31. heinäkuuta 2020

June Salt Spring Island Fungus of the Month: Entomophthora

Here on the Rock we like to celebrate strange things, and we love our weird fungi, but this month's fungus might be the weirdest one yet. June's fungus is parasitic and a bit disturbing, and you may wish to skip the rest of this entry if reading about that sort of thing doesn't sound like fun to you.

The unseasonally rainy weather this June has contributed to an outbreak of Entomophthora, Fly Death Fungus, on some parts of the island. Entomophthora, as you might expect from something named Fly Death Fungus, is a parasite that grows on flies, to their detriment. After a fungus spore lands on a fly, the fungus begins to grow rootlike hyphae into the fly and begin to digest it.

observation by corvi

When the fly is near death, the hyphae grow into its brain and force it to land on the ground and then climb to the top of something tall. As the fly dies, the fungus makes it hold tightly and spread its wings. Then the fungus grows out between the plates on the fly's abdomen as a lumpy tan mass and releases spores. Because the fungus made the fly climb up high, the spores have a good chance of falling on another fly below the fungus to begin the infection cycle again.

observation by corvi

The flies in these pictures are dead and holding onto tall grass seed heads. Dead spore-releasing flies are also often found on chicken coops or animal stables, near areas where there are lots of flies.

Scientists are interested in this fungus as a natural way to control flies without pesticides. It's completely harmless to anything that isn't a fly. Video game designers are also intrigued by this fungus, but for very different reasons - the zombie video game Last Of Us uses an imaginary fungus similar to Entomophthora except it is able to infect and control humans as an explanation for how zombies are created.

Have you noticed fewer flies on the island this summer? Thank the rainy weather and Entomophthora!

Lähetetty 31. heinäkuuta 2020 15:30 käyttäjältä corvi corvi | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

May Salt Spring Island Fungus of the Month: Sarcosphaera coronaria

Sarcosphaera coronaria, the Pink Crown,  is a unique mushroom in a genus all by itself; it has no close relatives. It first appears as a half-buried slightly squishy, hollow white ball. As it matures, the top of the ball splits at the center into 6-12 points, which then open like a flower until the mushroom overall resembles a crown, with a circle of points rising up from a flattened cup. The inside of the crown, where spores are produces, is a dramatic purple colour.

observation by corvi

This species is at the center of a historical mystery. Until the 20th century, it was widely eaten across Europe, and many old books recommend it for the table. However, in the 1920s, several people in the Swiss village of Courtételle, where Pink Crowns fried with onions, peppers, and garlic had been a springtime treat for centuries, were poisoned by it.

observation by scruffasus

Multiple families were sickened multiple times that year, and one woman died. The high profile incident was thoroughly investigated and described in newspapers, and people pretty much stopped eating the suddenly poisonous mushroom. There were a few more poisonings in the 1960s, but thankfully nobody died. 

observation by corvi

We're still not sure, a century later, what happened at Courtételle. Scientists have analyzed Pink Crowns looking for for all the usual mushrooms poisons: amatoxins, hydrazine, muscamol, muscarine, orellanine, but haven't detected any. The species does often contain unhealthy amounts of arsenic, but not in quantities high enough to explain the events at Courtételle - someone would have to eat 4 kilograms of mushrooms at a sitting to die of arsenic poisoning. An expedition in the 70s couldn't even find any Pink Crowns in the area where they'd been documented in 1920, so Sarcosphaera coronaria will keep its mysteries a little longer.

observation by vail

This spring, enjoy the sight of the mysterious Pink Crown on our island, but don't eat it!

Lähetetty 31. heinäkuuta 2020 14:33 käyttäjältä corvi corvi | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

6. heinäkuuta 2020

Salish Sea Bioblitz

The Salish Sea Bioblitz runs from July 3 until July 12 this year. This bioblitz creates a "snapshot" of the diversity of species that live in the Salish Sea - birds, whales, seals, invertebrates, seaweeds... sadly, I don't think there will be any fungi. Aspergillus live in the ocean, but they're microscopic.

