The World's Smartest Tree - 2003

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."

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

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.

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Brainwatch 2004

Loyal readers of The Sneeze may remember that it was almost one year ago that the hideous brain grew on the tree in front of my house.

You may also remember that Mike Boom of the San Francisco Mycological Society explained what he thought the brain might be. It was only moments later that I looked up the word mycological.

Since the brain is apparently annual, we now begin BRAINWATCH 2004. I'll be keeping an eye on the tree and taking pictures as any brains develop.

Back to you in the newsroom, Connie.

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Did Anyone Order A Hideous Tree Brain?


Here we go, gang! As of this morning we have total brain activity lurking within the tree.

Click on the image for a closer view. You can clearly see the beginnings of it growing in the cracks on the right-hand side.

I placed a quarter on the stump for size reference.

With this sighting I'm resetting the counter, so we'll call this "Day 1." I'll be taking a picture every day or so to track its grotesque progress. We'll see how this one compares to last year's.

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Brainwatch: Day 3

As of this morning, there was still very little change since the last picture. I don't get it. I can still see a bit of the embryonic tree-brain in the cracks, mocking me.

Maybe these things are dormant for a few days before a big growth spurt? Or maybe the tree is getting shy from all the media exposure I've foisted upon it? Or maybe the tree is just being a dick.

Either way, I'll keep you posted.

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Brainwatch: Day 6 - A Shocking Twist

I told you.

Last year, I said right here that we were dealing with the smartest tree in the world.

The tree has proven me right.

I was very disappointed that there had been no further activity since the other day, when I saw that yellow gunk down in the cracks.

Then yesterday I happened to walk around the other side of the tree, and guess what I found growing out of its theoretical ass. The new brain. Click to view it.

Son of a bitch! I've been publicly humiliated by a tree.

Stay posted for more pictures of the thriving tree ass-brain 2004.

Stupid tree.

(If you have no idea what this is about, it started here last year, then Mike Boom weighed in, then Brainwatch 2004 began.)

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Brainwatch: Day 7


The brain, it grows.
(Click it to enlarge.)

JW and Felix both pointed me to an old sci-fi movie called "From Hell It Came." It features a crazy killer-tree named "TABONGA!"

"It's roots reaching down to the dead!
It's crawling creepers reaching out for human flesh!"

From this point forward, the tree in front of my house will be known as Tabonga.

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Brainwatch: Day 8


Tabonga's evil tree-brain
continues to grow.

(Click the photo for a better view.)

As for yesterday's picture of it, Annie wrote in with the following observation:

Hey Steve,
I couldn't help noticing the amazing resemblance between the tree's ass-brain, and the sneezing monkey head in the title today. If you compare the two, it even looks like the brain is sneezing out the quarter you put there for size reference. Striking!!!!! (and gross!!!!!) LOL.

The Sneeze Rocks!
:o) Annie

All Brainwatch 2004 entries can be found here.

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Brainwatch: Day 9


Come one, come all!
Step right up and view

Don't be shy, folks!
There's plenty of hideous brain to go around.
(Click the photo for the full picture.)

If you don't hear from me in a while, the tree has simply carried me and my family away.

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Brainwatch: Day 12


It looks like the brain is done growing. The little shelves that have formed are starting to droop and dry out. It's a sad day.

All brain entries can be found here.

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Tree Brain 2005!

Look who's back...

Back again...

Brain is back...

With a friend!

Old school readers of The Sneeze will remember the annual brain that grows on the tree in front of my house from 2003 and 2004.

This year's brain was late enough that I thought he might not show at all, but he had a surprise. Not only is he back in his old spot, but he brought a friend down by the roots.

I'm not going to update the progress day-by-day this time, but I'll take pics every day and put them all up at the end of the brain cycle. You can see a big ol' beautiful close-up right here.

(And pretty please don't email asking me to eat the brain. Despite all the requests, it's not gonna happen. But I should have a new Steve, Don't Eat It up by next week, if that's any consolation.)

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Treebrain Update and INTRIGUE!

An interesting new development in Treebrain 2005. My wife spotted suspicious activity around our brain. I'll let her describe the events...

It was 4:48 on a sunny afternoon this past Friday. I was in the kitchen, making dinner, and I had a clear view out to the tree brain from a front window. En route to the stove, holding a pot full of water, I caught a glimpse of someone out of the corner of my eye. It was a woman holding a yellow piece of paper. She stopped at the tree brain to examine it. Then I watched in amazement and horror as she pinched off a piece and ate it!

I quickly put the pot of water down, and was headed out the door to talk to her, but she hurried off with her curious piece of paper. (Was she taking notes??) She walked quickly up the block, and we have not seen her again.

At first I thought she might be a tree surgeon working for the city, but then she tasted it and I decided she was just a freak.

