By Jerry Hassinger

The philosopher AJ Ayer introduced a generation to the notion that unless we have a word for something, we are unable to conceive of it, and that there is a direct relationship between our imagination, our ability to have ideas about things, and our vocabulary.” – The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris

All mushrooms are fungi, but most fungi are not mushrooms. The vocabulary associated with the fungal Kingdom is daunting, to say the least. And it starts with the word fungus. On a ranking of “77 of the grossest sounding English words,” fungus ranked #50. I was not surprised.

Over 7,000 species of fungi have been found in PA, and likely thousands more remain undiscovered. It’s not called the “Hidden Kingdom” for nothing. Unlike birds, mammals, trees, and wildflowers, very few fungi have or ever will have a common name. Many are microscopic. The larger and more visible fungi that do have common names, like the 30 in the following Table, challenge our imagination.


70 Totally Amazing Common Names for Fungi | Mental Floss

Snakeskin Grisette — Devil’s Fingers — Hotlips

False Deathcap — Mealy Frosted Funnel — Vampires Bane

Destroying Angel — Tiger’s Eye —Bald Knight

Hair Sedge Smut — Bug Sputnik — Hairy Nuts Disco

Bulbous Honey Fungus — Turquoise Elfcup — Chicken of the Woods

Powdery Piggyback — Dead Moll’s Fingers — Twisted Deceiver

Barometer Earthstar — Plums and Custard — Bitter Poisonpie

Drab Tooth — Contorted Strangler — Funeral Bell

The Pretender — The Flirt — Witches’ Butter

The Humpback — Lion Shield— King Alfred’s Cakes

Obviously, fungi remind fungi-namers (=imagineers) of many things. Does naming a fungus “Hairy Nuts Disco” help you “conceive of it.?” In fact, most of these names remind me of something other than a fungus. For instance, Hotlips reminds me of Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan who played the head nurse on the M*A*S*H Television Series. Twisted Deceiver? I can conceive of a few politicians that have earned this appellation. “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” – J.K. Rowling

It all boils down to…

Names have baggage.”-  J. D. Hassinger

Winter Fungi

I spend a lot of walking time looking for winter fungi. First, they don’t run away which makes them easy to photograph. Second, some are very colorful. Third, most of them are wood decomposers which makes them important. Adding to this importance, some, like Turkey Tails, have medicinal values.


Below is a collage of oyster mushrooms. The mock orange and late fall oyster photos were not taken this fall or winter. However, I did find the regular oyster mushroom this January on a dead tulip poplar tree.

Winter Fungi 2 Jerry Hassinger

I was surprised because finding this species in mid-winter is unusual around Millersburg. All oyster mushrooms are edible but stick with the best-tasting regular oyster which is also sold in stores. The other two species are edible but their taste comes up short. In fact, one author notes that the mock orange oyster tastes as bad as it smells.

For more on fungi in PA’s parks and forests, check out these other guest blog articles:

Jerry Hassinger is a former director of the PA Game Commission’s wildlife diversity program and wildlife biologist with the PA Bureau of Forestry. The above article is an excerpt from his monthly journal, A Wildlifer’s Journal by Jerry Hassinger, Old Man of the Woods.

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Conceive of Fungi