I’ll bet you’re thinking this blog is about a disease, and maybe a “yucky” one at that. Nope . . . not even close! This is all about another type of fungus—mushrooms.
Mushrooms are a culinary delight, including such wonderful treats as morel mushrooms and truffles. Even the more common, and much less expensive, varieties are welcome additions to many recipes.
Care must be taken, however, to stay away from some of the deadly varieties, such as those I wrote about in a previous blog. Some varieties can be used, and are often abused, for their hallucinogenic effects. I’ve described those in another blog.
There is a most interesting variety of mushroom that reeks of death. However, it’s not deadly to humans. It’s commonly called “Dead Man’s Fingers.” The technical name for this fungus is Xylaria polymorpha.
Although this fungus can resemble the fingers of a corpse reaching out from the earth, it’s not a zombie clawing its way out of a grave. It does have deadly properties, however, only not to humans. Dead Man’s Fingers are fungi growing out of decaying wood—stumps or logs of dead, buried trees—that continue the decay process to rot wood.
In fact, this attribute has several beneficial purposes. The Dead Man’s Fingers fungi are nature’s sanitation to rid forests of dead tree wood. These fungi are also used to increase the acoustic ability of woods used to make violins. Raw violin wood is inoculated with the Xylaria fungi to cause a certain degree of wood decay, thereby decreasing the wood’s density. After a time, the fungus is killed with ethylene oxide to prevent further wood rot and this creates the beautiful sounds of a violin.
Although this fungus is indigenous to the regions of Nepal, Bhutan and Northeastern India, it can be seen in the United States where it attacks apple, maple, beech and elm trees as well as a variety of ornamental shrubs to destroy home landscapes.
The colors of these interesting fungi vary from white to blue to black at different stages in their life cycle. When young, they are pale in color, almost white, and they vary from that whitish color to a pale blue as they grow. When this variety of mushroom continues to age, the bluish color deepens all the way to black before the fungus dries out and dies.
In China, younger blue fungi are often cooked and eaten; but, as the fungi age, they are considered not edible because they become hard to digest. At that point, most Dead Man’s Finger Fungi are used as decorations or garnish, instead.
I don’t consider this fungus lethal in any way to humans, but it can make for an interesting plot twist if used in a setting where it might appear that human remains are reaching out from the grave. I’ll have to figure out a way to use this in one of my storylines. What about you?
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!