Varnish Fungus

There is an order of plants called fungi (or mushrooms, cankers, rots, conks) that do not obtain their energy from the sun like most “green” plants. The fungi instead digest woody cells of host plants to obtain the energy and nutrients they need to live. “Saprophytic” fungi attach to dead plants and cause decomposition. These fungi are very important to the recycling of nutrients; this is why dead trees lying on the ground decompose after a number of years. “Parasitic” fungi attach to living organisms and often cause internal rot, sometimes killing the host plant. Often it is the old, weak or damaged trees that are invaded by parasitic fungi.

A relatively short-lived tree that always seems to be infected with fungi is the black locust tree. It is relatively uncommon to see an old locust tree without a number of conks growing on it. The varnish fungus (Ganoderma lucidum) is a very common fungus of black locusts, causing a white rot of woody tissue in the roots and main stem of the tree. This fungus can cause the eventual demise of the host plant in 5-10 years.

The Ganoderma mushroom is part of a family of mushrooms known as the Reishi or Lingzhi mushrooms that have been used for thousands of years in traditional oriental medicine. A Chinese text written by Shen Nong nearly 2,000 years ago details many herbal remedies. Shen Nong describes the tonic produced by the Lingzhi mushroom in these words: “The taste is bitter, its energy neutral, low toxicity, long term consumption will lighten the body and you will never become old.” Over the years, these mushrooms have been used for a number of medicines and remedies including the promotion of weight loss, lowering of cholesterol, lowering of blood pressure, and inhibition of some cancer cell formation. In addition, our early colonial ancestors also made charcoal from Ganoderma and other tree conks since they burned much slower and hotter than traditional wood charcoal.

Nature Notes for 8/22/2010