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  • Writer's pictureJulia Preminger Photography

Mushroom of Immortality—New Life on a Fallen Hemlock Tree

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

May 26 2022.

I've been trying to learn more about the local Catskill Mountains forest—varieties of trees, fungi, and plants, and how they interact with each other. One of my favorite phenomena is new plants rooting and flourishing on decomposing trees. On my morning walk I came across a fallen hemlock carpeted with moss, sporting newly emerged Hemlock Reishi—Ganoderma tsugae also known as Hemlock Varnish Shelf. The fruiting fungi were joined by richly textured mosses, holding sporophytes high, that formed a safe foundation for ferns and tiny sprouting birch trees.

Ganoderma tsugae is particular to Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, although there are reports of it occurring on other trees. It lives mostly on dead or dying hemlocks. Reishi mushrooms occur worldwide. Some varieties are known as "mushroom of immortality". They are potent medicinal mushrooms.

I felt so elated when I saw the pristine Hemlock Varnish Shelf mushrooms emerging in the middle of all the verdure! It was as if their intelligence called to me, “Come and see what we are doing!” I especially love the one that looks like a freshly baked biscuit. 🥰

These puffy little beings will evolve over the course of the summer becoming larger, darker, and harder. Like most fungi, they are just the "tip of the iceberg". Hidden inside the hemlock wood, is a network of mycelial mat that consists of a network of thin white stands (hyphae which are decomposing the wood, making nutrients available to the plants, and returning nutrients to the soil. Tara Mitchell enumerates the myriad ways in which fungi benefit an entire ecosystem.

Be sure to scroll past the photo grid to enjoy a video by naturalist Adam Haritan in which he explains how to positively identify this mushroom.

Click on the photo grid to see larger images:-)

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