by Barbora Batokova • March 7, 2021 • Updated July 2, 2022
Artomyces pyxidatus, also known as the crown-tipped coral, is part of coral (clavarioid) fungi, which groups together all fungi that create upright branches as their fruiting bodies. This group is based solely in this single morphological characteristic, because it contains many different genera that are completely unrelated in terms of micromorphological, ecological, and DNA characteristics.
It has delicate fruit bodies that are highly branched and look like tiny candelabras. It grows in North America and Europe on decaying hardwood logs, usually in the spring time. The best part? They are edible!
- Taxonomic History
- Similar Species
- Edibility and Taste
- Medicinal Properties
- ID Table
The specific epithet pyxidatus, means “box-like,” referring to the boxlike (pyxidate) branch tips. Pyxidate means “resembling or constituting a pyxidium,” which is a seed capsule that splits open so that the top comes off like the lid of a box. I haven’t been able to find anything about Artomyces so if you know, let me know!
Over 220 years ago, in 1794, (when mycology was barely in its humble beginnings and the kingdom of fungi didn't even exist yet)1, the Dutch mycologist Christiaan Hendrik Persoon named this mushroom Clavicorona pyxidata. Back then, the classification of fungi was mostly based on morphological characteristics, so in 1981, Swiss mycologist Walter Jülich suggested a new genus Artomyces, because the morphological differences were too significant from other Clavicorona species.2
Artomyces pyxidatus growing on a decaying log.
A. pyxidatus is saprobic and one of the few coral fungi that fruit on wood, which makes it fairly easy to identify.5 While most other coral fungi are also saprobic, they often appear terrestrial, because they grow on decaying organic matter such as woodland leaf litter or mossy grassland. It grows alone or gregariously on the dead wood of hardwoods, preferring the wood of aspens, poplars, tulip trees, willows, and maples.2
On closer examination, you can see the tiny crowns created by 3-6 points at the end of each tip. As it mushroom ages, the tips turn brown which you can see in the bottom left.
A. pyxidatus has whitish to pale yellowish branches that end in tiny crowns, creating a tiny cup-like depression surrounded by 3-6 points.2 These points can get brownish as the mushroom matures. Each mushroom has multiple crowned branches that arise from a single stalk-like base from a decaying log of hardwood trees. The brown stipe is short and up to 3 mm thick, often covered in hyphal bundles, making it look fuzzy (see photo below). The overall structure is 4-13 cm high and 2-10 cm wide, but when multiple fruitbodies grow near each other, you can find a whole log covered in them. The white flesh is tough but pliable.
Growing in the spring, summer, and fall, the edible crown-tipped coral fungus is a widely distributed mushroom on the East Coast of the United States, but it's rare on the West Coast. I have found this mushroom many times in Pennsylvania, but never in the Czech Republic, though I know it does grow abundantly there as well.
This coral fungus appears widely in North America, most often east of the Rocky Mountains and in Mexico, but rarely on the West Coast.2 In mainland Europe it is widespread but not common, mainly found in central and northern parts, with records stretching from France to the Czech Republic and north to Finnish Lappland.3 It is widely reported from eastern Russia as well. In Britain, it was first recorded in 2011, almost 116 years after its previous reliable report, which was a collection by mycologist Carleton Reale on Oct. 20, 1886.3
The three most likely lookalikes Ramaria formosa, Ramaria eumorpha / corrugata / invalii and Ramaria stricta.9
Unless you’re in the Pacific Northwest, there are no other similar species with the distinctive crowns on its tips. However, even elsewhere, you might encounter similar-looking coral fungi.
Ramaria stricta is a whitish to light tan coral fungus, which appears to grow terrestrially (as oppsed to directly from wood) and its flesh bruises on handling.
Ramaria corrugata / eumorpha / invalii is also a whitish to light tan coral fungus that grows in conifer woods. It decomposes the dead organic matter like tiny conifer twigs and needles and also appears to be terrestrial. As far as I know, this fungus only grows in Europe—I’m not aware of it growing in North America or Asia.
Ramaria formosa is a coral fungus that is mycorrhizal with hardwoods (and therefore terrestrial) and is coral pink when young and fresh, becoming yellowish tan with age—that’s when you’re more likely mistake it for the crown-tipped coral. In addition, it also has a fairly substantial base.
Gary Lincoff also reports Clavicorona avellanea (now Artomyces piperatus), which however is found growing only on coniferous wood in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.6 Out of the other lookalikes, this one by far resembles A. pyxidatus the most, because it also has crowned tips. For a photo see the 2020 observation by Alan Rockefeller.
Edibility and Taste
While it is considered edible raw, you should never eat uncooked mushrooms. If you taste it raw (spit it out after), it's pretty mild at first, but then develops a peppery hot flavor after a minute or so. Apparently the peppery flavor can remain in some specimens when cooked, but I have never experienced that. As with any mushroom you’re not used to eating, careful about overindulging; some sources report that it can cause diarrhea and mild vomiting in some sensitive people.4
Inspired by a traditional Czech Tripe Soup, the Crown-Tipped Coral Mushroom Soup features crown-tipped coral mushrooms as a substitute for tripe. Tripe has a chewy texture and a mild taste, taking on the flavor of other ingredients it’s cooked with—crown-tipped coral mushrooms have a similar texture to tripe, making them an excellent substitute for it.
The texture makes this mushroom an interesting addition to a stir-fry, but I personally also like them sautéd on toast well. They can be pickled, or added to soups or as a garnish. On of my favorite ways to eat these mushrooms is in a goulash-based soup flavored with sweet paprika, caraway, garlic, and marjoram. Also, check out Forager Chef’s page for more culinary tips.
A. pyxidatus is widely used for curing gastric pain, dyspepsia, gout and heat-toxicity in traditional medicine in China.7
||Distribution||North America, Europe|
Branched • 4-13 cm high and 2-10 cm wide • Smooth
Short • 1-3 cm long • up to 3mm thick • Brown
Tough but pliable
|Odor & Taste||Not distinctive • Peppery|
1 A Brief History of the Kingdoms of Life by Piter Kehoma Boll, Earthling Nature, December 2011.
2 Artomyces pyxidatus by Michael Kuo, MushroomExpert.com, April 2007.
3 Artomyces pyxidatus refound in Britain by Alick Henrici and Neil Mahler, Field Mycology, 2012.
4 Clavicorona pyxidata by Tom Volk, TomVolkFungi.net, Retrieved June 2020.
5 Artomyces pyxidatus by Gary Emberger, Messiah College, 2008.
6 National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms by Gary H Lincoff, Chanticleer Press, 1981.
7 New Sesquiterpenes from Edible Fungus Clavicorona Pyxidata by Zheng, Yong-Biao, et al., Helvetica Chimica Acta, vol. 91, no. 11, 2008.
8 Club and Coral Fungi by David Malloch, Natural History of Fungi — New Brunswick Museum, Retrieved June 2020.
9 Ramaria stricta photo by Dan MacNeal, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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