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Pike County Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs

Northern Tooth Fungus

Climacodon septentrionale


At first glance it looks like a beehive hanging on the old sugar maple, but closer inspection reveals it is not.  It is the Northern Tooth Fungus slowly eating consuming the tree.

A tiny fungal spore floated on the wind.  One of millions drifting that day, the odds were greatly in favor of it falling onto the ground, into a body of water, or getting embedded in a worthless environment that could not sustain it.  But this one was lucky.  The northern tooth fungus spore landed in a particularly hospitable place ... a wound in the bark of a sugar maple tree.  Once inside the wound, with all other conditions being right, the spore grew and send root like mycelium into the wood of the tree.  As the mycelium slowly penetrated the tree, it secreted enzymes to break down the wood.  This not only allowed the mycelium to feed on the wood, but also weakened the wood making it easier for the mycelium to push on.  In July, the mycelium sent forth a conk, the "flower" part of a fungus.

 The northern tooth fungus conk appears as a number of small shelves.  A careful look at the undersides finds that unlike many common mushrooms, it has no gills.  Instead, it has a series of dagger-like projections, or "teeth".  The teeth produce a greater amount of surface area than gills resulting in the greater production of spores.  This is necessary because so few spores find their way to a perfect host.

The northern tooth fungus is parasitic to a number of species but is very common to Sugar Maples.  The mycelium's digestion of the tree's interior caused a problem known as heart rot.  Trees with heart rot become progressively less valuable and when severe enough, the tree will die.  There is no cure for heart rot, nor can the mycelium be stopped.  Attacking the conk is worthless as the mycelium has usually branched out throughout the trunk before a conk is even noticed.

Do not attempt to eat the conk of a northern toothed fungus. While it is not necessarily poisonous, it is bitter to the point of not being consumable.  Fungi can be deadly !!!  Even those that are not deadly can produce extreme gastric reactions.  Reactions vary from person to person.  What is edible for one person may produce a severe reaction in another.  Never eat any wild mushroom or fungus unless identified as safe by an expert.  Even then, proceed cautiously until you know how you will react to it.

Any place where you find old maple trees is a good place to look for a northern toothed fungus. Towns like Milford and Matamoras have many old maples along their streets.  Cruise around in August.  Look up high as most conks are at least eight feet above ground.

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