As a professional botanist, I don’t know my mushrooms well, but I am working to learn more. This fall, I’m sharing some easily identified, beginner-level species so you can learn too! Today’s fungus is the most well-named one I’ve met so far: this is Cat’s-tongue (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum).
If you look closely at the top of this mushroom, you’ll see it looks just as rough as its feline namesake. Looks can be deceiving though. Cat’s-tongue is one of the jelly fungi with a texture much like a gummy bear and not at all like sandpaper. Under the cap are tiny teeth that would remind you of the Hedgehogs I profiled here: https://www.pei-untamed.com/post/hedgehogs .
But unlike Hedgehogs, Cat’s-tongue teeth are soft and pliable rather than spiky and brittle. That’s where this species gets its scientific name: ‘Pseudohydnum’ means false hedgehog, and ‘gelatinosum’ means jelly-like. So, both the common and scientific names are perfect descriptors. (It’s also known as Toothed Jelly Fungus, but I like Cat’s-tongue much better).
Cat’s-tongue can be found growing on dead softwood in late summer and fall. This is one of the white-rot fungi, digesting lignin – a compound that gives plant cells their rigidity and is especially important in woody species. White rot fungi leave behind light-coloured, shredded-looking wood that is mostly cellulose (a carbohydrate). In breaking down lignin, white rot fungi play a critical role in recycling carbon from trees and making it available to other plants and animals. By comparison, brown rot fungi digest cellulose, leaving behind dark-coloured, blocky chunks of wood that’s mostly lignin. This lignin plays an important part in the structure and moisture-holding ability of forest soils. If you enjoy a walk in the woods, thank fungi! Without them, we’d be buried under a mountain of undecayed dead wood (and animals) on top of near-sterile soil.
Cat’s-tongue fungi are edible, though I didn’t find enough to give them a try. These are small mushrooms that usually grow scattered or in small groups, and it can be hard to find the volume to make a taste-test worthwhile. Its jelly-like texture and bland flavour keep it from being considered a choice edible, but Cat’s-tongue can be made into mushroom candy. To do this, soak your fungi for a day or so in a simple syrup (one part sugar dissolved in one part water), then roll in sugar and air dry or dehydrate until they’re the consistency you want. Homemade, natural gummy tongues!
Cat’s-tongue has no close look-alikes and so I consider it a good beginner-level species. Keep your eye open for it while exploring PEI untamed!