July 30, 2007

Purgatory Chasm Foray

The foray and barbecue yesterday were great. The weather held up with storms not arriving until early evening. Even though they're secondary growth, the woods around the chasm contain a good deal of mycological diversity as well as a few skunks if my nose is any judge. Luckily for me, I didn't meet any of the critters up close as I trekked through the woods in search of specimens and neither did anyone else. About 30 people attended the foray, most of them members of the Boston Mycological Club and the Pringle Lab. Our own lab was a bit underrepresented on the foray; just Dr. H, AnWi and myself. Still, just about everyone from the lab managed to make it for the barbecue afterward. Being in the company of so many amateur and professional mycologists was most enjoyable; I haven't seen so many people at a fungus-related function since leaving the SF Bay Area and mycological society more than five years ago.

Speaking of MSSF, here's an item from the "it's a small world" department. It turns out that one of the people in the Pringle lab used to volunteer at the MSSF Fungus Fairs. I thought I recognized her, and it turns out that we had met at the very first Fair I attended in 2001, which set me on the path to where I am now! I remembered her in particular because of her name (Primrose; you just don't meet too many women named Primrose) and because she has a distinctive look about her generally. Moreover, it turns out that she lived less than a mile from LL and my house in El Cerrito. Actually, there turns out to be a lot of connection between mycologists here and the Bay Area; about half the people in mycological academe who were at the foray were either Bay Area natives or had spent years living there.

As far as yesterday's finds, the list of species is a very long one that I'm not even going to try to reproduce. There was a bewildering array of Russulas; there's always a bewildering array of Russulas, though. Some of the more noteworthy fungi found were Leotia lubrica, Amanita pantherina and A. inodora, Hygrophorus coccineus, Cantharellus cibarius, Craterellus cornucopioides, and Suillus spraguei... for starters. After foraying, participants brought back their finds for identification and inclusion upon a poster of fungal phylogenetics that extended the length of two picnic tables. Table talks were held discussing basic identification and evolutionary history and diversity. Time for photos now.

George Riner gives a talk on identifying mushrooms, including chucking Russulas about to demonstrate their brittleness.
David Hibbett discusses the phylogeny of Basidiomycota. We also had a similar talk on Ascomycota given by an expert whose name I can't spell...
Fungal phylogeny
Fungal phylogeny
Fungal phylogeny
Fungal phylogeny
One of my finds, Cortinarius iodes. I came up with a number of others, but this was the most attractive of the bunch. Leotia lubrica is interesting but not terribly photogenic.
A very small sample of the many Russulae gathered. All in all, attendees probably gathered more than a dozen species in this genus.
Best guess on this one is Daedalea quercinus. Identifying fungi past genus while still in the field is difficult, and even that degree of specificity can be tricky.
A few of the chanterelles found; Cantharellus cibarius and Craterellus cornucupioides.
I've never been too interested in lichens, but this is the prettiest one I've ever seen. Cladonia cristatella is commonly known as British soldiers due to its coloration. It certainly stands out from the vast array of drab lichens one finds smeared on everything in the forest!
Suillus spraguei, a slippery jack found in the northeastern US. Like other Suillus, it's not toxic, though I don't know if anyone would want to eat it. My only experience with eating a member of this genus was S. brevipes, and that had a consistency like soft scrambled eggs and a strongly fungal flavor. S. spraguei seems like it might be a bit firmer in consistency.
Definitely Ramaria, and probably R. stricta. This is a relatively large specimen; it's about 5" tall. The coral fungi are an odd group; the morphology has arisen independently at least three times resulting in fungi that look very much alike but are no more closely related to one another than is a human to a cow.
Another of the coral fungi, this one may be Clavulina or Clavulinopsis. In either case, it's not a near relative of Ramaria despite its superficially similar morphology. This is my favorite photo from the day.
A few random polypores, these having the familiar cap-and-stem construction that we humans call a "mushroom." Funny thing about that structure is that it has evolved independently in at least six different clades that, again, look superficially very similar but are quite different from each other in important ways. For instance, these polypores are as closely related to the button mushrooms one buys in a supermarket as are dogs to ducks.

At the barbecue, there was much conversation about the research people are doing in evolutionary molecular biology. One of the most interesting projects going on is in the evolution of Scleroderma, particularly the result that the pileate-stipate genus Gyroporus appears to be nested in a gastrulate phylogeny even though evolutionary gastrulation appears to be irreversible in the fungi. Hmmmm.

One disturbing aspect I noticed; all of the students from the Pringle lab were women and all those from the Hibbett lab men. Could this be the start of some bizarre experiment to selectively breed the next generation of mycologists? Oly time will tell...

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