The purple coral fungal is an obscenely cool fungus with a rather wide distribution. The first time I found Clavaria zollingeri I nearly jumped out of my hiking shoes! I found my first specimen in the beginning of my mycological career and again was reassured I was in the right field. There isn’t another species that looks more like an actual oceanic coral than the species I speak of. However, instead of filter feeding on the ocean floor, Clavaria zollingeri feeds saprophytically from the forest floor.
Clavaria zollingeri is within the Clavariaceae which is a family that includes many coral shaped fungi. The family also includes many fungi without this coral morphology. Thanks to modern genetics, some hydnoid species and even some gilled mushrooms are even included in the family. We owe recognition to species like these that can metabolize large complex molecules that make up leaf litter and other tough plant fibers. Without a wide array of decomposers that specialize in breaking down certain recalcitrant material, the forest floor would be a depressing, depauperate place. I encourage everyone to look at the forest floor more carefully. Small, non-discrete wonders of nature are to be appreciated! Happy Fungi Friday everybody!