Coral fungi is a term that's broadly used to cover a wide range of fungi having erect, club-shaped, or branched bodies. Also known as club fungi, worm mold, antler fungi, and spaghetti mushrooms, they look like corals found on the ocean floor and have a clustered appearance. They belong to the genus Clavaria, and while many types are referred to as clavarioid fungi, they are not closely related. Clavaria are often rubbery and can grow in striking colors like purple, orange, and yellow. While they are not poisonous, people should use caution when eating them because a few varieties can produce laxative effects.
With club-shaped or fingerlike stalks, coral fungi, can grow to be very large and weigh up to 50 pounds (23 kg). The branches or clubs are covered with spore-producing cells and produce basidiospores. Not only do the height of the stalks make it easier for the spores to disperse widely, but the greater surface area lends itself to producing more spores. The surfaces that bear the spores are normally ridged or smooth in shape. The fungi is very beautifully designed for dispersing spores long range to new areas.
Serving as decomposers, coral fungi grow on dead and decaying vegetation. They look stunning when found in large numbers because of their unusual appearance. While they normally grow in forests on twigs, stumps, logs, and fallen leaves, they appear in fields and mossy grasslands. Some members of the species develop mutually beneficial relationships with live tree roots, and a few others more closely resemble lichen. Coral fungi are primarily tropical and are found throughout the world.
Linneaus is credited with creating the genus Clavaria in the species Plantarum, which came out in 1753. Different varieties of coral fungi are distinguished by their appearance. Ramaria armeniaca has a bright orange color that is common in Idaho. Another common variety is Ramaria formosa, which has a striking salmon color on the outside and a bright orange color on the inside. Fused gelatinous branches belong to the species Ramaria gelatinosa, which grows near woody debris.
Uncommon varieties include Ramaria stricta, which is bright yellow. This coral fungi turns brown when cut or handled and typically grows on wood. A delicate type of coral fungi, the Ramaria abietina, is yellow and green and grows amongst the duff. The Ramaria amyloidea is a very rare type of fungi that is peach.