To help out the bioblitz, you can join The Great Salish Sea Bioblitz community. Then if you are next to or on the water between now and July 12, you can make observations and they'll be automatically added to the project.

The event also has a series of online talks about birds, whales, tidepools, art, and culture of the Salish Sea. You can see the schedule or sign up for an event here.

Lähetetty 6. heinäkuuta 2020 23:04 käyttäjältä corvi corvi | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

1. kesäkuuta 2020

April Salt Spring Island Fungus of the Month: Kretzschmaria deusta

Kretzschmaria deusta, also called Brittle Cinder, is a plant disease that kills trees by attacking the roots or base of a tree. The fungus dissolves the cellulose in the wood, but initially leaves lignin behind, making the wood brittle. Infected trees often shatter near the roots and fall over unexpectedly. On Salt Spring Island, it infects mostly bigleaf maples.

Most of the damage is hidden under the bark, but flat grey lumpy fruiting bodies with bright white edges may appear on infected trees or logs in late spring or early summer. As the year goes on, they darken and dry out, coming to resemble crumbly charcoal.

observation by vail

Like last month's Map Fungus, individual fungi colonizing a tree create boundaries between themselves in the form of thin, winding black zone lines, but for Kretzschmaria deusta inside a tree trunk, the boundaries outline three-dimensional fungal territories. When the wood is cut, you can see a cross section of the barriers as dark calligraphy lines on the cut side called "spalting". Woodworkers sometime call wood marked with these lines "webwood".

Photo by Korvinist

Usable wood with spalting is rare, because there is only a narrow time period between when the nearly-invisible fungus has damaged the wood enough to mark it, but before it has damaged it so much it is too fragile to make anything from.

Here is a beautiful guitar made from infected maple wood. I don't know for sure that the infecting fungus is Kretzschmaria deusta - there are a few other plant diseases that also cause webwood and woodworkers don't care which they use - but it certainly could be:

photo by FC Spoiler

There are other fungi that make art of wood as they infect it. Chlorociboria species turn wood blue. Nobody has observed a Chlorociboria on Salt Spring yet, but here's one from Comox:

observation by jbindernagel

I don't know if it can happen naturally, but there are labs experimenting with deliberately infecting wood with multiple fungi to create more complex spalting patterns. This article has some incredible photos.

I hope you've been able to find your way outside in these strange times. Keep looking down!

Lähetetty 1. kesäkuuta 2020 05:45 käyttäjältä corvi corvi | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

7. toukokuuta 2020

March Salt Spring Island Fungus of the Month: Coccomyces dentatus

March's fungus is the strange and lovely Map Fungus, Coccomyces dentatus. This fungus grows on fallen leaves from plants in the Ericaceae family, like Oregon Grape or Arbutus, and draws maps with black lines and dots.

observation by dianalynn1

The black lines, called "zone lines", divide areas of the leaf colonized by different individuals of the species. The dots are hexagonal structures that open their triangular panels to release spores when the fungus is mature - you can see the one at the center of this photo opening.

observation by dianalynn1

Map Fungus breaks down fallen leaves and recycles their nutrients into the soil. The zone lines may remain visible even on old crumbling leaves, like the lead in a stained glass window, if they are held up to the light.

It wasn't found on Salt Spring Island, but I want to share this especially colourful leaf map anyway, photographed by Richard Droker for Mushroom Observer:

The parks may be closed, but fungi are waiting everywhere in unlikely places to delight us, even in a handful of fallen leaves. I hope you are able to find a few.

