Artist’s Conk: A Perennial Mushroom

Mushrooms are plentiful in Eliza Howell Park at this time of the year and I devote some of my walking time to making note of the varieties present. These photos were taken one recent morning.

Many of the mushrooms are ephemeral; they develop quickly and fade quickly.

There are others, though, especially some that grow on trees and logs, that can be observed repeatedly over a long period of time. Artist’s Conk is one of these.

I recently located a small grouping of Artist’s Conks on a large log in the park woodland. These stemless fungi grow horizontally from a tree or log and are a couple inches to a foot or more across.

They are perennials, remaining in the same spot for years and producing new spores each year. The underside, where the pore-producing spores are located, is white and is the reason this shelf mushroom is so well known.

Marking the fleshy white under surface is easy and whatever is imprinted there becomes permanent when the fungus is dried. Artists have long made use of this and examples of Artist’s Conk artwork can easily be found online.

To demonstrate the ease with which the marking can be done, I picked up a stiff twig and initialed one of the conks. Definitely not a work of art, it shows what is possible.

This particular log is about two feet in diameter, at the base of a large maple tree. The main trunk of the tree, which remains alive, has broken off and it appears that the log is what was formerly the top part of the trunk.

I tend to have a greater attraction to mushrooms that grow on wood, especially on dead trees and logs, than to mushrooms that grow on ground. A major reason for this is, I think, that I can observe the relationship over time: as the wood rots, what happens to the mushrooms; and how the mushrooms contribute to the wood returning to nutrients.

Artist’s Conk can potentially live for decades and this log appears to be near the beginning of the decay process.

This could be a good opportunity to observe a perennial mushroom over time. I expect this maple log and the Artist’s Conk will continue their symbiotic relationship long after my Eliza Howell days are over, but, for now, I am watching and learning.

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