April 06, 2008

Wachusett Yields Vermilion Brilliance

No, I haven't started taking hallucinogens.

Today was my first day of collecting fungi in 2008, and I've begun the season with my first trip to Wachusett Mountain. There's not too much out right now, of course. There are mainly persistent saprobes to be found. Without much photosynthesis going on, one isn't going to see many mycorrizhals (aside from me, of course). There isn't much color yet. Brown trees, pallid and gray to brown bracket fungi, turkey tails, a Phellinus or Fomes here and there. Even with it being a bit chilly at 400 meters above sea level, and a bit windy at times, and a bit drizzly and gray, I couldn't help think of the old Robert Frost poem... The woods are lovely, dark and deep...

So I wandered around my site and collecting a couple of specimens down by the beaver dam, and then I saw something very orange upon a fallen birch from some distance. My first thought was that it would probably be a Tremella of some sort, probably Tremella mesenterica. Those jellies don't seem to mind the cold, so long as its wet and above freezing. Still, it seemed worth checking out.

When I got to the fallen birch, this is what I found:

And then I flipped the thing over and my eyes nearly melted from their sockets:

The photo probably doesn't do this polypore justice. The tube mouths on this are pigmented with one of the most brilliant vermilion shades I've ever seen in nature, intense enough to rival the feathers of a macaw.

The fungus is called Pycnoporus cinnabarinus; the specific epithet related its color to the mineral cinnabar, a mercury sulfide once used for making red paints. It's closest relative is Pycnoporus sanguineus, an equally brilliant but much smaller polypore that grows only in the southern US (I used to find it frequently in Florida, particularly around Tampa). The color was so hot on the polypores in the cluster of about a half dozen sporocarps I discovered that I was tempted to try warming my hands by them.

I probably won't bother posting images of the other fungi I collected today. They're all rather dull to look at, though I may write something about some Piptoporus betulinus that contained what I think is a beetle pupa. I may post a couple of photos of that to demonstrate how, again, the beetles in that relationship seem to avoid damaging the hymenium of the fungus, raising some very interesting prospects about evidence for co-evolution in the two symbionts.

Still, it all seems rather pale in comparison to P. cinnabarinus, the only truly brilliant color to be found on the south slope of Mount Wachusett today.

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