AKA tree ear, wood ear, etc…
If the recent warm weather has you longing for a hike take a small collecting basket with you. Look closely at the dead trees & limbs as you pass for brown rubbery ear-like fungi. Wood ears grow most commonly on dead conifer wood, but, I have seen them on hard wood as well. In my experience wood ear can fruit almost anytime of year, at least in our area. If the weather has been moist they will be brown and rubbery, if it’s been dry for several days they’ll be very small, black and brittle. This is a fairly safe mushroom for beginners to collect & sample, so long as they collect only brown, ear-like fungi growing on wood. In warmer weather there are similar (but brittle) species that grow on earth which could be poisonous.
This isn’t a hugely sought after culinary mushroom. Most of the ones I find have the taste & texture of faintly fungal rubber bands, but there is great variability in the flavor. Perhaps some mycologist will someday split them into several subspecies. Those of us who enjoy Chinese hot/sour soup know it just wouldn’t be the same without them.
Medicinally speaking, there are recent studies suggesting positive effects on coronary artery disease. This is new to Western medicine, but something the Chinese herbalists have known for centuries. Wood ear is thought to be one of the reasons for the low occurrence of coronary artery disease in China.
This isn’t the time of year to go out and fill a basket with edibles (unless you find a huge fruiting of oysters), but during the warming trends be aware. Have a good month.
Field mycologist and long standing member of the Asheville Mushroom
(Images by: Olga K, and Tradd C.)