I promised Steve (because he made me) that if she comes back, I'll take pictures of her in the act.

Thank you, sweetie. But let me shed some light on who this person was. We're dealing with one of 3 things here:

- stalky Sneeze fan
- top secret government agent
- Taliban

Probably all 3. I'll keep you posted.

Here is a shot of the damage caused by the interloper. I've highlighted the stolen chunk.

Click here for a better view.

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive


I came home last night to discover the tree brain was GONE!!! STOLEN!!!! I'm not fucking around, someone really took it.

My wife had been periodically checking on it all day long and keeping an eye out for the mysterious woman with the yellow paper from Friday. As the sun was going down yesterday, it was still there.

The perpetrator waited to make their move UNDER CLOAK OF DARKNESS! It's lunacy! What kind of world are we living in?!!

The less-than-spectacular assistant brain on the roots is still there, but really, who cares? We all know that one wasn't the star of this year's show. It was like the fungal understudy.

If this lady comes back again next year to try and eat Treebrain 2006, I have a plan. Every day I'm secretly going to spit on it.

So, at least we'll have that.

(You can read more about the brain's identity here.)

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Have You Seen This Woman?


Here is a sketch of the fungus thief based on my wife's description. (If you have no clue what this is about, it sort of started here.)

The Tree Brain Bandit may be armed with a kitchen knife or a piece of yellow paper. She walks quickly and likes to act at night. She may have mushroom-breath.

The suspect was last seen wearing a white bucket hat and eating things off my tree.

She is wanted for 1 (one) count of brain-napping and 1 (one) count of defacing historic and silly internet landmarks.

This suspect should be considered weird and hungry.

(Thanks, Mark!)

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

The Tree with Two Brains

It's that time of year again.

I came home last night to find not one, but two glorious little brain buds emerging from the tree. These are the Billy and Benny McCrary of internet fungi.

My dream is the two will eventually merge -- forming the Ultimate Super Tree-Brain which will then rise up and smite the diabolical woman who STOLE its ancestor one year ago.

I don't know how to stop the thief from returning, but assuming she took it to eat -- I will spit on our little fungi friends every day until she strikes. So at least we'll have that.

Close-ups are here and here.

(If you're new to the whole tree brain thing, we've been following it for years.)

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Brainwatch 2006 Day 2

As of 8:30 this morning...

Like two little batches of fungal dough, they're rising nicely...

Close-ups are here and here.

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Growth Spurt

It's Day 3 of Brainwatch 2006 and the boys wasted no time growing last night.

The spitting has begun. Unless you're the Brain-Napper reading this, in which case, I'm totally kidding. Why would I spit on them?! That's so immature. You just go ahead with your stealing and eating. Enjoy!

Close-ups are here and here.

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

They Grow Up So Fast

It seemed like only a few days ago the tree brains were just little nubbins, but look at them now...

Great close up here.

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Important Tree Brain Discovery

Tree Brain Season is rapidly approaching. That's the time of year when we eagerly await the annual hideous growth on the tree in my yard. Think of it as the fungal Great Pumpkin. (Except this one actually shows up and doesn't leave you looking like a jackass in front of Charlie Brown's little sister.)

Mellors from Australia wrote to me with a startling discovery from Tree Brain 2006 that somehow went unnoticed until now...


I was looking at one of your last pictures of the brain, and I noticed.. your last brain had a FACE!

I circled the face in the picture for you, just tilt your head slightly to the right and you should see it ;D

I hope it's not too late and irrelevant. I can't wait for new installments of it, only a couple of months to go!!

I can't believe none of us have spotted that until now. This might be the most important face finding since the Face on Mars and the significantly lamer Smiley Face on Mars.

Here's a closer look:

It's important to remain rational and scientific when presented with findings such as this. If you take into account the position of the sun and the camera angle at the time the photo was taken, I think there is only one logical conclusion we can make: the tree brain was trying to reveal the identity of the Tree Brain Bandit. The heartless little lady who stole Tree Brain 2005.

I think we'll all be paying extra attention for such clues when Brain Watch 2007 begins.

(Everything you could possibly want to know about the annual Tree Brain can be found right here. Thanks, Mellors!)

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Cranial Coincidence? - UPDATED

A reader named Thierry has discovered something fascinating on the Neopets website. This familiar looking fellow named "Brain Tree."

I realize this is most likely a coincidence, but the fact that the brain is orange does make me wonder just a little bit. (If there's a mysterious lady in a hat who's always out to get him, something might be up.)

The Sneeze Official Brainwatch 2007 begins in late August.

UPDATE: Leah writes: "I hate to sound like a dork (or burst your conspiracy bubble), but the Brain Tree from Neopets has been around for at least 6-7 years because I used to frequent that website when I first got the high speed internet."

