There’s More Than Meets the Eye to Forest Fungi

Coral fungus in the redwood forest.
Coral fungus in the redwood forest.

Did you know that winter rains cause fungi to reproduce in the redwood forest?  Mushrooms are the most visible parts of the fungal body and grow up out of the soil so that the wind will disperse their spores.  When you see a mushroom, you are really only seeing the “tip of the iceberg” that grows out of the large, hidden cellular network that consumes food in the soil or decaying wood.  Once rain wets the forest, the fungus diverts its energy into growing mushrooms and making spores.

The coral fungus emerges from the redwood forest floor after the rain, and displays an array of white, yellow, orange and red mushrooms.  It quickly grows to a height of 5-10 inches off the forest floor as it gets its energy directly from the trees in the forest.  Coral fungi (genus Ramaria) are mycorrhizae, meaning they form connections to the roots of trees and trade the nutrients absorbed from the soil for sugars from the trees.  Coral fungi typically form this beneficial relationship with hardwood tree species like oaks and occasionally conifers.  This mushroom does not have gills like many of the capped mushrooms we are most familiar with, but instead produces olive-colored spores all over the delicate branches of its fruiting body.

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About Emily Burns

Emily Burns, the League’s former Director of Science, led the research program that includes the Redwoods and Climate Change Initiative. She holds a PhD in Integrative Biology on the impacts of fog on coast redwood forest flora from the University of California, Berkeley.

Hiking in the Wasatch Range east of Salt Lake City.

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Rain drops glisten on a fence post after winter rain.

Bracing for Rain


For millennia the redwoods have stood tall, facing west as they look out across the vast Pacific Ocean—an ocean that brings fog in the summer and rain in the winter.  Earlier this week the first storm of the season rolled Continued

2 Responses to “There’s More Than Meets the Eye to Forest Fungi”

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    Tim Upham

    Fungi is very critically for the coniferous forests. The symbiosis between the conifers and the fungi, is that mycorrhizae or fungal roots will attach themselves to the roots of the tree. They will provide the tree with water and nutrients, and in return the tree will provide them with energy-rich sugars from the tree’s photosynthesis.

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    We went to fern canyon, there are lots of the coral fungi everywhere. Are the different colors the same species?


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