Google The Unplanned Homeschooler: Fun with fungus!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Fun with fungus!

It's been a very rainy week in Oklahoma, but today the sun came back out and, of course, we got outside. One of the first things my daughter noticed in the back yard was something reddish brown growing on a dead branch in the walnut tree.

"What is that?" she asked.


"It's some kind of fungus," I replied.

"What kind is it?" she asked, genuinely curious.

"I don't know. I'm not a fungus expert," I said, much to her disappointment.


But of course, as a biologist I love an opportunity to explore science and nature, so I grabbed the camera and a ladder and we took a few pictures and collected a sample. Some of the fungus was slimy, but most of it had a smooth, velvety exterior with a gelatinous middle.

 

The fungi ranged in size from small, firm, cup-shaped structures about 1 cm in diameter to larger structures, maybe 10 cm across, droopy and slimy. The medium sized structures were shaped a lot like ears.


Not knowing much about mushrooms ourselves, and without an expert to turn to, we decided to look them up online. Our main goal was to identify the fungus. We found a couple of dichotomous keys, which we were able to use to narrow our search, and then we started looking through photos and descriptions of different species, until we found what seemed to be a good match.

We think the fungus we found is Auricularia auricula, a common jelly fungus known as the Jelly Ear, which can be found growing on decaying hardwood in much of North America. The characteristic ear shape, along with the gelatinous structure and other features suggest we are on the right track.


After more than two hours of research, we went back out to take down the ladder, and we were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of this fungus as the afternoon sun shone through and lit it up like something fairies would be proud to call their own.

Next, we're writing to Michael Kuo, who is a fungus expert, to see if maybe he will help confirm our identification. It was his website, MushroomExpert.com, that we found most useful in researching the fungus we found. I'll post an update if we get a reply.

All in all, it was a very fun day, spent doing some unexpected scientific research, learning about how dichotomous keys work, learning more about all sorts of beautiful fungi in the world and having yet another unplanned learning adventure!