Ten days ago I was out on a fungi foray with friends when we came across this mysterious organism. Was it a lichen? Was it a fern? Was it some other kind of plant? Although we were searching for fungi, we had no idea this was one! Consultations with experts and two return visits later, I can confirm we had found the Split Gill fungus (also known as Schizophyllum commune), one of the most widely distributed mushrooms on earth. It can be found on every continent except Antarctica (no trees).
Although its tough rubbery consistency looks totally unappetising, the Split Gill is a favourite food in many parts of the world, particularly in the tropics where the heat and humidity affect it less than more fleshy mushrooms. In the Congo it is eaten after much boiling and the addition of peanuts; in north-east India it’s a favourite ingredient in pancakes; and in Thailand, where the Split Gill is also valued for its medicinal properties, it’s used to make a hot spicy curry. If you do decide to cook up a feast, please be very careful as the Split Gill can cause disease in humans with immune deficiency issues.