Rare Fungus Found In Black Forest

Students at a Southern Colorado school helped make a rare scientific discovery.

It's an orange fire fungus, and it's the first time it's ever been seen in the state.

It was found during a nature hike at the School in the Woods in Black Forest.

"Ninety percent of the property was burned on our 40 acres here at School in the Woods, so we set up a fire ecology class," said Delene Hoffner, a teacher at School in the Woods.

The class was taking part of the Colorado State Forest Service's Project Learning Tree Program with Shawna Crocker when the group spotted a bright orange fungus growing out of the charred ground.

"From my untrained eye, it looked like any old kinda fungus," said Hoffner.

Crocker sent a photo to the Denver Botanic Gardens' Mycology lab.

"Bring it in, we need it!" Vera Evenson, Mycology curator, said of receiving the picture.

School in the Woods students collected the sample and sent it off to Denver.

"[I] never have seen it before. Types, yes, we find little cups in burns. Sometimes even orange ones but never this one," said Evenson.

Experts identified it as the rare Neottiella hetieri, a fire fungus that has been found only twice before in the entire country and never in our state.

"It's only been found a couple other times and both times in Washington, so it was really kinda amazing that it would be found right here in Colorado," said Millie Bramschreiber, a student who helped find the fungus.

Mycologists say this type of fungus is not dangerous; in fact, they expect it to play an important role in the re-vegetation of Black Forest.

"They do prepare the soil and the environment for plants. Sometimes it's mosses, sometimes it's small little specialized plants and pretty soon we have a forest back," said Evenson.

Her team from Denver plans to visit Black Forest later in the spring to see if they can find any other samples.