In the past couple of weeks, in mid-September, the honey mushroom, Armilariella mellea, has been coming up in different places around town.
The name, honey mushroom, refers to the Latin species name, mellea, which means honey. It’s a very attractive fungus and it’s name quite apt because the cap has a (sort of) light honey color. According to David Arora, Mushrooms Demystified, A. mellea, is highly variable and may actually be a complex of species because of this variability. Some have recognized as many as 14 species in the complex! The critical elements for the complex are the presence of a veil, or ring around the stalk, a fibrous stalk, bitter taste (that apparently some cannot taste. I have not tried, yet), frequent presence of small dark hairs on the cap, growth on wood (often buried, rotten wood), and white or faintly yellowish spores (the cap may have a dusting of white spores).
The species is considered by some to be edible and delicious but there are reports of allergic reactions in some people. In addition, there are poisonous species, some deadly that look a bit like A. mellea. One of them, the deadly poisonous Galerina autumnalis, also grows on wood. The spores of these poisonous species are brown.
Armilariella mellea is a sort of Jekyll and Hyde fungus.
As Jekyll, this species is edible, that’s good for a start. More than that, Armilariella mellea has been used for hundreds of years in traditional Chinese medicine, and recent research suggests that the species has an anti-tumor potential, and polysaccharides isolated from it exhibit antioxidant activity that may provide protective effects against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
On the Hyde side, this species – or species complex — is a serious forest pathogen. It affects roots of hundreds of species trees, shrubs, vines, and forbs growing in forests, along roadsides, and in cultivated areas. It is a widespread, native species and a natural component of the forest ecosystem, where they live undetected on coarse roots and stems of hardwood and conifer species. They become pathogenic when the host plant is weakened by other factors such as drought stress or other pathogens. Armilariella mellea can also weaken a host such that it becomes susceptible by other pathogens.
The Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, is common in Deering and is always connected to roots of trees via fungi in a peculiar two-way mycorrhizal association that benefits both the flower and the tree. One of the fungal associates of Indian pipe is this pathogen, A. mellea.