AUSTIN (KXAN) – Some mushrooms are good on salads; others can make you feel funny and some apparently hiss.
The latter mushroom – scientific name Chorioactis Geaster and commonly known as both the Devil’s Cigar and Texas star – is the official State Mushroom of Texas. Legislation designating it as such was filed in 2021 by former House Rep. Ben Leman and later signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.
“[The mushroom] is a poignant reminder of the natural diversity that surrounds us,” Leman wrote in his resolution. “The Texas star mushroom is as uncommon and striking as the state that serves as its home, and it is indeed deserving of special recognition.”
And the Texas Star is quite unique. The fungus appears during winter and grows only on decomposing cedar elm tree stumps and roots in the U.S. The rare mushroom has been found only in Texas and, over 6,000 miles away, in Japan. In Japan, the fungus grows on decaying oak trees.
The Texas star emerges from the ground as a three to four-inch cylindrical pod, resembling a cigar – hence its other name. If the conditions are right, the fungus will undergo a process called dehiscence – meaning the structure will split apart.
“It will open up into a three to eight-pointed star,” said Angel Schatz, a member of the Central Texas Mycological Society.
Dehiscence is the process of a mature plant splitting to release its seeds. Schatz said in the case of the Texas star, instead of emitting seeds, it spreads its spores, making a sometimes audible hissing noise.
“It is a very cool mushroom to have as our state mushroom,” she continued.
Though the Texas star is rare, Schatz thinks it likely could be found elsewhere but is just difficult to spot. In fact, she said a group of mycologists recently discovered the noisy fungus in Taiwan.
“[Cedar elms] stretch all the way into Florida…[the mushroom is] just really hard to see,” she said. “They just blend in with the environment. So you really kind of have to look for the stump.”
The Central Texas Mycological Society advocated for the state to recognize the fungus. Schatz said she was surprised the legislative process went so smoothly and that it was able to get through.
“We love all mushrooms. We think they’re all magical, especially this one,” Schatz said.