Tagged: ETLA

mushrooms with an earth tongue look-alike morphology

Xylaria polymorpha 2

#005: Xylaria polymorpha, Dead Man’s Fingers

In late October, it is not unusual to see Halloween decorations featuring bony fingers reaching up out of a grave. The natural world has its own version of this: Xylaria polymorpha, commonly known as Dead Man’s Fingers. This macabre name is an apt description of the mushrooms, which resemble burnt and dried out fingers reaching out of the ground to grab unwitting passers-by and drag them down into the depths of the earth. You can find these morbid ascomycetes on rotting logs at pretty much any time of the year.

Tolypocladium ophioglossoides and Elaphomyces truffle 1

#197: Tolypocladium ophioglossoides, The Golden Thread Cordyceps

Tolypocladium ophioglossoides (also called Cordyceps ophioglossoides and Elaphocordyceps ophioglossoides) is a fun little mushroom to find, but you have to be paying attention to enjoy it. Unlike most fungi that were placed in Cordyceps, which were insect parasites, T. ophioglossoides – commonly known as the “Golden Thread Cordyceps” (even though it is no longer in that genus) – attacks other fungi. Specifically, it parasitizes truffles in the genus Elaphomyces. If you can spot this tiny brown/black mushroom, make sure to dig it up carefully and follow the golden thread that attaches the mushroom to its truffle host.

Spathulariopsis velutipes 0

#194: Spathulariopsis velutipes

Spathulariopsis velutipes is an odd little mushroom that looks like a spatula or a canoe paddle, though perhaps in a half-melted kind of way. Its common names include “velvety fairy fan,” “velvet foot Spathularia,” and variations on those. This ascomycete is an earth tongue look-alike (ETLA)* that is easily differentiated from similar mushrooms thanks to its unique shape and the strikingly different colors and textures of its head and stipe. I always enjoy finding this mushroom because of its unique appearance.

Leotia lubrica 0

#188: Leotia lubrica, Jelly Babies

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.

#066: <em>Ophiocordyceps sinensis</em> 0

#066: Ophiocordyceps sinensis

This fungus parasitizes caterpillars in the Himalayas and produces small, spike-like mushrooms. These mushrooms are highly prized for their supposed medicinal properties and have brought a lot of new wealth and new problems to the people living in the Himalayas.  Ophiocordyceps sinensis fruiting bodies are known as “Yartsa Gunbu” in Tibetan and “D­ōng Chóng Xià Cǎo” in Chinese, both of which translate to “winter worm, summer grass.”  The English names for the fungus are much less colorful: “Caterpillar Fungus” or (more recently) “Himalayan Viagra.”  sinensis (Fungi, Ascomycota, Sordariomycetes, Hypocreales, Ophiocordycipitaceae) is native to the meadows of the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau and can be found from 3,000m to 5,000m above sea level.  The parasitic fungus infects a variety of species of ghost moth larvae that live underground.  It initially infects the caterpillars in the late summer.  By winter, the fungus is ready to kill its host.  At that time, it...

#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...

#037: Mushroom Morphology: Earth Tongue Look-Alikes 2

#037: Mushroom Morphology: Earth Tongue Look-Alikes

The earth tongue look-alikes include a myriad of mushroom-forming ascomycetes that do not look like cups, morels, false morels, elfin saddles, or truffles. These mushrooms have a stipe and a variously-shaped head.  The heads can be bulb-shaped to club-shaped to paddle/spatula-shaped and may be lobed.  These mushrooms are for the most part unbranched, which sets them apart from the basidiomycete corals.  A few earth tongue look-alikes, like the Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylaria spp.) have minimal branching.  What sets the earth tongue look-alikes apart from the basidiomycete corals and clubs is that the earth tongue look-alikes have a clearly-defined, sterile stipe.  The clubs and corals tend to produce spores all over the fruiting body.  However, in some earth tongues look-alikes, like the Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha), the stipe is not very well defined.  That being the case, the earth tongue look-alikes are often lumped together with the corals and clubs.  If...