Mushroom of the Week - All the fall colors
All of the “fall color” isn’t just from the leaves of deciduous trees.
Red Coral Mushroom, Ramaria araiospora var. rubella
Most of our fleshy coral mushrooms are in the genus Ramaria. Descriptively, the word Ramaria means "furnished with branches." In general many of these fleshy fungi look perhaps as much like a cauliflower as they do a sea coral. However, this bright red one certainly rivals some of the most showy of marine corals.
While this particular species of Ramaria is considered edible, many kinds have a laxative effect on those who consume them. And even if you find you can eat this or another species without any difficulties—do not automatically assume that your friends or family can too. So for those who wish to try them, the standard caution is that no one should ever consume a lot of any “untested” species. Also, while none are considered to be really dangerously poisonous, Ramaria gelatinosa and Ramaria formosa (the latter a group of actually several similar species) are mildly poisonous.
Ramarias are strictly found in woodlands, where they are saprotrophic—decomposing woody material and humus primarily under hemlocks and other conifers. However, in southwestern Oregon they are frequently found under tanoak as well.
Part of what often makes individual coral fungi difficult to identify, is simply the diversity of species, and their vast array of variable colors. Additionally it is common for their colors to fade or change as the organism ages and matures—and thus sometimes resembling other species they are not. Thus, except for a few notables, discerning individual species of coral fungi can often be somewhat difficult and confusing. I often find myself pulling out the remaining hairs on my head, when trying to distinguish some older, faded species at night under artificial light, where a key asks the would be identifier to distinguish a species by whether the branches are “yellowish orange to tan” or “pinkish-orange to brownish”?
For example, while even Ramaria araiospora may begin as a brilliant red color, as it ages it typically fades to pinkish or light red shades, and sometimes even orange. Also this species’ branched tips can be red (in var. rubella) or yellowish (in var. araiospora).
Whether you wish to risk (or avoid) their potential laxative effects, the Red Coral Mushroom can always be appreciated (even if left uneaten) when this particularly colorful species is found unexpectedly on an otherwise dark or moss covered, fall forest floor.