Coral mushrooms look like something straight out of the sea

February 9, 2018, 8:23 a.m.

When hear the word "mushroom," you probably think of a typical mushroom with a stalk and a cap. Maybe you think of the button mushrooms you buy in a store, or the toadstools found in children's book illustrations.

What you likely don't picture in your mind's eye is a mushroom that looks amazingly like the corals found on reefs in the ocean. Coral mushrooms are from the family Clavariaceae, and finding one of these on a walk in the woods feels like an other-worldly encounter.

Also known as antler mushroom or finger fungi thanks to their interesting shapes, coral mushrooms can be found on five continents. There are more than 100 species found in North America alone. Like underwater corals, they can be a variety of colors depending on species, including white, purple, red, or the vibrant gold pictured here.

The wide diversity of coral mushroom species means there's a variety of places to find them depending on where you're located. In North America, there's a good chance you'll find these beauties growing in the humus under conifer trees, in very old deadwood in oak and hemlock forests, and even in mossy banks and meadows. Most of the time, you'll likely luck out in spotting these if you pay attention to the ground under trees as you walk through a conifer forest.

Some species of coral mushroom are edible so finding them in the forest is not only a fun but also delicious treasure hunt. Unless you're well versed in mushroom identification, it's not recommended that you pick and eat coral mushrooms (or any mushrooms!). Some species of coral are very bitter and, according to experts, can have a laxative effect on some people.

Crown-tipped coral mushrooms are popular for foragers. Here are tips on finding them:

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