Is Tree Fungus Dangerous to Humans?

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Some fungi feed on dead trees, while others parasitize living trees.
Some fungi feed on dead trees, while others parasitize living trees. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Fungi are fascinating organisms offering a remarkable variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Many of these fungi grow on trees, and some are even edible. The edible ones are hard to distinguish from the toxic ones. Proper identification is critical to safe mushroom hunting.

Tree Fungus

The most damaging part of a tree fungus usually isn't the part you see. The damaging part lives inside the tree, feeding on either living sporesor dead wood. The mushroom, the part attached to the trunk or above ground roots, is a fruiting body. It contains that are released and spread by wind or water to other trees where they germinate, and creating a new growth.

Edible and Toxic Fungi

Some fungi growing on trees are toxic. They can sicken and even kill. Some are edible. Proper identification may save your life. The Unites States Forest Service recommends studying several field guides and joining a mushroom hunting club or society. They state that collecting mushrooms with an experienced guide is the surest way to collect safe mushrooms, gain knowledge and build confidence.

Tips for Collecting

The Missouri Department of Conservation reports there are a few tools every mushroom hunter needs. Bring a flat-bottomed basket, wax paper, a trowel, a pen or pencil, and a notebook. When you find a mushroom to collect, carefully remove it from the tree. Remove all parts of the mushroom, as is important for identification. Wrap the mushroom in wax paper. Write as much information as you can about the mushroom you found. Carefully describe the mushroom, where and when you found it, and what kind of tree it was growing on. All of this information is important for identification.

Some Edible Mushrooms

According to the United States Forest Service, some mushrooms that grow on trees are not only edible but may be beneficial to your health. Among them are the charred and black chaga, which grows on birch, ironwood, elm, beech and alder. The reddish-brown artist's conk is often used as a medium for artists who draw on the top portion. The hemlock varnish shelf is a deep-red, wavy, shelflike mushroom that primarily grows on Eastern hemlock.

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