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Mother Nature Monday: The Mushroom of Immortality

Have you ever heard of “The Mushroom of Immortality”? Called Reishi in Japan and Ling Chi in China, its species name is Ganoderma lucidum. It has been used for over 7,000 years in Asia. Although it is not edible, it is ground up and made into a tea that is alleged to invigorate and extend your lifetime. The tea is alleged to cure cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and even chronic fatigue syndrome. This mushroom has a naturally lacquered surface that accentuates the beautiful creamy edges and the rust oranges of the inner bands. In fact, many people use this mushroom as a decoration!

In the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest this mushroom has existed alongside and inside the hemlock trees for many centuries. The species of Ganoderma that grows there is Ganoderma tsugae. It is a different species than lucidum and it is parasitic and saprobic on hemlocks and other conifers. For this reason, it is commonly called the Hemlock Varnish Shelf. It is increasingly common on the fallen hemlocks that have been killed by the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid. Although a few of the hemlocks are being individually treated with insecticides to stave off this voracious insect, the majority of the hemlocks in the forest have succumbed. The dead and dying trees have provided a huge food source for the Ganoderma fungus, the Pileated Woodpecker and the numerous small beetles that feed on the tree and the fungus. What is a tragedy for the hemlocks is a huge temporary windfall for many other creatures.

In the early spring you will first notice what appears to be a cream-colored bump on the rough and peeling bark of the dying or decomposing hemlock trees. If you observed that bump every day you would see it grow larger and larger, some as large as dinner plates. Then the lump expands laterally into a shelf or bracket. Ganoderma tsugae is quite shiny in appearance and that is why its common name, the Hemlock Varnish Shelf, refers to varnish. The adult fruiting body or “Conk” is shaped like a giant, wrinkly fan. Both G. lucidum and G. tsugae belong to a large group of fungi called polypores. If you look with a hand lense on the underside of the fruiting body you will see thousands of tiny tube openings, called pores, in which brown spores are produced.

“In recent years, many studies have been carried out on the pharmacological activities of G. tsugae and showed that it has many pharmacological properties, such as antioxidant (Mau et al., 2002), anti-inflammation (Ko et al., 2008), anti-tumor (Yu et al., 2012; Kuo et al., 2013; Huang et al., 2019), lipid-lowering (Tseng et al., 2018), immunity enhancement (Jinn et al., 2006), etc. Because they are closely related to G. lucidum, G. tsugae is thought to have similar medicinal value. There have been numerous studies that have looked at the hemlock varnish shelf for its antioxidant properties, its ability to heal skin wounds, and its potential use in therapy for cervical cancer.”

You can usually spot at least one large black and orange beetle munching away on the upper surface of the Mushroom of Immortality as you walk along the trail. This beetle belongs to the family Erotylidae, the “Pleasing Fungus Beetles”. I can only assume that there are some less pleasing fungus beetles in existence too. These black and orange beetles belong to the Genus Megalodacne and their species name is heros. So now you can tell your friends that M. heros is the name of the beetle that eats the Ganoderma tsugae fruiting body!

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