Text and photos by Nancy Partlow©
On a recent walk with Janet through the shady environs of Priest Point Park, I noticed an ivy-covered log lying on the ground. This is a not an unusual sight at this park, but what is unusual is that many of the ivy's leaves were rusty-looking. Ivy is nearly indestructible, and even this summer's drought wouldn't turn the leaves that color. On closer inspection, it turned out that the brown coloration was something that neither Janet or I had ever seen before: a thick coating of cocoa-colored spores from Ganoderma applanatum, better known as Artist's Fungus, or Artist's Conk.
A flash photo revealed several of these mushrooms growing out of the rotting log, and the extent of the spore spread.
Being the curious naturalists we are, we had some questions (we always have questions). Like, how did the spores spread so far from the mushrooms, and how were they released from a fungus which looks gnarly like this on the topside...
...and solidly smooth and white on the bottom?:
It turns out that Artist's Fungus is a polyphore, meaning, "many pores" and that its "solid" white underside is actually comprised of many tiny holes, from which are released billions of minute spores. Here is what the underside looks like in close-up:
And here is what it looks like when spores are released, in this cool video I found online of a related bracket fungus:
From the video you can see that the slightest air currents can spread spores, but Janet informed me that mushrooms can make their own air currents too!
Here's a video showing that actually happening, with an explanation of how:
Along our walk, we saw further evidence of air currents spreading spores. An Artist's Conk growing from a rotting tree stump showed plenty of spore powder in close proximity to the fungus.
But on the other side of the stump a dusting of drifted spores had been funneled through the crotch of the tree by a breeze:
Some day I hope to see an Artist's Conk releasing its spores in real time, but at least now I know how it's done. Nature is a teacher I never tire of learning from.
Some more beautiful and fun spore release videos:
Puff balls releasing spores in the rain
Brown cup fungi releasing spores when blown on