The rare and rather unique, star-shaped fungus with the Latin name Chorioactis geaster received official designation this week by the Texas Legislature passing the House and Senate as the State Mushroom of Texas. Only two other states (Minnesota and Oregon) have officially declared a state mushroom.
The mushroom 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). 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 3-4 inches in length inspiring another of its nicknames, the “Devil’s Cigar.”
“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 W. 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, Texas. 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. Using the iNaturalist app, O’Kennon found and documented more than 60 different sites, becoming one of the region’s top iNaturalist’s observers for the species. “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.” He added that it’s likely only a few hundred people have seen this rare mushroom.
In House Concurrent Resolution 61, Rep. Ben Leman (District 13) described the star-like shape of Chorioactis geaster as “custom designed for the Lone Star landscape,” and goes on to state “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.”
Photos from Fort Worth Botanic Garden, Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, Sycamore Park (Fort Worth, TX), and River Legacy Park (Arlington, TX).