Lähetetty 7. toukokuuta 2020 14:56 käyttäjältä corvi corvi | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

21. huhtikuuta 2020

February Salt Spring Island Fungus of the Month: Gloeophyllum sepiarium

February's fungus is Gloeophyllum sepiarium, the Conifer Mazegill. This species has concentric rings of colour on top, like many polypores, but quite unusually for a polypore, it has gills, not pores, beneath. It is orange when young, but over time darkens to brown from the centre out, leaving only the rim orange. Eventually the rim darkens too.
observation by dianalynn1

It can be found in forests, but it is infamous for decaying chemically treated railroad ties and lumber in lumber yards and sometimes called Lumberyard Mushroom. Here on the island, there's a fair bit of it growing on the garden boundaries at the pool on Rainbow Road. It has enzymes that are very efficient at breaking down difficult chemicals.

observation by caladri

Those same enzymes are of interest to scientists, who have been testing it for the bioremediation of chromium pollution. Chromium is an element that can exist in many different states, each of which has a different colour, which is how it got its name; "chromium" is Greek for "colour".

Gloeophyllum sepiarium can turn the toxic kidney-damaging chromium-VI (purple) into chromium-III (green), which is much safer, as it can't enter animal cells easily. Chromium-III is even used to make green oil paint. This fungus is being considered for use in cleaning up pollution in areas polluted by chromium-VI from tanning or dyeing processes; tests have found that over the course of a year, it converts 94% of the chromium-IV to chromium-III.

Appropriately for a mushroom that turns poison into paint, this species can also be used as a dye! It makes a warm orangey-brown colour. You can see photos of the results here.

observation by caladri

I hope you had a colourful month!

Lähetetty 21. huhtikuuta 2020 05:39 käyttäjältä corvi corvi | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

5. maaliskuuta 2020

Vote for Canada's National Lichen!

The Canadian Museum of Nature has set up a vote to select Canada's National Lichen! There are seven candidates. Read about the candidates and vote for your favourite here!

Lähetetty 5. maaliskuuta 2020 04:47 käyttäjältä corvi corvi | 0 kommenttia | Jätä kommentti

1. maaliskuuta 2020

January Salt Spring Island Fungus of the Month: Exidiopsis effusa

January's fungus of the month is Exidiopsis effusa, an unremarkable white crust fungus visible as a lumpy crust on dead, barkless wood. However, when conditions are just right, the crust grows ice wool: long silky hairlike icicles.

observation by vail

Individual ice "hairs" remain completely separate and don't freeze together where they touch, but nearby hairs follow similar paths and make smooth curls and waves together.

Ice wool has been observed between 45 and 55 degrees north in France, Germany, Wales, Scotland, Switzerland, Ireland, and Canada (including Salt Spring Island). It forms in calm, windless conditions when the air is humid and the temperature is just below zero. If the temperature changes or the air gets dryer, the ice wool disappears.

Its formation was thought to be fungi-related, but the details were a mystery until 2015, when a German research group led by Dr. Diana Hofmann collected samples of wood that had grown ice wool over the winters of 2010-2014. Genetic analysis of the samples found that while most rotting wood supports several species of fungi, Exidiopsis effusa was present in every sample, and there were a few samples where it was the only fungus present.

They also collected and melted the ice itself, and found that it contained dissolved fulvic acids, a result from fungal digestion of wood, which may help explain the weird behaviour of the ice.

Exidiopsis effusa isn't the only living thing that grows fleeting, strange ice. Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, grows at forest edges across the South-Eastern United States. During the first freeze of winter, the frostweed stem ruptures and water oozes slowly out of long vertical cracks, forming thin ribbons of ice.

observation by jollyphoto

Lähetetty 1. maaliskuuta 2020 01:21 käyttäjältä corvi corvi | 1 kommentti | Jätä kommentti

24. helmikuuta 2020

December Salt Spring Island Fungus of the Month: Lepista Nuda

December's (belated) fungus of the month is Lepista nuda, the beautiful purplish Wood Blewit. This mushroom grows under trees and decomposes fallen leaves, needles, sticks and cones. They're not picky about what sort of dead plant material they consume, and are happy in compost piles and garden mulch as well.

