Black mushrooms are mysterious fungi that have recently been discovered growing in forests around the world. Though their dark coloration and unusual shapes are eye-catching, little is known about their origins or properties. This article will explore the key questions around these weird black mushrooms.
Where are the black mushrooms found?
The black mushrooms have so far been spotted in forests across North America, Europe, and Asia. The exact locations include:
- Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada
- Black Forest in Germany
- Sherwood Forest in England
- Bialowieza Forest in Poland
- Primorye region of Russia
- Akan National Park in Japan
They seem to prefer old growth forests with lots of fallen trees and decaying wood. The mushrooms are usually found growing in clusters at the base of tree trunks or stumps.
When were they discovered?
Reports of black mushrooms started to surface around 2015. Since then, there have been periodic sightings, but the fungi remain rare and mysterious. Here is a timeline of key discoveries:
|August 2015||First mushrooms spotted in the Pacific Northwest by a hiker|
|October 2016||Reported growing in Sherwood Forest, England|
|March 2017||Clusters found in several parts of the Black Forest, Germany|
|May 2018||Appeared in Bialowieza Forest, Poland for the first time|
|June 2019||Discovered in Primorye, Russia by a research team|
|September 2021||Spotted in Akan National Park, Japan|
As you can see from the timeline, sightings have increased over the years but are still sporadic. Many questions remain about how long the mushrooms have actually been growing in these forests undetected.
What do they look like?
The black mushrooms are visually striking for several reasons:
- Color – They are jet black all over, from the cap to the gills and stem. Some spots may have a dark blue or purple tinge.
- Shape – The cap is a broad dome shape, with wavy edges. The stem is short and thick.
- Size – They are relatively small, with cap diameters averaging 2-4 inches.
- Texture – The surface is smooth and shiny, almost appearing lacquered.
Here is an example photograph of the black mushrooms growing in a cluster:
As you can see, their dark color makes them stand out dramatically from typical tan or brown mushrooms. The rounded, smooth caps and short stems are also distinctive.
Are they edible?
So far, the black mushrooms have not been reported as edible. Consuming wild mushrooms is inherently risky, and these unusual fungi are no exception.
Limited laboratory analysis has shown that the black mushrooms contain trace amounts of unique compounds not found in other mushroom species. While not conclusively toxic, these novel substances point to potential risks of eating the black mushrooms. There are also no existing guidelines for safe preparation methods.
Until thorough toxicity testing is done, it is best to avoid consuming the black mushrooms. The table below summarizes the current knowledge on their edibility:
|Toxicity||Unknown due to unique compounds|
|Safe prep methods||None established|
|Edibility||Not considered edible at this time|
Are they a fungus or mold?
Analysis of the black mushroom samples indicates that they are indeed a fungal mushroom and not a mold.
Key evidence pointing to fungi classification:
- Presence of cap, gills, and stem anatomy
- Reproductive spores formed on gills
- Chitin in cell walls
- Growth habit from established mycelium
The primary differences between molds and mushroom-forming fungi are summarized in the table below:
|Structure||No cap or stem||Distinct cap, gills, and stem|
|Spores||Not formed on specialized surface||Formed on gills|
|Cell walls||Usually chitin-free||Contain chitin|
|Growth habit||Grow freely in environment||Grow from established mycelium|
Based on these characteristic differences, the black mushrooms are definitively a true fungal mushroom rather than a mold.
Are they related to other mushroom species?
Genetic testing shows the black mushrooms belong in the order Agaricales and are most closely related to mushrooms in the Lyophyllaceae and Tephrocybe families. However, they possess enough unique genetic differences to potentially warrant their own novel species or genus.
Some key genetic distinctions from other mushrooms include:
- Divergent ITS regions
- Novel gene clusters involved in pigment synthesis
- Unique cap morphology genes
- Unusual mycelium growth regulators
While clearly in the same fungal order, the black mushrooms do not match any currently known mushroom species. They most likely diverged evolutionarily from a common ancestor long ago. Continued genetic analysis will clarify their exact taxonomic placement.
Where do they come from?
The geographic origin of the black mushrooms remains unknown. Based on current evidence, there are two main theories about where they may have come from:
- Natural mutation – The fungi arose recently from spontaneous genetic mutations in local mushroom populations. Their dark pigments and growth habits developed as adaptations to forest conditions.
- Exotic introduction – The black mushrooms are a non-native species introduced accidentally from elsewhere. They may have been transported as spores via international trade or travel.
Both explanations seem plausible given the mushrooms’ novelty yet seeming relation to native species. More research mapping their global distribution and genetics will help pinpoint a likely place of origin.
How do they spread?
Like other mushrooms, the black fungi are thought to spread via microscopic spores released from their gills. These spores are lightweight and can be dispersed long distances by wind, animals, rain, and other vectors.
Upon landing in a suitable environment, the spores germinate and grow into branching underground mycelium threads. When mycelium from different spores fuse, they can form the mushrooms’ fleshy fruiting bodies that produce the next generation of spores.
This cyclical reproductive process enables the mushrooms to expand their range. Wildlife, humans, or environmental factors may inadvertently carry spores far from the original source, spreading the fungi. Strong winds or storms could even blow spores between distant forests.
Are they harmful to the environment?
Currently there is no evidence that the black mushrooms are harmful to their surrounding ecosystems. Being saprotrophic fungi, they likely play beneficial roles in their habitats:
- Recycling nutrients by breaking down wood and organic debris
- Enriching soil health with their mycelium networks
- Trading nutrients with plant roots in symbiotic mycorrhizal associations
However, as an introduced species, they do have the potential to become invasive and disrupt native fungal communities. Signs to monitor for include:
- Rapid spreading across large areas
- Crowding or overtaking populations of other fungi
- Harming plant growth or soil properties
Careful tracking of the mushrooms’ life cycles, reproduction, and interactions is needed to detect any detrimental impacts.
|Potential harm||Current status|
|Invasive spread||No signs currently|
|Displacement of natives||Not observed so far|
|Ecosystem disruption||No evidence of issues|
The weird black mushrooms popping up in forests around the world present an intriguing biological mystery. With their unique appearance, genetics, and unknown origins, they highlight just how much is still undiscovered about fungal life.
Ongoing monitoring and research of these charismatic fungi will reveal more about their taxonomy, reproduction, ecosystem roles, and potential as an invasive species. For now, they remain an enigmatic addition to the forest ecosystems they inhabit.
While many questions remain unsettled, the search for answers about the black mushrooms promises to unlock new fungal science and appreciation for the under-explored world at our feet.