Fungi were once considered part of the plant kingdom. Not only are they now a kingdom of their own, but research shows they are more closely related to animals: They take in nutrients from organic matter, while plants create food through photosynthesis. Fungi cell walls contain fibrous material called chitin, as do arthropods; plants do not.

Monumental mushrooms: One of Earth’s largest living organisms is a single honey mushroom (Armillaria ostoyae) discovered in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon in 1998. It covers 2,384 acres and is estimated to be 2,400–8,650 years old. The fossil of a 20-foot-tall fungus that went extinct more than 350 million years ago was found in Saudi Arabia.

Capped crusader: Oyster mushrooms are used to clean oil spills. Researchers have discovered that this species also can decompose plastic while still creating an edible mushroom.

Chesapeake Challenge mushroom photo

 (Keith Miklas/CC BY-SA 4.0)

5% fruit: The “mushroom” or fruit is only a small part of the organism. The other 95% of the fungus is beneath the surface.

Heard it through the root-vine: A vast, symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi roots exists below the forest floor. These fungi, called mycorrhizal mushrooms, share the nitrogen and phosphorus they absorb from the soil with the tree roots, which in turn share simple sugars with the fungi. It was discovered in the 1990s that trees use the shared fungal network to warn each other about pests, drought and disease. It is now known as the “wood wide web.”

Chesapeake Challenge mushroom photo

(Wearethechampignons/CC BY 4.0)

Picky picking: About 50% of all known mushrooms are inedible but harmless; 20% can cause illness; 1% percent are lethal.

Chesapeake Challenge mushroom photo

(Lee Collins/public domain)

Zap adds zip: Inspired by observations in the wild, scientists blasted different mushrooms with artificial lightning. It spurred growth in several species and doubled the growth rate of shiitake mushrooms.

Chesapeake Challenge mushroom photo

(Public domain)

If while hiking in the woods, your friend shouts, “Look at that fantastic fungus!” chances are you’ll start scanning the ground. You might be looking in the wrong place. Photos on this page show fungi that grow on trees. Match them up with their names and descriptions. Answers are below.

Chesapeake Challenge mushroom photo

(Vegan Feast Catering/CC BY 2.0)

  • Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)
  • Coral-pink Merulius (Phlebia incarnata)
  • Jack-o-lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus illudens)
  • Jelly ear (Auricularia auricula-judae)
  • Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor)
  1. One look at me and you know how I got my name. I survive droughts by totally drying out but can rehydrate when it rains. I grow on conifers. I am a jelly fungus and appear during rain or wet conditions.
  2. My colorful fanlike shape looks just like my name. My outer stripe/zone is always the brightest. As I age, algae may grow on some of these zones, giving them a green tint. I am a polypore mushroom. Instead of gills, I have pores on my underside.
  3. I grow in large pale yellow and orange shelves, or brackets, often on the wounds of oaks. Sometimes, my brackets weigh more than 100 pounds. I am a parasitic species and produce brown rot on my host tree, much to its detriment.
  4. See that faint green glow in the woods at night? That’s us trying to attract insects to our gills so they can help spread our spores. During the day, we are a clump of orange mushrooms on a decaying stump or base of a hardwood tree. I may look like edible chanterelles, but don’t confuse us: I am poisonous!
  5. I get my name from my bright salmon branched folds, which fade as I age. Look for me growing in clusters on hardwoods. I am almost never found without the false turkey tail mushroom somewhere nearby.


1. B - wood ear

2. C - turkey tail

3. E - chicken of the woods

4. A - jack-o-lantern mushrooms

5. D - coral-pink Merulius

Kathleen Gaskell is the Bay Journal's copy editor and author of Chesapeake Challenge. Contact Kathleen at

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