Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!
Saprophyte [SAP-ruh-fahyt] (noun): An organism that gets its energy from dead and decaying organic matter. This organic matter can be from plants or animals.
This fun word comes from the Greek words “Sapro”, meaning “putrid matter”, and “phyton” meaning, “plant” or “growth”.
Saprophytes usually come in the form of some kind of plant, microorganism, or fungus. High Park is home to many saprophytes and one of the more charismatic ones is the “Chicken of the Woods” fungus.
This fungus, with its yellow-orange colors, usually grows in overlapping, shelving clusters, on fallen oak trees and other hardwoods. It causes a brown heart rot, by which the cellulose in the wood they inhabit is degraded, causing the wood to crumble into cube-like chunks.
Not only is it a saprophyte, but it is also a parasite that can cause brown heart rot to standing trees as well. Chicken of the Woods’ blended saprophytic/parasitic lifestyle makes it a very significant rot-causing fungus in the forest!
We’ve already shared a lot about Chicken of the Woods but there’s no way that we would forget to mention this fungus’ unbelievable name! Chicken of the Woods is thought to get its name for its resemblance to cooked chicken meat. However, some also believe that this fungus gets its name for its meaty taste.
You are most likely to see this fungus during the summer and fall. Be sure to keep an eye out for Chicken of the Woods on your next visit to High Park – leave it where you find it though so others can enjoy it too!