Finding Witches’ Butter Mushrooms in Virginia

Witches’ butter mushrooms, with their gelatinous orange color, are a fascinating find in the forests of Virginia.

While they may not be choice edibles, they stand out for their unique appearance and ability to decompose dead wood.

Read on to learn exactly where you can find witches’ butter in Virginia and what to look for when hunting for this mushroom.

Overview of Witches’ Butter Mushrooms

Witches’ butter, known by the scientific name of Tremella mesenterica, is a type of jelly fungus that parasitizes trees and decaying logs.

It grows as a brain-like mass of convoluted folds and lobes, exuding an orange liquid when compressed.

This mushroom lacks gills and instead reproduces through spores formed internally.

It belongs to the Tremellaceae family along with other jelly fungi.

Witches’ butter is not considered an edible mushroom due to its gelatinous texture.

It does play an ecological role in breaking down dead wood and returning nutrients to the soil.

These mushrooms can be found throughout many parts of North America in both deciduous and coniferous forests.

They particularly thrive in cool, moist climates.

Where to Find Witches’ Butter Mushrooms in Virginia

Witches’ butter has been spotted in numerous locations across Virginia. Here are some of the prime areas to search for this mushroom:

Throughout Virginia

Witches’ butter can be found statewide in Virginia’s forests and woodlands. Look for it growing as a parasite on recently fallen branches and logs, particularly of angiosperm trees.

Areas with ample dead wood make ideal habitat for locating these mushrooms.

Prince William County

The Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge in northern Prince William County is one site where witches’ butter has been observed.

This refuge’s varied habitats including marshlands, meadows, and forests provide plentiful woody debris for witches’ butter to colonize.

George Washington and Jefferson National Forests

The expansive George Washington and Jefferson National Forests that cover much of western Virginia offer excellent witch’s butter habitat.

Search for the mushroom in older hardwood forests with lots of coarse woody debris on the forest floor.

Areas with beech, birch, and maple trees are prime spots.

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park is another hotspot, especially in oak-dominated forests. Look for fallen oak branches and logs hosting the telltale orange jelly mushrooms.

Dense forests along streamsides and on mountain slopes are ideal areas to hunt for witches’ butter in Shenandoah.

When to Look for Witches’ Butter Mushrooms

Witches’ butter can be found throughout the mushroom growing season in Virginia, typically from mid-summer through early winter.

However, the prime time to search is autumn.

Focus your forays in September through November, when moisture from fall rains stimulate mushroom fruiting.

Searches after a soaking rain storm or during wet weather will likely be most productive.

These jelly fungi tend to fade and dry up during the cold of winter. Search again in the spring following periods of rain.

Identifying Witches’ Butter Mushrooms

When you find a bright orange, jelly-like mushroom growth on a fallen branch, there are a few key features to check to confirm it is witches’ butter:

  • Brain-like shape with folded, ridged lobes
  • Gelatinous orange color
  • Lack of gills on underside
  • Occurs as a parasite on dead wood
  • Oozes liquid when compressed
  • Grows in shelving clusters

Lookalikes like jelly fungi in the genera Exidia and Pseudohydnum can appear similar. Get a field guide or consult an expert if you are unsure of an identification.

With a bit of searching in the forests this fall, you’re likely to find the unique jelly mushrooms known as witches’ butter in Virginia.

Just be sure to admire them on their decaying logs and leave them to play their important ecological role.

[Related Post: 10 Common Mushrooms In Virginia]

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