September 21, 2007

Wednesday's Fungi

I found all of these in the vicinity of the Echo Lake Trail on Wachusett Mountain, some before and some after my encounter with some local bees.

This is the largest speciment of Amanita rubescens I have ever seen. The entire mushroom was a foot tall and the pileus was at least half the size of my fist. What's more, it hasn't finished expanding; as you can see if you look carefully, the partial veil is still covering the gills, so the annulus hasn't even formed yet. I had to slice the pileus up to fit it in the specimen dryer, and when I did so the flesh of this blusher turned a vivid raspberry color. A. rubescens is supposed to be edible, but the usual warning about amanitas applies here. A mistake can be lethal with this genus.
Just as I mentioned last week in reference to Armillaria ostoyae, finding this mushroom also indicates that a tree has been given the death sentence. This one is Armillaria mellea, also known as the honey mushroom because younger specimens have predominantly yellow tones. This one is a bit older and so has faded to a tawny color. The stipe on this specimen was exceptionally long, most of it being buried. It was some distance from the nearest tree, so I'm not sure what its unfortunate host was. Honey mushrooms are edible (as are all Armillaria), though it can be a bit hard to digest and can cause anything from heartburn to full-blown gastric upset if not cooked very thoroughly. I've tried another of its close relatives, Armillaria tabescens, the predominant species in Florida, and wasn't at all impressed.
These two rows illustrate Cortinarius pseudosalor, a fairly typical cortinarius mushroom. The genus takes its name from its distinctive veil, called a cortina, remnants of which are most visible in illustration three. Most sporophores produce membranous veils, but in Cortinarius the veil is cottony, cobweb-like, or in the case of C. pseudosalor, slime. The edibility of this species is given as unknown, but very few members of the absolutely huge genus (it is the largest genus of brown-spores mushrooms on the planet) are entirely non-toxic. Many contain cumulative toxins that will take their time doing damage. Like most corts, this one has violet tones somewhere on the fruiting body — in this case, the stipe.
One of the difficulties with corts is that many of the species are ill-defined. C. pseudosalor has a close relative (I forget its name at the moment) from which it can be distinguished only by microscopic examination or molecular analysis. C. pseudosalor has club-shaped cystidia on its hymenium, while its otherwise identical-looking relative doesn't. Most people wouldn't care about that, though, because they'd be too put off by the viscid slime covering both the pileus and stipe to bother identifying the thing to species in the first place. That's why they pay me the big bucks (heh).
This brilliantly orange, vaguely brain-shaped gelatinous fungus is Dacrymyces palmatus, which is in the same class and family as Calocera cornea, although not quite as basal as that organism. Like C. cornea, D. palmatus has tuning fork-shaped basidia, but they are much narrower in this fungus. D. palmatus grows only on dead, bark-free conifer wood (this one is on the stump of a felled hemlock). It is edible, even raw, and tastes exactly like nothing at all.
Most fungi are fleshy or brittle and in any case relatively soft-bodies things. Fomes fomentarius, however, is often far harder than the wood upon which it grows. It's a common polypore; just about everyone has seen it at some point. It often serves as a rookery for insects, since dead fruiting bodies decay very slowly and can last for years. When dried, they become very flammable, giving this polypore its common name, kindling fungus.
Fomitopsis cajendari is commonly known as the rosy polypore because of the distinctive pink color of its pore surface (second photo). The flesh is also pink but turns brown in a 2% KOH solution. Not much to look at from the top, certainly. The dark patches in the second photo are my fingerprints; the pore surfaces bruises easily when handled. Clearly not an edible unless one is generally in the habit of chewing on old tires.
Saving the most common for last, here's Fomitopsis pinicolor. It has morphology is highly variable; its shiny, slightly sticky pellicle ranges from yellow to brown (as in this specimen) to darker reddish hues. I've read that F. pinicolor is the most commonly collected polypore in North America and it is certainly one that we've all seen frequently, though I have no idea where one would find stastistics on how often a given fungus shows up in a collection. I know there's one in mine, though. Again, not an edible for those of us who don't consider pencil erasers to be part of a balanced diet. This is one tough fungus.

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