The World's Smartest Tree

brainI walked outside today to discover this monstrosity growing on the tree in front of our house. My wife says it's a fungus. God, Vassar girls kill me. She thinks she's so smart.

Clearly the tree is growing its own brain because it wants to communicate with me.

I don't believe the brain is fully functional yet because I asked the tree what it needed to tell me and it said nothing. I think it might still be learning our language from the radios of cars as they drive by. (And maybe a little Spanish from the gardener.)

You can click on the picture for a much better view of it. I put a quarter next to it for size reference.

On the off chance that my wife is right and it is a mushroom, then I think I just figured out the next episode of Steve, Don't Eat It!

But if I'm right, then soon the tree will gain the gift of speech and we will converse. It will share with me, the years and years of wisdom it has gained as a silent, stoic observer. I believe the tree will also pass along its message that we must care for our precious planet and its resources, as I gain a newfound understanding of the universe, and our place in it.

It is only after this, that I will then hack off its delicate brain and devour it for the next episode of "Steve, Don't Eat It."

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Posted by Steven at 06:47 AM

Fungal UPDATE!


Mike Boom of the Mycological Society of San Francisco has shed some light on the brain that grew on the tree in front of my house. Sadly, Mike agrees with my wife that it is not a brain...

Hi Steve,
It's almost certainly a sulfur shelf, aka Laetiporus gilbertsonii in the western U.S. unless it's growing on a pine tree, in which case it's probably Laetiporus conifericola, still a sulfur shelf in common parlance. In the eastern U.S. it's Laetiporus sulphureus. It's a decomposer that usually grows on dead trees, but is sometimes parasitic on live trees and does them no good. Check out a description here.

If there's any message from the tree in this case it's "help me!" There's not a whole lot you can do, though, other than hope the tree is in good enough health to survive it. If it's not, at least the sulfur shelf will eventually decompose the dead body and turn it into good fertilizer.

What you see is the fruiting (the mushroom) of the resident fungal organism, the mycelium, which invisibly skulks around year-round inside the tree digesting parts of it. Once a year it fruits a mushroom to reproduce, which it does by dropping lots of spores that can each start a new mycelium.

The best defense: eat it! Make sure of your identification first, because mushroom ID via tiny web pictures is never a sure thing. But if it is a sulfur shelf, it's quite tasty when young and fresh, with a consistency of tofu. Saute it, serve it in a salad, and congratulate yourself for protecting other trees. If it gets even slightly old, it gets tough and bitter, something like an old idealist.

Bon appetit,
Mike Boom

Mike is very cool, and makes a very convincing argument. But I can play that game too, and I am still convinced it is a "humanus brainius." But that's okay. We'll see who gets the last laugh when the Tree Creatures arrive.

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Posted by Steven at 01:45 PM
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