Mushrooms that grow on stumps can also sprout from fallen logs and dead wood on living trees. Mushrooms appearing to grow from soil could actually be the fruiting bodies of fungi digesting buried wood, including dead roots yards from the nearest stump. The many fungi that utilize cellulose for food include delectable edibles and poisonous species. Never eat any mushroom you can't positively identify as safe.
The fruiting bodies of bracket or shelf fungi grow outward horizontally from the sides of stumps, logs and standing dead trees. Shelf mushrooms could grow on living trees as well. Many shelf mushroom species are inedible at any stage. Some harden and remain on the host wood for years. Mushroom hunters collect the sulphur shelf or chicken-of-the-woods mushroom in fall when the tops of the new shelves show a bright orange color. Only the edges of the new shelves are tender enough to cook and eat. Sulphur shelf causes gastric illness in some people, so sample a piece and wait a day before eating more.
Several kinds of coral or club mushrooms grow on dead wood although many other types grow in soil. These easily identified fungi grow fruiting bodies shaped like clusters of branching coral. Coral fungi fruit in late summer through fall and the different varieties show colors from white to yellow, brown and purple. Some coral fungi cause digestive problems and diarrhea. None cause severe poisoning, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation. To be safe, don't pick any coral mushroom that turns brown when bruised or shows slime at the base. Eat only the tender parts of the fungi, and never eat bitter coral mushrooms.
Gilled mushrooms include the most choice edibles and the most deadly poisonous mushrooms. Identifying any mushroom with a ribbed or gilled surface under the cap requires a field guide, experience and, at first, the help of an expert. Eating a poisonous gilled mushroom could cause fatal illness. Both poisonous and edible types grow on dead wood. Edibles include the oyster mushroom, a white or cream-colored gilled mushroom that grows horizontally in the shape of an oyster shell. Oyster mushrooms split as the caps mature. Edible honey mushrooms grow in large clusters with honey-colored caps and closely resemble other poisonous varieties. Honey mushrooms cause illness in some people.
Many other unusual types of fungi invade and digest dead wood. Some small species of puffballs, relatives of the giant puffballs found in open fields, grow exclusively on dead wood. When the round white puffballs show a brown spot in the center, any light touch expels a jet of dark spores. Jelly mushrooms sprout from dead stumps and logs in brightly colored layers of gelatin-like cups and ribbons. Bird's nest fungi grow small fruiting bodies shaped like bowls, with several egg-like spore bodies called peridioles inside. When a raindrop land in the nest, the splash knocks the peridioles out and spreads the fungus.