Auricularia auricula-judae is one of the few fungi that produces fruiting bodies all year round. Winter hardly seems to trouble it and we found these specimens in the strip of wood between Lambrok Meadow and Kestrel Field, in the second week of January with the early sunshine just beginning to melt the frost that had covered them overnight.
In China, where it is a common and popular cooking ingredient, it has always been known as wood ear but in Britain it was, and sometimes still is, called Jew’s ear and its scientific name reflects that. There are various myths, some centuries old, to explain where the name came from, most of them pejorative and racist stories from less-informed times. Nowadays the species’ common names include not just wood ear but sow’s ear, jelly ear and the enjoyably appropriate tree ear.
While the nature of the ear might have changed, the ear itself has not; the fruiting bodies do look just like ears. They even feel like ears on a winter’s day: smooth, firm, cold and just a bit icky.
They grow in lines on living wood as well as dead and have a preference for elder. Elder is nearly as common in urban environments as it is in the countryside so wood ear can be found everywhere. It is edible, considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, and makes up a fair proportion of the dried wild mushrooms that you can buy in any supermarket in Trowbridge.
FoSCP will always recommend that you consult an expert, which we are not, before eating any fungus you find in the park.
Photographs by S.Humphries and Ian Bushell