Monday, October 10, 2022

Finding Fungi in Alaska ~ by Alisha Gabriel

 In June, I was very fortunate to take an Alaskan cruise with my husband. We saw beautiful mountains, waterfalls, eagles, glaciers, and…fungi! On some of the hiking trails, I couldn’t seem to walk more than a few feet without stopping to photograph something – usually some type of fungus, of course. My husband was the same way, but his passion is sound. He’s an audio engineer and works on video games. He brought along a hand-held recorder and kept stopping to record nature’s ambience. Isn’t great to walk with someone who doesn’t rush you?

The fungi that I found along Alaskan trails were a far cry from the fungi in my backyard in central Texas. Since the trip, I’ve tried to identify a few of the things I photographed. One favorite includes Fomes fomentarius, also known as tinder fungus or amadou. Sue and I highlighted it in chapter 8 of Funky Fungi: 30 Activities for Exploring Molds, Mushrooms, Lichens, and More in a section titled “From the Fungus Files.” And do you know what kept going through my head as I photographed them? I wish I could have used these photos in our book! By then, though, our book was already printed and about to be released to the public. 

But I can share them with you now. Just a few feet away from the tinder fungus was another type of polypore. I think they might have been red-belt conks (Fomitopsis pinicola).

As I walked alongside a trail in the Sitka National Historical Park, a beautiful lichen caught my eye. Nicknamed the “fairy barf” lichen (Icmadophila ericetorum), it was growing on a fallen log stained a blue-green color. I called out to my husband, “Spalted wood!” There are several types of fungi that discolor wood (one type of spalting), but it was the first time I had found one. 

Speaking of lichens, there are many diverse species in Alaska and it’s possible that I saw a few without realizing they’re lichens. When I began sorting through my photos and trying to figure out their names, I came across this PDF of Lichens of Alaska’s South Coast provided by the USDA Forest Service. If only I had researched some of the fungi before the trip! 

One of the coolest lichens I photographed would normally be dangling from a branch, but I found it crumpled on the ground. This stringy, mossy-looking lichen is probably Usnea longissimi, nicknamed Methusula’s beard. 

You don’t have to travel halfway across the country to find fungi, though. You can find lichens and mushrooms and other funky fungi in your own backyard! The more you look, the more you’ll find. Back in May, Sue and I wrote about how and where we find fungi in our backyards, and (of course) you can always check out the activities in our book. If you’re looking for more books, I’ve created a list of “fun”-gi books at, so check it out! 

In addition to writing books, Alisha is an elementary music teacher and adjunct professor at Southwestern University. Not only has she used her writing skills to win four grants to benefit her students, but she’s played flute and piccolo for  video games – and even a TV commercial! You can find out more about her books here.

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