Sphaerobolus stellatus has one of the most unusual spore dispersal mechanisms: its base pops up and quickly flings a glob of spores into the air. The fungus forms tiny (no more than 3mm across) star-shaped mushrooms in mulch, which can cause problems for homeowners when the spore globs glue themselves to cars, siding, and the like. S. stellatus’s unique spore dispersal strategy has resulted in a variety of common names, including: “Artillery Fungus,” “Cannonball Fungus,” “Cannon Fungus,” “Sphere Thrower” (which is a literal translation of its Latin name), and “Shotgun Fungus.”
fungi in the phylum Basidiomycota
Ganoderma applanatum is unique among fungi in that it is primarily used by humans as an artistic medium. This large, woody bracket fungus features a mostly flat white pore surface that immediately stains brown when handled. Because of this, the mushroom readily becomes a natural canvas for an artist. By lightly scratching the pore surface, an artist can produce beautiful sketches without using a pen, pencil, or paint. The pores stop growing once the mushroom is removed from its substrate, so the stains remain on the pore surface. Conks produced by G. applanatum are woody and therefore decay very slowly. As a result, artwork produced on the Artist’s Conk can last for many years when dried and kept indoors.1,2 Description Ganoderma applanatum forms large conks, which are fan-shaped polypore mushrooms that grow shelf-like from dead logs. Conks are also known as bracket mushrooms or shelf mushrooms. The conks produced by...
You are undoubtedly familiar with this mushroom, even if you recognize neither its scientific name, Amanita muscaria, nor its common name, “The Fly Agaric.” If the word “mushroom” does not immediately bring this fungus to mind, then the word “toadstool” probably does. You have certainly encountered A. muscaria’s distinctive red cap with white spots in a variety of visual art forms. This toadstool frequently pops up in paintings, cartoons, video games, movies, and decorations. Essentially, A. muscaria is the default mushroom that people (in Western societies, anyway) think of when they hear the word “mushroom” – the type specimen for mushrooms, if you will. This is probably best illustrated by the Wikipedia page for “Mushroom,” which features a prominent picture of the photogenic Fly Agaric. Morphology Amanita muscaria produces large, umbrella-shaped agaric mushrooms with a circular, brightly colored pileus and a central, white stipe. The pileus ranges in size from...
In honor of the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I chose to rework this post on the Turkey Tail. I will continue discussing mycotoxins next week. It is easy to see why Trametes versicolor is commonly called the “Turkey Tail”: the upper surface of the fan-shaped polypore sports rings of color that vary from gray to brown to reddish-orange. In fresh specimens, the edge of the mushroom is white, making it look remarkably like the displayed tail of a wild turkey. T. versicolor is a very common decomposer and produces mushrooms that are visible all year, so you can probably find it the next time you walk through the woods.
If the spirit of Halloween were a mushroom, it would be Omphalotus illudens. This agaric is commonly known as the “Jack-O-Lantern mushroom” for a few good reasons. First, it is bright orange, like the pumpkins that decorate doorsteps all over the United States in October. Not only is the cap orange, but so are the gills, the stipe, and the interior. Second, the mushroom’s gills glow in the dark, especially when they are young and fresh. Furthermore, the mushroom often has a sweet smell and is poisonous. Nothing says Halloween like something that is orange, glows in the dark, smells sweet, and has a sinister side.
One day as you check your mailbox you notice a yellow smear on the entrance to your house (for example a wooden gate). After retrieving your mail, you take a closer look and see that it’s a yellow gelatinous lobed blob – Witch’s Butter! Oh no, you think, I’ve been hexed by a witch! Knowing just what to do, you run back to the house, collect a few straight pins, and stab them through the offending substance to drain its juices and kill the spell. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t work very well for two reasons. First, this blob is actually the jelly fungus Tremella mesenterica. Like all jelly fungi, it is specifically designed to survive repeated dehydration and rehydration. Second, the main body of the fungus is still living inside the wood; unless you replace the wood, the mushroom will probably reappear in the same place!
Welcome back to creepy fungus month! I’m starting off this month with a mushroom that has a creepy name but is always fun to find: The Witch’s Hat. Hygrocybe conica gets its common name from the conic shape of its cap, its orange to red color, and its tendency to bruise strongly black. Actually, this last feature is probably the most important; when the mushrooms turn completely black they really do look like tiny hats for witches! The Witch’s Hat grows on the ground in a variety of habitats and mycologists are not sure what its ecological role is.
Phaeolus schweinitzii is a common polypore that parasitizes conifer trees. Around the bases of its victims, it produces medium-sized to large mushrooms in overlapping rosettes resembling haphazardly stacked dinner plates. The mushrooms are brown and fuzzy in the center and yellow around the edges. P. schweinitzii attacks the roots and lower trunk of older trees, making them more likely to fall in a storm. Although it routinely causes headaches for foresters and homeowners alike, people in the mushroom dyeing community covet this fungus. It dyes wool various shades from bright yellow to dark green, which earned it the common name “the Dyer’s Polypore.” Other common names used for P. schweinitzii are “Velvet-Top Fungus” and “Dyer’s Mazegill” (British).
The most readily observable features of Gyroporus castaneus are its brown cap and small size. As any mushroom hunter knows, mushrooms with this combination of features are very hard to identify… unless your mushroom is a bolete. Only a handful of boletes are small when fully grown and most of those have a reddish cap. G. castaneus – commonly called the “Chestnut Bolete” because of its chestnut brown colors – is easy to identify thanks to its small size, light brown colors, and brittle hollow stipe. Once you’ve found a small brownish bolete, the classic test to identify it as the Chestnut Bolete is gently squeezing the stipe, which should feel hollow.
Entoloma abortivum is a fascinating mushroom. The mushroom produces two forms of fruitbody: an agaric form that is an umbrella-like gilled mushroom and a “carpophoroid” (mycology-speak for “aborted”) form that looks like an oddly-shaped puffball. Both of these forms are usually found near honey mushrooms (Armillaria spp.) or in places honey mushrooms are known to grow. It turns out that E. abortivum is parasitic or partially parasitic on honey mushrooms; the aborted forms are actually the mycelium of E. abortivum attacking Armillaria mushrooms. Both the agaric and aborted forms are edible, although you need to be cautious when collecting Entoloma species.