Good evening, friends,
This is an exciting week. This Sunday is the New York Mycological Society's first annual Fungus Festival taking place at 11AM-3PM on Randall's Island. Not only will I be there, but I'll be presenting about mushrooms you can find in Central Park. Not only will I be presenting about mushrooms you can find in Central Park, but I'll be batting leadoff and speaking right at 11AM. I'll be setting the tone for the rest of the day. An opportunity to kick off an incredibly awesome day of fungal festivities or embarrass myself and ruin the whole festival, quite possibly for years to come. No pressure. In all seriousness it's going to be a blast and I'm really excited to present. The whole lineup is below.
The specific location of the festival on Randall's Island is circled below. I actually figured out how to stack images next to each other - a technological advancement that I'm eager to use in future renditions of MM - but these images weren't readable when shrunk and stacked next to each other. We'll capitulate to a longer scroll for the sake of clarity.
Now for the meat & potatoes of the email. And by meat, folks, I'm talking about the Beefsteak Polypore (or the Ox-tongue Polypore depending on who you ask) more formally known as Fistulina hepatica. I found this mushroom growing from an oak stump on 10/7/2022 up in Manitou. A tasty, but somewhat uncommon edible, this is quite a unique mushroom that should be fun to learn about.
Fistulina is from the latin Fistulosus which means “full of pipes”. This refers to the mushroom's unique pores that we'll get into in a little. Hepatica, in Ancient Greek translates to "liver" and describes the shape/color of a young mushroom. In addition to resembling a vital organ, young mushrooms have bumps on the underside that you can see and feel if you run your fingers over them. These bumps then grow into the distinct tube-like structures, the pores, that release the reproductive cells, the spores.
Each tube-like pore is individual from one another, and can be moved individually from the pores around them, which is unique from other polypores. Typically, polypores form with their pores adjoined together in a solid structure. This feature is noticeable in the bottom right of the below image, or in any of the areas you can see space between the pores. The cream colored pores also bruise a light brown when handled.
This mushroom has some scientifically demonstrated medicinal properties as well. Compounds (polysaccharides) from the mushroom were introduced intravenously in white mice and reduced the growth rate of tumors by up to 90% (Reference 3). Compounds in the mushroom also demonstrated antibacterial properties by inhibiting the growth of bacteria harmful to human health (strains of E. coli, Staphyloccocus aureus, and others) in a lab setting.
It's not as chitinous as other mushrooms and can be eaten raw (mushrooms are made of chitin, the same substance that makes up crustacean shells and insect skeletons). I took a bite out of it when I harvested it from the tree; it was juicy with a lightly acidic taste. We opted to cook the mushroom and prepare it kind of like real steak where we just seasoned it with some savory seasonings (cumin, smoked paprika, cayenne) and of course a little salt & pep. It was tasty, but the texture became a bit more gelatinous than when it was consumed raw. The chef (Ciara) said that perhaps the ideal preparation would be raw filets of the mushroom with a hot, savory sauce drizzled over it.
Now let's hit on a couple of the nitty gritty ecological elements before we call it a wrap. F. hepatica is saprobic, growing from the dead wood on hardwoods (particularly oaks - where I found this specimen). It's thought that it can also be parasitic and digest living wood on these trees. The mushroom can grow summer through fall in the northeastern US and across the northern temperate hemisphere. The sightings on iNaturalist peak in September and the range of observations on iNat is seen below. The mushroom ranges in size and can grow up to a foot wide - larger than a human liver.
Alright let's not get bogged down by too much science. Come out on Sunday and we can talk all about if you want,
1) Kuo, M. (2019, February). Fistulina hepatica. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/fistulina_hepatica.html
PS. The anti-tumor study referenced in Reference 3 is one I've seen/referenced before and it's referenced all the time in other studies on medicinal mushrooms. However, I can't find the original study online. If anyone is good at searching through the internet and wants to try to find Polysaccharides having an anticarcinogenic effect and a method of producing them from species of Basidiomycetes by Ohtsuka et al. from 1973, well I'd love to read it.