By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
MT. OLIVE — Some people spend countless hours cultivating the perfect plant, feeding it all sorts of special fertilizers to turn it into the biggest, best plant in town.
Not Wayne Martin. His biggest, baddest plant is actually a huge fungus that grew without a bit of help on his part.
Martin, a retired Birmingham News reporter who lives in Mt. Olive, walked out to his front yard last week to find the large parasite growing among ground-cover plants beside his driveway.
“I just went out there, and there it was,” he said. “It’s almost like it came up overnight.”
The cream-colored fungus measures about 16 inches across. A few feet away on the edge of Martin’s lawn was another similar fungus, though much smaller.
So what is it?
The scientific name is Bondarzewia berkeleyi, but it’s better known as Berkeley’s polypore. It’s a type of mushroom.
“It’s relatively common. Every year or so, someone will bring me a picture of one,” said Dr. James C. Jacobi, a plant pathologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service’s C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture and Environmental Center, which is located at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
“They can get up to three feet across,” Jacobi said. “They’re a ‘wood-rotter’ — they live on decaying wood. Typically they’ll be in oak trees.”
With the damp conditions brought on by persistent rains, the spores from the fungus spread. “Those are good conditions for it to reproduce,” Jacobi said.
Not only is Berkeley’s polypore not harmful, one can actually eat it.
“It’s edible when it’s young, but gets bitter with age. I would never tell anyone to eat one, though,” Jacobi said.