Do keep in mind that we're dealing with a highly-advanced intelligence here. There's no telling what this tree is capable of, or what diabolical plans it had set into motion long before it made itself known in my yard.

For all I know, that email actually came from the tree. But thanks for writing, Leah. Or should I say... TREE-AH?!!

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

Steve, Don't Eat It! - The Tree Brain

Over the last 4 years we've tracked the annual growth of fungus on the trees in front of my house, but the time for tracking was over. The time for chewing was here.

I was never interested in eating the Tree Brain because wild mushrooms can kill people. So I'm going to start off by saying: DO NOT EAT ANY MUSHROOMS YOU FIND GROWING IN THE WILD. I have no interest in being an accessory to your untimely death. Even if you think you've found a mushroom similar to mine, don't eat it. YOU WILL DIE. You'll be a dick and you'll die. So don't do it.

I'm serious. Pretend this is a PSA with a well-respected celebrity, such as -- I don't know... Jeremy Gelbwaks. And in the PSA he looks to camera and says "Hi, I'm TV's Jeremy Gelbwaks. You may know me better as the kid who was the first Chris Partridge on the Partridge Family. Don't eat mushrooms you find in the wild." And then off-camera we hear: "He's right." And, oh my God, it's BRIAN FORSTER, Chris Partridge #2! The two Chris's laugh, high-five and we're all a little bit safer.

That said, I totally ate the tree brain.

At some point a small residual nubbin finally did grow on the original tree. It seemed a waste to not do SOMETHING with it. And as much as I like writing this site for you guys, hot man on mushroom sex wasn't going to happen.

My wife has been the real force behind me not eating it over the years, but I caught her at just the right time. I reminded her that a professional mycologist had identified it and that I was well-read on all the potential pitfalls. It was still "young," it was not growing on a type of tree that could potentially make me ill (such as eucalyptus) and I was going to cook it thoroughly. I also found it hard to believe it would want to hurt me after all I've done for Tree Brain awareness.

I was 99.7% sure I'd be fine and I even made a deal with her that I'd just chew it and spit it out. Luckily, she was feeling sick and had a headache. I was given some vague "Do whatever you want," approval.

It really is heartwarming to know that my wife is devoted and loves me and doesn't want me to die. Unless her head hurts a little.

I tried to think of some perfect words to say before removing the brain. This was a historic moment and I wanted to come up with something fitting. Then my neighbors across the street drove up. I felt silly and hid behind my car until they went inside. Eventually I cut off the brain and ran back into my house. Historically.

It was weird to see it in my kitchen. I took a few pics like a geeky fanboy...

then unceremoniously hacked it to pieces.

The raw brain didn't smell like much of anything. If I was going to taste this thing, I didn't want to mask the flavor so I just went with a little olive oil.

The hunks got more intensely orange as they cooked down and soon it was go time. As I promised my wife, the plan was to chew it and spit it out. BUT IT WAS SO GODDAMN DELICIOUS IT HAD TO BE SWALLOWED. IT WAS THE BEST MUSHROOM I'VE EVER HAD.

I had read over and over that these Sulfur Shelf mushrooms (sometimes called "Chicken of the Woods") were supposed taste like chicken or even lemony chicken. But it didn't just "kind of" taste like lemony chicken. It was as if Willy Wonka branched out from chocolate to work on a lemony chicken mushroom and when he let you try it you'd be like, "Holy shit, this REALLY tastes like lemony chicken, Bill!" (Although it wouldn't kill you to treat Mr. Wonka with a little more respect.)

I waited awhile to see if I got sick. I didn't, so I went off zombie-style on the remaining brains. Even my wife, who was still feeling like crap, tried it and had to admit to its deliciousness.

Lest you doubt that the tree brain was consumed, I've decided to include an up close and personal picture of my sloppy food hole, chewing it up. I've always felt you didn't need to actually see these types of pix of food literally being mashed up in my mouth, but I figured on such a momentous occasion, it should be documented -- saliva, taste buds, 4 days of stubble and all.

I can't wait until next year. I will eat the shit out of that tree.

I have to say, it's weird to watch something grow for 4 years and then all of a sudden you're eating it. It really made me think... Maybe I should... EAT MY SON.

"Hi, I'm Jeremy Gelbwaks. Remember -- never eat your son."

But think about how tender he'll be, Jeremy Gelbwaks!

"Oh, he'd be tender for sure. But, Jeremy's right."

BRIAN FORSTER?! What are you doing here?!

"I'm here to say eating your kids is not cool."

"But-- I have a website, and-- Fine, whatever. I won't eat my son." Stupid Chris Partridges and their voice of reason.

(All Steve, Don't Eat It! posts can be found here.)

By Steven • PermalinkThe Sneeze Archive

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