Three years ago, I stumbled upon them. A big beech tree had fallen over a spring, and on the downstream side of the trunk were 19 fruiting bodies of a fungus known as Ganoderma applanatum.
It is much simpler to recall it as the artist’s bracket or, even better, the artist’s conk, which aptly describes how the species protrudes resembling a large nose or a hemispherical shelf. The fruiting body can last for up to twenty years, with the top side having thick, wavy bands and a texture similar to black porcelain. The term “artist” in its name refers to the custom of adding illustrations to the light-colored underside.
The way the tree had fallen across the spring caused water to collect behind it, with any extra water being pushed over the flat trunk in a spray that was edged with ice. The brackets on the opposite side were covered in frosty white lines, creating a rippling effect and making the scene both visually stunning and sonically pleasing.
I must mention that differentiating between artist’s conk and another type of Ganoderma known as southern bracket can be challenging. As I am not well-versed in this area, I received assistance from a fascinating insect known as the yellow flat-footed fly, scientifically named Agathomyia wankowiczii, in my study of natural history.
I may struggle to distinguish between different brackets, but the fly can do so without fail. It exclusively resides on this specific type of Ganoderma. During my recent inspection of the fungi’s white undersides, I discovered distinctive grape-like growths, caused by the insect, on artist’s brackets.
What was more incredible is the way that, over those three years, my fungi have waxed fat and gorged on the otherwise indigestible cellulose and lignin of beech heartwood. So much so that the stream had washed right through this impediment to its course. All that was left of my tree was a sodden mulch that you could rub between finger and thumb like gloopy meal.
The fungi have consumed their habitat and will perish alongside their victim. However, do not mourn, dear reader. The Artist’s Bracket fungi can release billions of spores per day, dispersing trillions of potential offspring into the air during a six-month period.