This branching form nestled in a bed of golden haircap moss (Polytrichum commune) is it a coral? No, it is actually the fungus Thelephora anthocephala a very terrestrial organism. There were about 40 of these fungi growing in the moss over an area of about 15 square feet back in September of this year. I had never seen this type of fungus before anywhere so naturally I was quite excited. Their resemblance to fungi in the genus Clavaria (coral fungus) is apparent but the relationship is distant.
The name Thelephora anthocephala is from four Greek words: thele (nipple), phora (bearing), antho (flower), and cephala (head). So it is the “nipple-bearing flower head” fungus. The nipple part of the name is in reference to the (usually) papillate (bumpy or nipple-like) surface of the spore producing organs found in most members of the genus.
Thelephora anthocephala is a leathery, fibrous fungus with numerous brown coral-like branching stalks (3 to 5 cm tall) from a short (1 to 1.5 cm) base. The ends of the branches are dark brown near the base, fuscous purple further up, becoming lighter near the ends which are flattened, spoon-shaped and whitened. Spores are produced at the branch tips.
The related T. palmata is similar looking but has a fetid odor. T. anthocephala is odorless and tasteless. I did the sniff test on several of them to be sure. Some Thelephora (Thelephora ganbajun, for example) are eaten although I do not know of anyone eating this or any other North American species so I didn’t do a taste test on these.
Genus and Species: Thelephora anthocephala
T. anthocephala is an ectomycorrhizal fungus found in forests.
Range and Distribution
T. anthocephala is widely distributed across the Northern Hemisphere.
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