They aren't plants (which not everyone knows, as I've seen), but mushrooms (aka fungi) are are "like so in" right now. And they are welcome sights each FALL, signs of good organic matter in the soil and the healthy decay and consumption of woody debris.
Let's talk conk.
Red-belted conk, red-banded polypore, (Fomitopsis pinicola, syn Fomes pinicola) which are very common all over in coniferous forests of temperate regions in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
This lumpy conk is a polypore bracket fungus with a tough woody texture so it's not the nom-nom soft edible type but the medicinal (& safe to eat) type.
A polypore ("many pores") is a type of fungus, different from what you may consider the classic mushroom with the stem and cap, instead with a shelf-shape. Polypores have pores lined by the spore-producing cells, they lack a stalk/stem. Conk mushrooms like this red-banded conk, are hard woody round shelf-mushrooms that are sort of horse-hoof like and are continually growing for years, unlike the stalked classic-mushroom which come up for a season to spore (make babies) and then melt away, leaving the fibrous mat of fungal mycelia underground. The mycelia is the main body and growth form of fungi, breaking down materials into usable nutrient components and helping recycle debris into soil. They cause the unusual cubical chunks of wood as a tree trunk crumbles under their decomposition.
To ID the Fomitopsis pinicola red-banded conk: the fruiting bodies (aka shelf mushrooms) are generally a little colorful with the name-sake banding in yellows or reds on top toward the base/attachment point, with a cream and often "varnished"-looking outer rim which is it's growing edge that is rounded and a bit lumpy/wavy. They have very small pores visible on their underside of cream-white.
Their interior is woody and fibrous and they bruise only slightly as a yellowish color (look-alike Ganoderma species bruise brown). The shelf-growing form of Heterobasidion annosum can look like Fomitopsis pinicola but it lacks the reddish colors and also grow more flat-topped and they are not edible but rather a very destructive fungus that causes root-rot in trees.
Important note- if you ID and harvest a red-banded conk Fomitopsis, you will want to get it home and cut it into small ~1" chunks as soon as possible because they HARDEN quickly after harvesting and after several days you may need some intense sawing (& a vise to hold em, or a laser!) to cut them up.
Funny fact- they also cause brown decay and butt rot.
The red-belted conk has been used for many generations across the world in traditional medicines and is being actively studied in new medicines as well, especially for it's well know anti-cancer properties. With cancer ever rising in the world, it's a good conk to know and good thing it's common. But Fomitopsis pinicola isn't just nice for us humans. It plays a major role in breaking down dead conifer wood and some hard-woods like cherry, returning their nutrients to the soil to start the cycle again. You may see it's non-fruiting form when you flip over a log, with a layer of tubes
Applications of use for the conk mushroom include treating inflammation (particularly in the gastrointestinal system), with antimicrobial, and anti-tumor uses, as well as headaches, and help with persistent colds or flu, diarrhea, arthritis, and nerve pain. Extracts of the red-banded conk contain compounds that stimulate white blood cell production, aiding the immune system. Some compounds help prevent the spread and growth of cancerous tumors and continues to be studied for anticancer uses.
To harvest (be conservative, they go a long way and grow fairly slowly): push down smoothly and firmly on the conk to pop it off the wood substrate, or you may need to pry it free with a tool. Then quickly get it cut up into small cubes for either or both an alcohol extraction (try 12 parts of a 50% ethanol solution to 1 part conk) or a water+oil extraction (boil for 2-3 hours a portion of conk in a quart of water with 1 tbsp of oil). Each extraction technique pulls out different compounds, so taking a dose of both together in a tea is optimal.
Happy health and Fall explorations!
Bishop, K. 2020. Characterization of Extracts and Anti-Cancer Activities of Fomitopsis pinicola. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7146440/
Kloos, S. 2017. Pacific Northwest Medicinal Plants. Timber Press Inc.
Blagodatski, A, et al. 2018. Medicinal mushrooms as an attractive new source of natural compounds for future cancer therapy. Oncotarget, Advanced Publication. file:///C:/Users/lclar/Downloads/OT_045595_proof.pdf