Old tree stumps and logs often offer an interesting assortment of bugs and fungi. The stump pictured above features two inteteresting fungi. The larger of the two is a bracket fungus called Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor). Turkey Tail is a common fungus that can be found across much of the continent. It occurs on hardwood logs and stumps. This intricately-patterned fungus gets its name from the bands of color, which are said to resemble the tail of a strutting turkey. The colors may be tan to grey to orange or red-brown, the exact shades depending on the genetics of the particular organism and the environment it is fruiting in. Dark bands alternate with bands of a lighter shade.
Turkey Tail is a polypore. If you break off a piece and look at the underside, you’ll see tiny pores, which give entry to shallow tubes. Turkey Tail has a soft, but tough, rubbery feel. Unlike many fungi, which are short-lived, turkey tail can persist for a long time, even overwintering, so it is possible to find turkey tail at many times of the year.
Turkey Tail and other polypores play an important role in ecosystems as decomposers of wood, allowing the nutrients and minerals in old stumps and logs to be recycled into the soil. It can take several hundred years to recycle a large fallen tree and slowly release its nutrients so that other forest organisms can use them. Turkey Tail causes a white rot of wood. That is, it breaks down the lignin of the wood and leaves the cellulose behind. There are other fungi that cause a brown rot, digesting the cellulose and leaving the lignin behind.
Between the time when I first spotted the Turkey Tail to the morning when I went back to photograph it a few days later, a second fungus had appeared on the stump. This second fungus is very different in appearance from the Turkey Tail, with reddish-brown, bell-shaped caps held on fragile-looking stalks. It’s sometimes called Blood-foot, or The Bleeding Mushroom (Mycena haematopus). It grows in small clusters on well-rotted logs or stumps, usually without bark. Fruiting from spring to fall, it is widespread and common.
Its name is derived from the way in which a reddish, blood-like juice oozes out when you break the stalk. How much liquid drains out depends on factors such as the age of the specimen and how dry the substrate is. The species name, haematopus, means “blood foot” in Greek.