One of the things that I love most about foraging is that one always comes across the unexpected, each and every time without fail. There is always something new, even for some who like myself have spent just shy of 10 years rummaging through wild spaces with one eye out for something new to taste, heal or in any sort of way experience. Although southern Ontario may not be one of the most relished hot spots for fungi given our hot and often dry summers, for someone new to the world of fungi there are many mysterious and wonderful encounters awaiting.
Today I would have missed an impressive and characteristic shelf-forming parasitic fungus that is known as the northern tooth (Climacodon septentrionalis) if I had not been looking in the right place at the right time. It can be found fruiting throughout summer and into autumn in Northeastern North America, and grows from recently dead or dying trees, most notably sugar maple (Acer saccharum) or beech (Fagus grandifolia) but occasionally on others.
Unfortunately to some of the wild foodies out there, this species is generally regarded as inedible due to it’s bitter flavor and tough, rubber-like texture. Although included in the order Polyporales (to which Laetiporus, Ganoderma and many other well-known edible and/or medicinal species fungi belong), the northern tooth lacks pitted pores but instead produces distinctive comb-like ‘teeth’ which protrude downwards from underneath the fleshy, shelf-like fruiting bodies. The northern tooth causes extensive heart rot within the tree from which it grows, often causing fatal structural failure at some point during it’s residence.
Although I was on the lookout for the ripe fruit of Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) I was, as per usual, caught off guard when I stumbled across my first northern tooth fungus. I had absentmindedly flipped past illustrations and photographs of this fungus on both online articles as well as printed field guides and so recognized the specimen immediately but did not have a name of which to pair it with. It’s always so wonderful to find something new to engage with and be enthralled by. The wisdom and sights of the woods is infinite and far-reaching.