Quick facts

Common names: jelly ear, Judas’s ear, wood ear

Scientific name: Auricularia auricula-judae

Family: Auriculariaceae

Fruiting season: year-round

Habitat: dead and dying branches

What does jelly ear fungus look like?

Ear-shaped bracket fungus resembling tan-brown, gelatinous, jelly-like flesh.

Bracket: at first cup-shaped, developing lobes that make them look uncannily like human ears. Tan-brown and velvety on the outside, with a wrinkled, shiny inner surface. Individual lobes can grow to between 3 and 10cm across. Rubbery, gelatinous flesh.

Gills/spores: spores are sausage-shaped with a white spore print.

Not to be confused with: bay cup (Peziza badia) which grows on the ground and is poisonous; and tripe fungus or grey brain fungus (Auricularia mesenterica) whose fruit bodies are smaller, paler, and hairier.

jelly ear fungi growing on tree

Credit: Laurie Campbell / WTML

Where to find jelly ear fungus

Jelly ear is fairly common in the UK. It is usually found in clusters, drooping from dead and dying branches, mainly of elder but sometimes on other types of hardwood, particularly beech, sycamore and ash. It likes damp, shady conditions.

Did you know?

Jelly ear fungus can freeze solidly and then thaw out and continue to grow.

Mythology and symbolism

One of the jelly ear’s other common names is Judas’s ear. This name alludes to the fact that the ‘ears’ appear mostly on elder – the tree species that Judas hanged himself on after betraying Jesus Christ to his executioners. The legend is that the ‘ears’ which emerge from elder wood represent his tormented soul.

ear-shaped jelly ear fungi

Credit: Naturepix / Alamy Stock Photo

Uses of jelly ear fungus

Jelly ear is popular in Chinese cuisine, where it is known as ‘wood ears’. It was used medicinally until at least the 1860s, and it was thought that fungi that looked like body parts could be used to treat that body part. It was therefore used to treat eye conditions (as eyes are gelatinous like the fungus) and throat problems (as jelly ear’s structure was considered similar to the throat’s). Herbalist John Gerard recommended a remedy for sore throats made by boiling jelly ear in milk.

Did you know?

Jean Baptiste François (Pierre) Bulliard first described the fungus scientifically in 1789. However, it was Austrian botanist-mycologist Richard Wettstein who finally transferred the fungus to its present genus in 1897.