Division Basidiomycota (also called Phylum Basidiomycota) accounts for about 37% of all described fungal species. This division contains the fungi that people are most familiar with. The classic “Mario mushroom” (based on Amanita muscaria), the grocery store button mushroom and other varieties of Agaricus bisporus, shiitakes, oyster mushrooms, and even the major “magic mushrooms” are all basidiomycetes. However, the Basidiomycota also include rusts and smuts, which are economically important plant pathogens, some yeasts, and a few lichenized fungi. Like the Ascomycota, the Basidiomycota fill a variety of different ecological roles. Many form mycorrhizas with plants, others parasitize plants, a lot decompose organic material, and some live in a variety of symbioses with insects. The Basidiomycota are commonly referred to as “basidiomycetes,” “basidios,” or “club fungi.”
Fungus Fact Friday
Many mushrooms like growing in mulch, but none enjoy that life more than Stropharia rugosoannulata. Commonly known as “the Wine Cap” or “the King Stropharia,” S. rugosoannulata is easily recognized by its habitat and wine-red cap – at least when young. The mushrooms quickly lose their color, so identifying older mushrooms hinges on other features, like the cogwheeled ring and dark purplish spore print. This mushroom is considered edible; mushroom hunters often collect and eat the Wine Cap and some even cultivate it.
Coprinellus micaceus, commonly known as “The Mica Cap” or “The Glistening Inkcap” is one of the rare inky caps (FFF#177) that is easy to identify. These medium-sized mushrooms appear in dense clusters on dead wood and feature brown caps coated with a distinctive dusting of salt-like or mica-like granules (hence the scientific and common names). Mica Caps are beautiful when young, since the shiny granules make it look like fairy dust was lightly sprinkled over the mushrooms. The unique combination of size, habitat, and fairy dust makes C. micaceus instantly recognizable.
For some reason, the internet lacks a good description of Laetiporus persicinus. I seek to remedy that in this post. Laetiporus persicinus does not resemble Chicken of the Woods (L. sulphureus and allies, FFF#102), despite the fact that they belong to the same genus. Instead, it is closer in appearance to Inonotus hispidus or Phaeolus schweinitzii. To me, the only part of this mushroom that resembles Chicken of the Woods is the way its surface ripples. Laetiporus persicinus, sometimes called the “White Chicken Mushroom” or “Spring Chicken,”1 is a medium to very large fleshy polypore that grows on dead trees and logs. The surface of the mushroom is light orange-brown with tones of red, white, and purple, while the pores underneath are white and instantly stain dark brown when handled.
Stinkhorns love humans. These mushrooms can eke out a living in natural habitats, but they really thrive in artificial ones like mulch beds. Unfortunately, humans don’t feel the same way about stinkhorns. We tend to find them offensive, thanks to their foul odors and phallic shapes. Perhaps no one disliked stinkhorns more than Etty Darwin (Charles Darwin’s granddaughter); legend has it that she would diligently remove stinkhorns from her property and burn them to discourage impure thoughts in her servants.1 Appropriately (or perhaps inappropriately), the most common mulch stinkhorns belong to two genera named for these mushrooms’ offensive shapes: Phallus and Mutinus.* Of those mushrooms, Phallus rubicundus and Mutinus elegans are the most frequently encountered in North American gardens.
The Glomeromycota are unusual and poorly understood organisms. Fungi from this division rarely produce easily visible structures and cannot be grown without a plant host, so investigating them is very difficult. Glomeromycotan fungi are some of the most important fungi on Earth because they form arbuscular mycorrhizas, which provide essential nutrients to the vast majority of terrestrial plants.
Fomes fomentarius is the Swiss army knife of the mushroom world: it has a variety of uses that are important in many different contexts. It is used by survivalists, fly fishermen, and even some hat makers. Although it isn’t edible, the mushroom is considered medicinal. Humans have used F. fomentarius for well over 5,000 years (more about that later) and probably much longer than that. The polypore grows from dead or dying trees and is shaped like a slightly irregular horse’s hoof. It has a variety of common names, which is not surprising when you consider its many uses. The two most widely used names are “Tinder Polypore” and “Hoof Fungus.”
For some reason, the strange little mushrooms produced by the ascomycete Leotia lubrica are called “Jelly Babies” (or “Jellybabies”). They do look a little like the mushroom version of gummy fruit snacks, but that’s as close as I can get to understanding their common name. When fresh, these small yellow and brown mushrooms have a smooth but wrinkled and slimy cap held aloft by a gently curving stalk, so they do look somewhat like a gelatinous morsel on a stick.
So, is it an agaric or a bolete? At first glance, the answer seems obvious: it clearly has gills and therefore must be an agaric. However, if you spend enough time around mushrooms you might get a kind of uncanny valley feeling about this mushroom; its coloration, its stature, the way its cap looks somewhat puffy, the way the cap cracks as it dries out, and other subtleties just don’t look quite right for an agaric. When you ignore the gills, the mushroom looks for all the world like a bolete! Phylloporus rhodoxanthus, commonly called “the Gilled Bolete,” is actually closely related to the boletes and evolved gills independently of the true agaric lineages.
The gilled mushrooms, informally referred to as ‘agarics,’ are the type of mushroom with which we are most familiar. The most common edible mushrooms (white/button/portabella mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms), Amanita muscaria – the most recognizable mushroom in the world and the inspiration for almost all mushroom art – and the ‘magic mushrooms’ are all gilled mushrooms. All these mushrooms share one feature: vertical plates of spore-producing tissue stacked under a sterile cap.