Roll over Beethoven: The Decomposers… Saprophytic Fungi

Fringed Sawgill Mushroom?
Fringed Sawgill Mushroom?

I met a new-to-me mushroom species recently. It was growing on a dead branch of a wax myrtle or saltbush I had cut back and tossed over the wooden fence to be added to the brush pile out back. Well, of course with Little Miss Procrastination in charge, it never made it to the brush pile. But that’s ok. This fungus decided it was ok to decompose it in place.

The center of this mushroom cap is deeply indented
The center of this mushroom cap is deeply indented

The sagging umbrella shaped mushroom was quite attractive, having a wonderful texture and look. Based on a few search engine finds, I believe it is a Fringed Sawgill (Lentinus crinitus) a member of the Polyporaceae family. I can’t find much written about this particular species, but as a member of the Polyporales order, its mission in life would be as a wood decomposer, breaking down rotting wood to return the nutrients to the soil. Apparently it is doing what it is suppose to do at my place.

A type of "puffball" mushroom
A type of “puffball” mushroom

I spied another favorite mushroom of mine…one of the Puffballs, specifically Lycoperdon perlatum…another saprobic species. “Mushrooms that are saprobes survive by decomposing dead or decaying organic material.” I like this one because it looks like a golf ball lying in the grass and there was a time when I chased a little white ball over the back nine. Now, with a shoulder that is no longer conducive to a smooth swing, I just look for those mimics that grow on the ground and thank mom nature for evoking a happy memory.

Another decomposing type fungus found at my place is Clathrus columnatus. Known as stinkhorn mushrooms they live up to their name and you will often smell them before spying their bright orange selves.

Stinkhorn (Hold your nose around this one)
Stinkhorn (Hold your nose around this one)

Different fungi have different roles in an ecosystem and find nutrition via one or a combination of four things. One way, such as my mushrooms above, is to decompose dead plant and animal materials. Second, some fungi break down inorganic matter (think: fungi on rocks). Others form beneficial partnerships (symbiosis) and the fourth would be fungi that act as parasites and feed on living things.

It boggles my mind all that is to be learned about fungi and its relationship with our flora and fauna.


Some mushrooms may be edible, but unless and until you learn how to take and read a spore print, don’t take any chances. Many can be deadly.

Enjoy watching nature perform its fascinating balancing and recycling acts by looking for fungi in your own garden.

References: Polyporales: The Polypores

North American Mycological Association (NAMA)


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