By Sastry Karra
Duke Island Park is located in Raritan, New Jersey close to historic Raritan Power Canal. This 340-acre park contains a substantial portion of an island that lies between the Raritan River and the Raritan Water Power Canal. The three-mile-long canal was built in the 1840s to provide power to mills and industry. Those businesses are gone but the park today is quite beautiful, with a wide variety of active and passive recreational opportunities, seasonal wildflowers and birds.
A frequent visitor, I take advantage of the multiple bike paths and, in summer, use it as another way to continue my physical activities. While biking one day I noticed a bunch of white stuff growing at the base of a tree. Initially, I ignored it but just out of curiosity went close by and noticed that it was very big and wide. It was much larger than the mushrooms I’m used to seeing and, with all the recent talk about how fungi are part of complicated underground networks over which trees and other plants communicate and share nourishment, I decided to investigate. What was this thing?
How I got the shot
With my NIKON D800 ready and NIKKOR 80-200mm lens, I quickly positioned myself so that I could take the complete picture of the fungus, and then went in for some closer shots. Using an app like iNaturalist, I could quickly get an identification and begin learning about this organism. (Photos like this are also a good candidate for community science projects, like uploading them into one of NANPA’s iNaturalist collection projects.)
So, with a little sleuthing, I now know that the scientific name is Inonotus dryadeus, (syn. Pseudoinonotus dryadaeus). More commonly it’s called by a variety of names including oak bracket, warted oak polypore, weeping polypore or weeping conk. It is a type of root decay fungus that is usually found near the base of oak trees. A parasite, it causes white rot, can weaken the roots of the tree, and gradually cause the decay of the tree trunk.
Oak bracket is not edible but it can be quite beautiful, oozing honey-colored drops (thus the “weeping” polyphone or conk name). They’re most visible in the summer and fall but can overwinter, living for several years and contributing to the death of the host tree. There is, as yet, no treatment for it. Someday, I imagine I’ll come biking through the park and find this mighty tree felled when a windstorm proved more than it’s oak bracket-weakened roots and trunk could endure.
It’s amazing what you can learn with a camera, a smart phone app, and a little curiosity.
Jaganadha “Sastry” Karra was born in India, but left when he was 24 years old. For the past 27 years, he’s worked as an IT professional, and has been living in NJ since 2004. During his spare time, he goes outdoors and takes nature photos, especially waterfalls. Along with his wife (who loves hiking), they go to many nearby state parks where he can experiment with different compositions. In the summer, when his friends play cricket, he’s been experimenting with sports photography. Find him on instagram at @sastrykarra, where he posts most of his pictures. On Facebook, he’s active in some photography forums, like NANPA. “Maybe I’ll see you there!” he says.