lined.
This violet-toothed polypore is one of the most vibrant I've ever encountered.
The most photogenic fungi I found on this walk are also some fo the most abundant in North America. This is likely Trichaptum biforme, or the violet-toothed polypore, and it was one of the most stunning specimens I have ever seen. The combination of the violet hues that the mushroom has when it's fresh with the yellow-green coming from the algae growing on top of it created the perfect color harmony.
The algae growing on top of the polypore creates the perfect color harmony with the violet hues of the mushroom edge. The purple hues fade as the mushroom ages.
There is a chance this could be Trichaptum abietinum, which is also a violet-toothed polypore. The two species look nearly identical and are microscopically indistinguishable, but T. biforme grows on the wood of hardwoods, while T. abietinum grows on the wood of conifers. T. abietinum has a grayer, hairier cap surface, and retains its purple shades longer. I was not able to ID the tree it was growing on for sure, but based on morphological characteristics, this is likely T. biforme.
The upper surface of this perennial conk shows the annual zone rings and ridges, ranging from light to dark grey, along with a red orange growing band near the rim.
Once we came down to the valley at the end of the Longfellow Trail (which turns into Tom's Run Trail), and crossed the Swinging Bridge, we walked for a while next to the road along the Birch Trail. I wouldn't recommend it because for a little while you are literally walking along the road. However, it wasn't all lost because along this trail I've found a lot of Fomitopsis pinicola, or red belted conks. These are perennial conks that usually grow on the dead wood of conifers (sometimes parasitic on living trees), developing a new tube layer every year. They form a hoof-shaped fruitbody that is really tough and woody. When young, they have a varnished cap surface, but as they age, it dulls into a matte texture, ranging from light to dark grey with a bright contrasting red margin.
The bright varnished surface of the hemlock reishi is hard to miss against the lush greens of the forest. These are young specimens without a fully developed stem.
Before I went on this trip, I was secretly hoping I would find my first reishi, which are medicinal mushrooms that have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,000 years. Research shows they help support and regulate our immune system, have anticancer properties, and possibly help prevent allergies.
Not only did I get my wish, but I would run into them with every single dead eastern hemlock tree I encountered! This type of reishi grows in late spring and early summer almost exclusively on eastern hemlocks, giving it the common name hemlock varnish shelf. The name therefore has nothing to do with the poisonous herbaceous plant hemlock, but the common name of the tree it grows on, which is derived from a perceived similarity in the smell of its crushed foliage to the poisonous plant. Unlike the plant, eastern hemlock trees are not poisonous.
As the polypore matures, it develops a more pronounced stem and the surface turns into yellow, orange, and red bands of color, along with the growing whitish edge.
The polypore has a stunning, brightly lacquered cap surface with a white margin that blends into a yellow, orange, and then red bands of color, just like a color gradient. I mostly found young specimens, which are irregularly knobby or elongated, but by maturity the fruit bodies will develop a more pronounced stem and become more or less fan- or kidney-shaped.
Since the bridge by shelter #1 was closed, we had to backtrack and continue on the Longfellow Trail until getting on the Ancient Forest Trail.
You can spot the yellow scaly caps of this polypore from far away. Then, we you turn it upside down, you will see the hexagonal pores this polypore is named after.
On that trail, I found a twig with small yellow semicircular polypores with hexagonal pores, earning it its common name the hexagonal-pored polypore. These two characteristics make it pretty easy to identify, though it can be confused with Polyporus arcularius (spring polypore), which also grows in the spring, but it has a full circular cap (which is tan brown) and a central stem. Growing in late spring, this polypore persists well into winter, though the yellow color fades by then thanks to weather elements.
This jelly fungus is parasitic on the mycelium of Peniophora, a genus of crust fungi, which you can see growing on the twig left of the jelly mushroom.
Just as I thought I was done finding new mushrooms, I saw a twig on the ground with this yellow brain-like gelatinous blob. This jelly fungus is widely distributed in North America, growing alone or in amorphous clusters on the decaying sticks and logs of oaks and other hardwoods with the bark still on. In temperate areas, it usually appears in spring, but can be found in the summer, fall, and winter as well. The fungus has many common names such as yellow brain or my favorite, witches' butter.
The birch polypore has a kidney-shaped, smooth-skinned fruitbody with a short lateral stem.
Finally, this mushroom was a frequent sight along the trails, thanks to the black and yellow birch trees growing here. It is an annual medicinal polypore that grows almost exclusively on birch trees, earning it its common name the birch polypore. Its medicinal and other useful properties have been known to humans since 5,300 years ago. It was one of the mushrooms (the other was Fomes fomentarius) found on the mummified body of the Iceman, or Ötzi, who lived between 3400 and 3100 BCE. He most likely used the polypore to fight intestinal parasites, because the polypore contains toxic resins and agaric acid, which are powerful purgatives and cause strong, though short-lived, bouts of diarrhea. Thanks to medical analysis, we know that Ötzi would take a dose of the mushroom every 30 days or so to cause this diarrhea to expel the dead and dying worms and their eggs...Yeah, pretty gross, but also damn brilliant!
And that is it for the mushrooms starring in this mushroom walk diary. For more photos (not only) from this walk and more mushroom facts, head to my Instagram @fungiwoman. Also, check out my store for some mushroom-inspired products and sign up for the newsletter to get updates.
We started behind then Log Cabin Inn (marked with a ⭐️) on the – – – Longfellow Trail, which turns into – – – Tom's Run Trail, and crossed the river at the Swinging Bridge, which put us on the – – – Birch Trail, which runs alongside the road. We crossed the first bridge at the Birch Trail parking lot and got back on the – – – Longfellow Trail, because the bridge at shelter #1 was closed and had we continued, we wouldn't be able to get back. We then took the – – – Ancient Forest Trail, which turns into – – – Longfellow Trail again.
This route was 3.3 miles and took us almost 3 hours, thanks to my photography shenanigans!
- Entolomatoid Mushrooms by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, January 2013.
- Marasmioid Mushrooms by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, January 2013.
- Mycetininis opacus by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, January 2013.
- Species list from the Lincoff foray in Cook Forest State park on 09/18/2015 by Richard Jacob, Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club, October 2015.
- Tubifera ferruginosa by Gary Emberger, Fungi Growing on Wood – Messiah College, 2008.
- Tubifera ferruginosa by Věra Svobodová, Botany.cz, August 2008.
- Mycena leptocephala by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, December 2010.
- Trichaptum biforme by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, August 2004.
- Trichaptum biforme by Gary Emberger, Fungi Growing on Wood – Messiah College, 2008.
- Trichaptum abietinum by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, June 2016.
- Trichaptum abietinum by Gary Emberger, Fungi Growing on Wood – Messiah College, 2008.
- Fomitopsis pinicola by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, February 2010.
- Ganoderma tsugae by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, January 2019.
- Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma tsugae) Identification And Medicinal Benefits by Adam Haritan, Learn Your Land, June 2015.
- Tremella mesenterica by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, October 2018.
- Neofavolus alveolaris by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, March 2016.
- Birch Polypore (Fomitopsis betulina) — Identification And Medicinal Benefits by Adam Haritan, Learn Your Land, December 2016.
5300 years ago, the Ice Man used natural laxatives and antibiotics by Luigi Capasso, The Lancet, December 1998.
All photography © 2020 FUNGIWOMAN