This fascinating-looking fungus is present throughout North America, where it feeds on dead trees of both coniferous and deciduous varieties. The fungus will digest the rotting wood until enough nutrients are available to produce a fruiting body. This fruiting body is what many people associate with mushrooms, even though most of the organism’s mass is hidden away as white silky threads known as mycelium. In fact, many fungi do not produce visible fruiting bodies; this has led to much debate over how many species of fungi may be out in the world waiting to be discovered.
Upright Coral Fungus is easily identified by its coral-like appearance - almost as if it were meant to grow alongside tropical fish in the crystal-clear waters of a hot sandy beach. The species name stricta refers to the tight upright and strict branching habit observed in this species. When young, the fungus appears as a light tan color but over time will harden and turn a darker brown and will have a slight orange tinge if grown on coniferous trees. The unique shape of this fruiting body increases the surface area of the spore-producing organs to best increase the chances of reproduction by increasing the number of spores produced at a time.
This fungus is not edible as it has an unpleasant odor and bitter taste. There is still much enjoyment to be gained from observing this species in the wild, where it is a welcome sight on trail walks.