The Forest Blues
By Sam Nunes, Environmental Educator
October is full of color! During this time, forests in the northern hemisphere change to vibrant reds, orange, yellows, and browns - all you have to do is to look up. But there is another color in autumn that we have to look down to see. Along the forest floor, wood from fallen trees turns a beautiful blue green color. This is because of a cleverly named organism called blue stain fungus.
Blue stain fungus can be found in the woods all year long, but in the autumn is when the fruiting bodies of the fungus appear. These tiny mushrooms are spotted all over the forest. At Woodcock Nature Center it’s found mostly in the decaying wood from a Black Birch tree. It can also be found in Poplar, Aspen, Ash, and Oak. This stained wood is sought out by woodworkers. It was also very popular in the fourteenth and fifteenth century Italian renaissance when woodworkers would us it for their beautiful wooden inlays.
The blue color of the fungus comes from a pigment called xylindein, which can be used as an algaecide and prevents plant growth. The pigment also prevents termites from infesting the wood which is a good defense mechanism for the fungus not to be eaten. Blue stain fungus is also being studied for its possible cancer fighting effects.
Now that you are more aware of it, you may find that this beautiful blue wood really stands out amongst its surroundings. Blue is the least common color in nature, so it’s amazing that we are able to find something close to home that is so unique!