The Dyer's Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii)
This mushroom can be a bit of an enigma. While it has many uses when it comes to art, it also comes with the price of damaging trees. It is also massive when fully grown, making it a sight to behold. So what all can we learn about this vibrant mushroom? Let's find out!
Physical Description and Behavior
This fungus grows on the roots of fir, pine, and spruce trees. Their caps can be 3 to 12 inches (7-30 cm) across and often grow in segments, rising upwards on a stem. It starts as a bright and vivid yellow before slowly darkening into a deep brown. It also hardens during this time, becoming akin to that of wood.
It is also fascinating to see how it grows, as it is generally a more shapeless mass that spreads outward. During this growth, it does not push away the surrounding foliage as many other plants might, it instead absorbs it. If you look at the image below, many of the blades of grass go through the fungus, as the fungus warps around the grass blades as it grows.
Fun Fact: This mushroom is called the dyer's polypore due to its ability to change into a variety of colors depending on the catalyst and mordant used. Colors can include vivid golds, yellows, crimsons, rusty reds, deep greens, and even brownish colors.
Dying clothing with mushrooms happened as far back as the time of the Bible, and maybe before that. However, it seems to have been a lost art before a textile dyer named Miriam C. Rice brought mushrooms back as a way of making dye in the 1970s. One of the mushrooms she popularized for this purpose is the Dyer's Polypore. In fact, she is the reason it is even called this.
Not everything about this fungus is good though. In fact, aside from its potential use as a textile dye, it is often considered to be a parasite. This polypore likes to infect fir, spruce, and pine trees, infecting them from the roots up. They are different than most mushrooms as the spores fall to the forest floor and infect from the root tips, as opposed to traveling between trees from root to root.
This mushroom may infect a tree for years, sapping the strength out of the roots and butt of the tree, causing butt rot. Often, this infection is not discovered until after a strong wind knocks the tree down, often on personal property, exposing the issue.
Habitat and Location
This species can be found just about all over the world. It is native to North America and much of Europe, but can also be found in New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. It is found as far north as Alaska, and as far south as South Africa and New Zealand, meaning it can survive in a variety of habitats.
To learn more about this mushroom check out the video below. You will have to add subtitles and auto-translate it to English unless you can understand Spanish.
Also, you can see an interesting 360-degree video below: