Jelly Ear

Jelly Ear fungus can be spotted in the autumn and right through winter. It is usually found on dead or dying Elder wood.

Photo: Josh Milburn at Mushroom Observer, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific name: Auricularia auricula-judae (sometimes referenced as Auricularia auricula)

Other common names: Wood Ear, Tree Ear, Judas’s Ear

Cornish name: The general term for mushroom is skavel gronek

What to look for:

  • Appearance: Red-brown fruiting body shaped like an ear, usually 3 to 8 cm in width, occasionally larger. Gelatinous texture, sometimes smooth, or may have folds in surface; becomes hard as dries out. Upper surface has fine hairs. Inner surface is smooth and pale grey to brown in colour, and is more often smooth, though it may be wrinkled.
  • Spores: 16 to 18 µm in length, sausage-shaped. White spore print.
  • Where: On dead or moribund wood, especially but not only Elder. Common across the UK, and also across Europe, Asia and North America.
  • When: Mainly winter to spring, though less frequently at other times of year.
  • Similar species: Grey Brain or Tripe Fungus (A. mesenterica), which is paler than A. auricula-judae, with smaller fruiting bodies.

Jelly Ear was originally known as Judas’s Ear. This fungus has a preference for Elder wood, and it was an Elder tree from which the biblical Judas Iscariot was believed to have hung himself. The ‘ears’ of the fungus were once thought to be there as a reminder of Judas’s suicide.

Jelly Ear is sabprobic (sabprobes are fungi that get their nourishment by decomposing dead or decaying organic materials – wood in this case). It is one of only a few species of fungi that can tolerate freezing conditions, with no negative effects after it thaws out.  

Did you know…?

Auricularia auricula-judae is used in Chinese cooking and medicine, and as a blood tonic in Ghana. Although less frequently used in Europe, it was used in the nineteenth century to treat illnesses such as sore throats. It is edible, but must be cooked thoroughly.

…The species name auricula-judae translates as Judas’s Ear. The full scientific name was frowned on by many taxonomists as it does not conform to the rule that a species name should be a binomial (they saw the hyphen as a bit of a clumsy fix), but the name has nonetheless stuck.

More information and references:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C., Ovenden, D., 2012. Collins Fungi Guide. Collins, London.

Published: October 2014
Author: Amanda Scott
Photo: Top –
Josh Milburn at Mushroom Observer, CC BY-SA 3.0; lower – Stu’s Images, CC BY-SA 4.0. both images via Wikimedia Commons