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Daedaleopsis confragosa and the Minotaur

Daedaleopsis confragosa, the thin-maze polypore, is a tough brown bracket fungus that grows on dead wood or wounded living trees. It is a white rot fungus, meaning that it digests lignin–a tough component of plant cell walls–and leaves the rotted wood white afterwards. This fungus has a tough and woody texture, and grows shelf-like out of the wood without stalk. Below is Daedaleopsis confragosa from the top and from the bottom:

Daedaleopsis confragosa

Photo by Stephanie Gautama.

How did Daedaleopsis confragosa get its name? Being unfamiliar, Latin names often seem arbitrary, and sometimes they indeed are. The name Daedaleopsis confragosa however, is a meaningful one. Daedaleopsis refers to Daedalus, a skilled artificer of the Greek mythology whose famous maze looks strikingly similar to the underside of the fungus. The epithet confragosa means rough, and describes the tough and rugged texture of the upper side of the fungus. The image of the intricately woven, narrow passageways of a maze was probably in the mind of James Bolton when he first described and named the fungus in 1791.

The maze and the maze-maker

Maze from; photo by Stephanie Gautama.

Who is Daedalus and how did he come to be associated with the maze? The story behind Daedalus’ maze begins with King Minos of Crete, who in his arrogance displeased the gods. As punishment, the gods led his wife Pasiphae to fall in love with a bull. She later gave birth to the Minotaur, a creature with the body of man and the head of the bull. Pasiphae nursed the Minotaur, but as it grew, it became increasingly ferocious. King Minos could not kill the Minotaur for fear of a worse curse, so he ordered Daedalus to build a prison for his son. Daedalus was already famed as a skillful craftsman, architect and innovator–in an old manuscript written in the 77AD, Pliny credited him for the invention of carpentry. It was not long before Daedalus came up with the design of an underground maze of “numberless winding passages and turns that opened into one another, seeming to have neither beginning nor end.”3 The Minotaur was imprisoned in this maze, and seven Athenian youths and maidens were annually sacrificed into the maze to be devoured by the Minotaur. In the third year of sacrifice, Theseus the Athenian prince (Athens, by the way, is the enemy of Crete), plans to end the sacrificial rite by becoming part of the sacrifice himself. In Crete, as the youths and maidens were inspected before the sacrifice, Ariadne, the daughter of Minos fell in love with Theseus. She secretly gave him a ball of yarn and a sword. After Theseus was lowered into the maze, he unwound the ball of yarn, leaving a trail as he searched for the Minotaur. Theseus found the Minotaur asleep and slew it, then was able to quickly able to find his way out following his trail of string. This is why Daedalus created the maze, and how the maze was solved.

When next you see these intricate mazes under the eaves of the wood, remember Daedalus’ maze, and then the Latin name is sure to come naturally to you!

  1. Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Mythology. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.
  2. Lincoff, Gary H. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms.
    New York: Random House. 1981.
  3. Daedalus. Wikipedia. 23 October 2006.
  4. Maze. Wikipedia. 23 October 2006.
  5. Emberger, Gary. Fungi Growing on Wood. Messiah College. 23 October 2006.
  6. Kendrick, Bill. . Online maze-generator. 23 October 2006.



2 Responses to “ Daedaleopsis confragosa and the Minotaur ”


Most people don't pay much attention to fungi, which include things like mushrooms, molds, yeasts, and mildews. Here at Cornell we think they're pretty fascinating. In fact, even the most disgusting foot diseases and moldy strawberries are dear to our hearts. We'd like to talk to you about fungi, so that like us, you too can tell gross stories at the dinner table. Afterwards, maybe you'll notice some things you would have overlooked before, and we think this could be good for the planet.

Kathie T. Hodge, Editor

Beneath Notice, our book of borescopic mycology.


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