observation by vail

Young blewits have purple-tinted gills, stems, and caps. As they mature, the caps fade to an easily-overlooked tan, but the gills and stem hidden beneath retain their purple tone.

observation by caladri

This species also has a wonderful smell. I've heard it described as "frozen orange juice"; personally I think they smell like Rockets Candy. Blewits are quite tasty cooked, though not recommended for beginning mushroom foragers due to a number of less friendly purple lookalikes in the Cortinarius genus. Lepista nuda has pale pink spores; Cortinarius species have rust-brown spores.

Lepista nuda observed by vail

Cortinarius camphoratus observed by enter_the_void

La Cave des Roches, in the Loire Valley in France was created by hundreds of years of underground quarrying of fine white limestone. Mining has long stopped, but over a hundred kilometres of the cave are now used for mushroom farming, including blewits. Check out these pictures of the cave, including decorative sculpture on the limestone walls done by the miners.

Humans are not the only admirers of the bright colour of Lepista nuda. They've been accidentally introduced to Australia, where male Satin Bowerbirds, who collect blue objects to woo mates, have been reported picking blewits to add to their collections. (Sadly, I couldn't find any photos of bowerbirds with blewits.)

observation by jss367

Living on whatever leaves and twigs fall off a tree can be a little uncertain, and Lepista nuda has a very strange trick up its purple sleeve to get extra nutrients: it hunts and preys on bacteria. In low-nutrient conditions, blewits will grow root-like hyphae toward underground colonies of the plant disease Agrobacteria, secrete a digestive enzyme to break down the bacteria, and absorb them as nutrients. Agrobacteria cause lumpy galls on plant stems near the ground.

observation by susanhewitt

Seasonal peak for Lepista Nuda is usually from September to December here. I'm posting this rather belatedly, but they'll be back!

Q: What did Lepista nuda say after it failed its grammar test?
A: Oh no, I blewit!

observation by corvi

Lähetetty 24. helmikuuta 2020 04:21 käyttäjältä corvi corvi | 1 kommentti | Jätä kommentti

30. tammikuuta 2020

November Salt Spring Island Fungus of the Month: Hygrocybe singeri

November's fungus is Hygrocybe singeri, the colourful Western Witch's Hat mushroom. It has a bright red, orange, and yellow pointed cap and a yellow-orange stem. It doesn't actually look much like a witch's hat; it looks like a little drop of autumn.

observation by chloesj

However, it turns black wherever it is touched. In this photo, you can see the black marks forming on the stem where fingers touched it:

observation by corvi

The blackening is caused by a chemical reaction between chemicals inside the cells of the mushroom and oxygen. Handling the mushrooms "bruises" it and breaks open the cell walls so oxygen can get into the cell and react with the blackening chemical. Many mushrooms have chemical reactions that turn them blue or red when touched, but mushrooms that turn black when handled are fairly rare.

As the mushroom ages, the same process gives it black splotches; eventually, it becomes entirely black, and would make an excellent hat for a very small witch.

observation by caladri

Despite how common, obvious, and colourful it is, this species is pretty mysterious.

  • It is found in the Pacific Northwest and in South America, but not anywhere in between.
  • It always seems to be found with moss, but we're not sure what their relationship is.
  • It has so far proved impossible to grow in a lab.
  • Chemical analysis of its nitrogen indicates it is probably getting the nitrogen it needs via parasitism, but we don't know who it's stealing from. Plants? Fungi? We don't know.

observation by caladri

I am posting this quite belatedly, and it is too late to see any more Hygrocybe singeri this year, but they'll be back next fall. We may not get a lot of colourful leaves in autumn here, but sometimes the mushrooms make up for it.

Lähetetty 30. tammikuuta 2020 04:38 käyttäjältä corvi corvi | 1 kommentti | Jätä kommentti