February 25th, 2010


Urban Nature Pictures 2/25, 50 more urban species #5: false wood ear

Exidia recisa

Is this cheating? In the original 365 Urban Species Project I misidentified this mushroom as Auricularia sp., or “wood ear.” I still sometimes refer to it as wood ear, especially when it’s really ear shaped. But despite a very close physical resemblance, it is not a close relative of the mushroom found in hot and sour soup. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really have a good common name of its own. I have seen it called “black witch’s butter,” (after witch’s butter) and “amber jelly roll” which apparently describe the ends of the color spectrum this species can span. Alas, I have never seen it any color than translucent brown, except for when it dries and the brown concentrates into black. “Brown witch’s butter” would be a natural compromise, but that has been claimed by a different species.

It’s strange for such a common mushroom to have no common name. In winter rains it appears on dead twigs by the thousand. Old oaks in the Emerald Necklace seem especially afflicted. The wind blows deadwood to the ground studded with it. Also strange is that there seems to be no literature on its edibility. One would expect that a mushroom that so closely resembles a known edible would have made it into someone’s pot at some point, and the results duly noted. I suspect that it has happened, to no effect, but without knowing for sure I must recommend against it.

David Arora mentions the species in passing in his tome-like bible of mushroom field guides Mushrooms Demystified, saying only that it is common in the Southeast. It gets a similar hand-waving from the Peterson and Audubon guides. The Barron guide and the Simon and Schuster guides, as well as my new favorite guide, North American Mushrooms by the Millers, only describe its close (but in my experience much more rare) relative warty black jelly E. glandulosa. To see more photographs of E. recisa, follow this link (misnamed "wood ear").