Texas Legislature designates state mushroom

texas star --The official mushroom of Texas. Credit: BRIT

Quick question: How many states have an official state mushroom?

Until June 18, the correct answer was two – Minnesota and Oregon. But Texas became No. 3 when Gov. Greg Abbott signed a resolution naming Chorioactis geaster as the official Texas mushroom.

Chorioactis geaster is a rare and rather unique mushroom that is highly selective about where it grows, mostly attaching to decaying cedar elm stumps in the central and northern parts of Texas – 16 counties, and recently in Oklahoma – including the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, the Botanical Research Institute of Texas said in a news release.

Japan is the only other country where it has been seen and documented. Appearing in late fall, it emerges as a dark brown, fuzzy capsule three to four inches in length inspiring another of its nicknames, the “Devil’s Cigar.”

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“As this fungus matures, it splits open from its apex and forms a good-sized, brightly colored star and naturally, we have always thought it made sense for it to become the state fungus of the Lone Star State,” said Harold Keller, Ph.D., BRIT resident researcher.

Keller and a fellow biologist K.C. Rudy found it growing abundantly in the early 1990s along the Trinity River at River Legacy Park in Arlington. Since then, Keller and others have spotted the fungus throughout North Texas.

BRIT Research Scientist Bob O’Kennon began noting Texas Star mushroom appearances years ago and, using the iNaturalist app, found and documented more than 60 different sites, becoming one of the region’s top iNaturalist’s observers.

“I first spotted it at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, then started looking for it around decaying cedar elms and saw it at a few other places,” O’Kennon said. “What’s really interesting about this species is not only the cigar-like shape, but when it opens up, there is an audible hissing sound when it forcibly releases its spores.”

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He added that it’s likely only a few hundred people have seen this rare mushroom.

In HCR 61, Rep. Ben Leman, R-Brenham, described the starlike shape of Chorioactis geaster as “custom designed for the Lone Star landscape” and “a poignant reminder of the natural diversity that surrounds us, the Texas Star mushroom is as uncommon and striking as the state that serves as its home.”