September 05, 2007

Long Story Short

Almost everyone backed out of the foray today because they thought that just because it has been the second driest month for our vicinity ever recorded there wouldn't be any fungi about. When it was time to go collecting, it was just me and one of the post-docs.

The joke is on the quitters, of course, because I am a mushroom-hunting god. Sure, I probably know less about molecular biology and phylogeny than anyone else in the lab, but when it comes to finding mushrooms, I'm a mycelium-seeking missile. I took the one other soul brave enough to risk the trip to my special spot at the base of Wachusett.

Were we successful, you ask? But of course! By the time we'd finished, we had specimens of everything from Agliophora to Xerocomus. It is no exaggeration to say that we stuffed one backpack, one very large plastic bucket, two tackle boxes, two plastic shopping bags and our pockets with specimens. One of the day's more interesting finds was a cluster of what we think are Cortinarius elegans, a rarely-seen non-slimy purple cort that's a bit like an iceberg. It looks like a normal mushroom from the top, until you realize that the stipe can extend a foot or more into the substrate. I managed to dig out five of the suckers; it's the first time I've seen them. We also came up with some very nice Pholiota squarrosoides, a scaly mushroom that gives off a distinctive scent of bread dough when bruised. Other finds include Tylopilus chromapes, Strobilomyces floccopus, and Laccaria amethystina, not to mention a couple of Amanita muscaria and an A. rubescens that blushed a bright shade of pink when scratched. I found what I think is a Clavulina that is apparently "mycorrhizal" on moss (yes, I know moss doesn't have roots, hence the quotation marks). That one may take a bit of figuring out to get an identification, though. Lastly, we found what used to be called Cordyceps ophioglossoides, a mycoparasite that eats truffles and produces a fruiting body that looks a good deal like a Geoglossum sp., but with a more club-shaped head often covered with cottony white matter (conidiospores, I believe). I say it used to be known as a Cordyceps because only insect-parasites now reside in that genus. Mycoparasitic species have been moved in just the last few months into a genus of their own, but nobody at the lab can remember what the new name is.

Not a bad day of hunting at all; the above list isn't even close to complete! Everyone who backed out of the foray regretted missing out. The moral of the story is that if I say I'm going to get specimens, I am going to get specimens. Fruiting bodies fear me!

Tomorrow, I'll be doing identifications and working on getting a better grasp of microscopic structures in the polyporoid fungi I brought in. Does getting excited about examining setal hyphae in Coltricia make me a complete geek yet? Yeah, I thought so. I have no problem with that.

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