From the Forests of Little Basin

He’s a fungi!
Many strange and interesting living organisms make their homes within the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I find fungi an intriguing and unique organism to encounter. Last weekend the Junior Ranger program focused on decomposition. We explored decaying logs and combed the forest floor for fungi. 
We found a few different species of fungi, but the children were particularly interested in a large artist’s conk growing at the base of a Live Oak tree. An artist’s conk (Gandoderma applanatum) is a type of shelf fungi. It gets its name from an interesting property of the soft tissue underneath the fungus. When scratched, the exposed tissue turns a dark brown. It often grows on decomposing logs, but is found on living trees as well. Our specimen grew on a live tree. In this case, the fungus survives as a parasite, slowly decaying the living tissue of the tree. 
When I brushed my hands across the top of the conk, my fingers returned covered in fine brown dust. This “dust” is actually the spores of the fungus. This particular species produces up to 30 billion spores per day! The spores release at the bottom of the fungus, and the wind carries them, aiding in the growth of more artist’s conks. 
Sources: Arora, David. All That the Rain Promises and More …: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms. Santa Cruz: Biosystems Analysis, CA. Print.