Tagged: creepy

posts from October

#113: <em>Moniliophthora perniciosa</em>, Witches’ Broom Disease of Cacao Trees 1

#113: Moniliophthora perniciosa, Witches’ Broom Disease of Cacao Trees

Witches might not be real, but witches’ brooms certainly are – and they’re destroying chocolate! Yes, Halloween’s favorite treat (chocolate) is suffering at the hands of a disease with a Halloween-themed name: Witches’ Broom Disease.  Witches’ brooms are actually fairly common and occur on many different plants.  In chocolate trees (Cacao trees, Theobroma cacao, whose genus name literally means “food of the gods”), witches’ brooms are caused by the fungal pathogen Moniliophthora perniciosa and have an enormous economic impact on chocolate production in Central and South America.

#112: <em>Monotropa uniflora</em>, Ghost Plant, Indian Pipe, or Corpse Plant 0

#112: Monotropa uniflora, Ghost Plant, Indian Pipe, or Corpse Plant

On September 30, 1882, Emily Dickinson wrote the following in a letter to Mabel Loomis Todd: That without suspecting it you should send me the preferred flower of life, seems almost supernatural, and the sweet glee that I felt at meeting it, I could confide to none—I still cherish the clutch with which I bore it from the ground when a wondering child, an unearthly booty, and maturity only enhances mystery, never decreases it— The previous week, she had received a gift from Mabel Todd: a painting of Monotropa uniflora.  These ethereal plants happened to rank among Emily Dickinson’s favorite wildflowers, thus prompting the response above.  In the same letter, Dickinson gave Todd the poem “A Route of Evanescence” in return for the painting with a note explaining, “I cannot make an Indian Pipe but please accept a Humming Bird.”  Many people have likened the Ghost Plant to the reclusive...

#111: <em>Stemonitis</em> spp., Chocolate Tube Slime Molds or Tree Hair 0

#111: Stemonitis spp., Chocolate Tube Slime Molds or Tree Hair

“Hair Growing on Wood – Believe it or Not” proclaimed one of the exhibits at the Ripley’s Believe it or Not pavilion during the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. The curious organism on display was Stemonitis fusca, which belongs to a group of organisms commonly known as “Chocolate Tube Slime Molds” or “Pipe Cleaner Slime Molds.”  However, thanks to its moment of fame 82 years ago, “Tree Hair” is also an acceptable common name for these species.

#110: <em>Alectoria sarmentosa</em>, Witch’s Hair 0

#110: Alectoria sarmentosa, Witch’s Hair

This lichen can be found hanging from trees in conifer forests of the Pacific Northwest (Oregon to Alaska). Alectoria sarmentosa is light green, highly branched, and drapes over tree branches like tinsel.  This resembles bushy, green hair such as that a witch might have.

#109: <em>Rubroboletus satanas</em>, Satan’s Bolete or Devil’s Mushroom 0

#109: Rubroboletus satanas, Satan’s Bolete or Devil’s Mushroom

If you need a mushroom centerpiece for your Halloween party, then this is it. This large mushroom has a bulbous, bright red, reticulated base that easily invokes demonic fires (hence its common and scientific names).  As a bonus, Satan’s Bolete has a fetid odor – quite fitting, don’t you think?  Unfortunately, this mushroom is rather rare.

#061: Ergot of Rye, <em>Claviceps purpurea</em> 1

#061: Ergot of Rye, Claviceps purpurea

Imagine for a moment that it is the late 17th century and you live in rural America.  Your day starts off like any other day: you wake up, have breakfast, and begin working on your farm.  However, before too long your daughter starts behaving oddly.  At first she just seems agitated, but her symptoms quickly escalate.  She convulses, hides under the table, yells unintelligibly, and complains of a prickly sensation in her arms and legs.  Terrified, you call for the town doctor.  The doctor has never seen a disease like this before and cannot find anything physically wrong with your daughter.  After a while, he comes up with the only possible cause: witchcraft.  Just then, one of your neighbors bursts in, looking for the doctor.  His daughter has been exhibiting the same symptoms!  You look at his frightened face and realize what you have to do: in order to protect...

#060: <em>Urnula craterium</em>, The Devil’s Urn 0

#060: Urnula craterium, The Devil’s Urn

The creepiest thing about this black cup fungus is its name. Unfortunately, there’s no good story to go along with the name.  If you’re a little disappointed about this, here is a story that I just made up: Some say that each mushroom holds a dead soul that has come back to haunt the world of the living.  Sometimes you can even see the soul rise out of the Devil’s Urn and disappear into the air.  Although this story is fictitious and tailored to fit the mood of the season, it does have some truth in it.  Ascomycetes, which include cup fungi like the Devil’s Urn, often forcibly discharge their spores in a small puff when the air around them is disturbed (by, for example, picking it up or blowing on it).  This helps the fungus get its spores into moving air, which can spread the spores across great distances. ...

#059: <em>Tremella mesenterica</em>, Witch’s Butter 1

#059: Tremella mesenterica, Witch’s Butter

Legend has it that witches use this fungus to cast hexes. When this fungus appears on your gate or door, you have certainly been the victim of a witch’s evil spell.  The only way to counter the hex is to pierce the fungus with straight pins, allowing the inner juices to drain and thus killing the fungus and the spell.  Unfortunately for those who believe this superstition, this method probably doesn’t work too well for two reasons.  First, the mushroom 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 you will probably find the mushroom repeatedly fruiting from the same place.

#058: <em>Cordyceps militaris</em>: the Scarlet Caterpillar Club 0

#058: Cordyceps militaris: the Scarlet Caterpillar Club

Cordyceps militaris is a fascinating fungus that infects caterpillar and moth larvae. What’s the creepiest thing about this fungus?  It mummifies its insect victims.  I’ve been told that it also makes its subterranean victims crawl to the surface so that it can more effectively release its spores, but I can’t find anything online to back that up.  Instead, everyone seems to want me to buy militaris (more on that later).  The Scarlet Caterpillar Club infects the larvae and pupae of a variety of caterpillars and moths.  Before they emerge as adults, the host insects live either underground or in decaying wood, so C. militaris mushrooms often look like a generic club fungus or earth tongue look-alike.  If you dig beneath the surface, however, you will find the mummified remains of the host insect, which provide the nutrients that C. militaris needs to produce spores.  Like other members of the Cordyceps...

#057: The Witch’s Hat, <em>Hygrocybe conica</em> 1

#057: The Witch’s Hat, Hygrocybe conica

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 proclivity for bruising black.  The Witch’s Hat is a small mushroom whose cap is 1 to 4cm across (rarely up to 6cm) and whose stipe is 3 to 8cm tall.  Young specimens of this mushroom truly are beautiful.  The bright, red to orange cap nicely compliments the lighter, orange to yellow stipe.  When young, the cap is conical with a curved top and edges that curve slightly inward.  The cap opens up as the mushroom matures to become broadly conical to convex, although it retains a point at its center.  The edges of the cap are smooth but irregular to lobed.  The...