July 04, 2008

Patriotic Fungus

A bit of mycological and American historical trivia that seems particularly appropriate today. Did you know that the ink used to sign the Constitution was made from shaggy mane mushrooms (Coprinus comatus)? Fireworks are all well and good, but there are few things more patriotic than good old American fungi.

How's that for a segue?

Despite the rain, this morning's foray went incredibly well. I spent about 3.5 hours collecting specimens and five hours identifying them. There was a bewildering array of Amanita, Russula, Lactarius and Mycena just for starters. Photos? Glad you asked!

Let's begin with a cry for help, shall we? HELP! I can't identify this Amanita beyond the likelihood that it's in section Vaginatae. The largest pileus is 5.5 cm. It's slightly viscid, though the stipe is dry. Spores are inamyloid, 9x9 to 9x10 and born four to a basidia on nearly all of the basidia (far fewer than 30% were two-spored). No part of the mushroom discolored in 2% KOH. These were growing in a wet, grassy area under mixed hardwoods — beech, maple and some ash.
Here's a shot showing the annulus and volva of the unidentified Amanita. Note that in many specimens, the annulus had withered away to a membranous gray thread. The volva is not saccate but has a barely free collar. Again, no part of the mushroom discolored when rubbed or scratched. The smell and taste were both nondescript. I base my hypothesis that this is in Vaginatae on the long-striate pileus margin, the inamyloid spores, the evanescent annulus and the structure of the volva. I'm willing to entertain other hypotheses, though! Is there an Amanita expert in the house?
This spongy-looking hamburger is Boletus xanthoconium. I don't know much about it except that it's mycorrhizal, like most boletes. It makes trees happy. That's a good thing.
It's hard to get an idea of the size of this polypore from the first shot, so I've included my hat for scale in the second. This monster of a fungus bears the unlikely epithet Bondarzewia berkeleyi (bahn-dahr-ZOO-ee-uh). Let's just call it Berkeley's polypore. This specimen measured an impressive two feet in diameter and likely weighs in at around 10 kilos. It's one of the largest fungi I've ever seen. There were slugs literally lined up to feed on this thing... dozens and dozens of them were on the ground and the oak tree from which this specimen was growing. If you look carefully at the second photo, you can see one of those slugs just to the right of the brim of my hat. That slug is a better human being than the far slimier Jesse Helms, who finally did something good for the world today by leaving it.

How's that for a segue?
A couple of detail shots of Bondarzewia berkeleyi, the first of the upper surface of a pad and the second of the pore surface.
Lactarius camphoratus doesn't look like much of anything. But if you smell this pointy-headed little fungus, you'll recognize it immediately. It smells exactly like curry and, it's reported, also tastes like it. It can reputedly be dried and used for a curry substitute, though today was the first time I've ever found it and I only saw the one. Like other members of its genus, it bleeds a sticky latex when its gills are cut. L. camphoratus has thin, white latex that dries clear.
Like many edible fungi, Laetiporus sulphureus has several colloquial names. Some call it "sulfur shelf" because of its color. Others call it "chicken of the woods" because it has almost the precise consistency of chicken breast when cooked. Personally, I call it "OM NOM NOM MMMM GOOD GIMME MORE KAITHX." Some of this large specimen made it back to the lab to be stored for possible future sequencing or what have you. More of it, however, made it to my kitchen where tonight I enjoyed not one but two Laetiporus burritos. I wasn't really hungry anymore after the first one, but this is one of my top five favorite edible fungi and I just had to cram a second burrito down my gullet. Now I'm so stuffed that I can hardly move. Regrets? Not at all. Every job has a perk or two. One of the biggest perks for mycologists, as far as I can tell, is that we occasionally get to eat some of our specimens. Ever watch a particle physicist trying to gather up enough top quarks for so much as a snack? It's a sad sight, I'll tell you. Let's not even talk about what happens to paleontologists who attempt to make a snack out of what they find in the field.
Leccinum insigne is also edible, though I tend to shy away from boletes. They're usually too riddled with fly larvae to eat by the time I find them. That being said, there were a lot of these mushrooms around today and it wouldn't take many of them to make a meal. There are a few red-capped Leccinum in North America, and it takes observation of their discoloration upon being cut and a look at a few microscopic features to tell them apart.
Here's what happens when one cuts open Leccinum insigne. It turns momentarily pink, but quickly switches to a dull lavender color and the slowly fades to black. I think all three staining colors are visible in this shot. Like many other Leccinum, the outer base of this one turns blue as well. For comparison, see my entry from two days ago, which includes the staining process in Leccinum snellii. You'll readily see the difference in how these two species discolor when cut.
At first I thought that this log was flipping me off, but upon closer inspection I noticed that this was a fungus, not a finger. At first I thought it might be some sort of Cordyceps s.l., so I carefully picked apart the wood from which this things projected to search for its arthropod host. There wasn't one. Microscopic examination revealed that the surface of the orange "head" was covered with little pits called perithecia in which the fungus produces chain-like asci, each of which contains exactly 16 3-micron long spores. A bit more investigation keyed this down to a somewhat obscure member of Hypocreales, Podostroma alutaceum. Next time you think a log is giving you an unsolicited opinion of what it thinks of you, you may be looking at a Podostroma yourself. Or maybe that log doesn't like you.
I don't recall ever having seen a green Russula before today, and today I saw two of them. This one is Russula heterophylla. It's pellicle is nearly solid grayish-green in color; the flesh beneath the pellicle is white and it turns a pinkish color when exposed to FeSO4.
Despite appearances in the first image, this is not the egg of some alien predator come to destroy the world. A little digging revealed a stipe beneath the strange-looking cap and this turned out to be a very easy thing to identify compared to most Russulas. It's Russula virescens, AKA the green-quilted Russula. That mottled pellicle is distinctive for the species.
This may look like a coral fungus at first glance (e.g. Ramaria and Ramariopsis). If you thought that, you've been taken in by this deceiver, for it is a false coral fungus and not even closely related to the true coral fungi. This weak impostor, Tremellodendron pallidum has a spathulate head and rubbbery-tough consistency, unlike the sharp-headed and delicate true coral fungis. Real coral fungi won't give this Ramariopsis wanna-be the time of day.

Yet it's still a better person than Jesse Helms.

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