Nottingham Post - - WILDLIFE -

THE fruit­ing bod­ies of fungi come in many shapes, sizes and tex­tures. One par­tic­u­lar species that has an un­usual ear-like shape and a jelly-like tex­ture which is rel­a­tively com­mon, par­tic­u­larly in win­ter time is the jelly fun­gus, Auric­u­laria au­ric­u­la­ju­dae.

It grows on dead wood orig­i­nat­ing from de­cid­u­ous trees and shrubs, and tends to favour Elder. They can be very abun­dant and are stem-less at around 8cm across with a gelati­nous tex­ture. The up­per sur­face is pur­ple­brown and pink­ish be­low and is at­tached to its wood sub­strate along one edge; they are of­ten found very soon af­ter a rain­fall.

The most pop­u­lar com­mon name for this species is Ju­das’s ear but other com­mon names are wood ear, free ear, black ear mush­room, and free jelly fish. Its pop­u­lar com­mon name de­rives from the le­gend that this species formed its ear-shaped fruit­ing bod­ies as a re­sult of a curse on the tree that the apos­tle, Ju­das Is­car­iot hanged him­self on fol­low­ing his be­trayal of Je­sus for 30 pieces of sil­ver. The fungi are be­lieved to rep­re­sent the ears of Ju­das’s re­turned spirit, and are to re­mind us of his sui­cide. Whilst this may seem a bit of a far-fetched le­gend, this name has stuck and is even re­flected in its tax­o­nomic name; “Auric­u­laria” mean­ing ear and “au­ric­ula-ju­dae” mean­ing “the ear of Ju­das.” As with many other flora and fauna the com­mon names that have been as­signed to many species of fungi can range from be­ing very de­scrip­tive and in­for­ma­tive such as Birch Bracket fun­gus (Fomi­top­sis be­tulina), or Dead Man’s Fin­gers (Xy­laria poly­mor­pha) to the rather cryp­tic such as De­stroy­ing An­gel (Amanita vi­rosa).

These vis­i­ble fruit­ing bod­ies of fungi, also known as sporo­carps are part of the sex­ual phase of its life cy­cle pro­duc­ing spores and are of­ten the only time that a fungi’s pres­ence is ob­vi­ous. The rest of fun­gal life­cy­cle is char­ac­terised by the veg­e­ta­tive growth of its hid­den mycelia; a net­work of branch­ing, thread-like hy­phae. The mycelia net­works of some fungi can be ex­tremely large; a spe­cific honey fun­gus with its mycelia spread­ing 2.4 miles (3.8 km) across in the Blue Moun­tains in Ore­gon is thought to be the largest liv­ing or­gan­ism on Earth!

Ju­das’s Ear Fun­gus is gen­er­ally re­garded as ined­i­ble in west­ern cul­ture but is very pop­u­lar in Ori­en­tal dishes; it has no di­rect flavour of its own but will ab­sorb the flavours of the in­gre­di­ents it is cooked in sim­i­lar to tofu; it has a rather slip­pery and crunchy tex­ture and is not to ev­ery­one’s taste. It is sold in a dried form in most ori­en­tal food stores, and spe­cial­ity food mar­kets. How­ever, please re­mem­ber, you should not at­tempt to eat any fungi un­less you are 100% sure of its iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and whether is suit­able for eat­ing, as there are some very toxic species which look sim­i­lar to ed­i­ble species.

Win­ter time is a great time of year to get out into leaf­less wood­lands to look out for the many colour­ful and un­usual look­ing fungi that are abun­dant at this time of year. Please en­sure that you are care­ful when touch­ing any fungi as many are toxic.

It is gen­er­ally safer for a novice to just en­joy the sight of fungi in their nat­u­ral habi­tat and to take a pho­to­graph as a record. How­ever, if you do need to take a sam­ple for fur­ther iden­ti­fi­ca­tion then please just take a small sam­ple which is in line with good con­ser­va­tion prac­tices.


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