Saturday, 17 December 2016

Choosing Between Sex and Celibacy: Anamorphic Fungi (I)

Unlike for you or me, it's not unusual for fungi to reproduce both sexually and asexually. One of the ways they do this is by producing two or more different kinds of spores. It’s a way to hedge their bets: if conditions aren’t optimum for sexually produced spores to germinate, perhaps things will work out better for asexual spores. 

Production of asexual spores of one sort or another is a common strategy for ascomycetes. Some genera, such as Hypomyces, produce simple asexual spores called conidia that bud off the tips of conidiophores. 

The asexual conidial stage of the parasite, Hypomyces hyalinus, deforms Amanita species.
Hypomyces hyalinus conidia bud off conidiophores 
Here is the less commonly seen sexual
reproductive state of Hypomyces hyalinus

Asci and ascospores of Hypomyces hyalinus

Another ascomycete, Hyalorbia aff. inflatula, clothes itself in more complex conidial “hairs” that are so large they're visible to the naked eye (well, maybe to an eight-year-old’s naked eye—Hyalorbilia are tiny). 

The "hairs" on the outer surface of these Hyalorbilia
are actually conidia (asexual spores).
Ascospores (small) and conidia (big) of Hyalorbilia aff. inflatula

Asexual spore production is less common in basidiomycetes, but it does happen. Many Dacrymyces produce conidia that either develop in chains or bud off sexual spores like little balloons. For variety, though, fungal rusts take the cake as asexual spore producers: some species supplement their basidiospores with four different types of asexual spores (see my rust post here).

Some jelly fungi, including Dacrymyces capitata, produce conidia.
The sexual basidiospores of Dacrymyces capitata sprout conidia lollypops. 


Some fungi produce macroscopic structures specifically for this asexual spore production—structures that look nothing like those that produce their sexual spores. These often peculiar "imperfect" forms are called anamorphs. 

Anamorphs can be so different from their other halves that early mycologists gave them their own names. Recently, though, there has been a movement to taxonomically amalgamate these anamorphs with their sexual teleomorphs, with precedence being given to their teleomorph names. Which, if you ask me, is too bad—I hate giving up complex bits of Latin that I've put considerable effort into memorizing. 

Here are some of my favorites—and I'm going to buck the trend and use their anamorph names followed by their teleomorphs in my headings, even if the former has been deprecated.

Ptychogaster albus (Postia/Oligoporus ptychogaster)

I was on a Mycological Society of Toronto foray this fall when I spotted what I thought at first was a clutch of immature Hericium erinaceus sprouting from a log. It would have been a good find: H. erinaceus (Pom Pom, Lion's Head) is the least common Hericium in Ontario and is, like its brethren, a delectable edible. But wait! Hericium species only grow on deciduous trees, and this was a dead pine!

Pom poms, but not Hericium erinaceus

What I'd stumbled on was a clutch of Postia ptychogaster anamorphs, which used to be called Ptychogaster albusThough I've found it before, this was an exciting find because a) there was a whack of them in pristine condition and, b) the collection included the biggest one I'd ever seen—a good 6 cm in diameter, or about three times as big as any I'd ever found before.

This is the "giant" 6 cm. "Ptychogaster album."

Postia ptychogaster anamorphs are made up of a tight ball of hairy or fibrous radially aligned tissue that's fuzzy on the outside, making them look much more like pom poms, in my humble opinion, than any toothy Hericium erinaceus

Young Postia ptychogaster anamorphs frequently excude guttation droplets.

When these fuzzy bundles are young, like the batch I found, they're moist and often produce guttation droplets, but as they mature, they dry out and turn into dusty conidia-filled powder puffs.  

As it ripens, the anamorph gets more and more brown and airy as conidia form.
Conidia and "hair" of Postia ptychogaster anamorph

Conidia production had clearly not yet begun inside the ones I found since they were all still whitish. I bent down to photograph them. That's when I saw that some of them were actually white projecting shelves: Not only had I got myself a bunch of anamorphs, but I'd also found five Postia ptychogaster teleomorphs!

Top & bottom of the elusive Postia ptychogaster teleomorphs

I should make this clear—there's nothing particularly exciting about the way Postia ptychogaster looks. Basically, it's a small, white, resupinate or pileate polypore with angular pores (usually 3-4/mm). It doesn't stain when damaged. It doesn't smell like anything. It's probably not even edible. But—and this is a big but—even though its anamorph is regularly collected, the teleomorph is almost never seen. 

Needless to say, I was thrilled. I was even more thrilled to get one to produce spores at home.

Postia ptychogaster spores

Postia ptychogaster clamps

Xylocoremium flabelliforme (Xylaria cubensis)

Xylocoremium flabelliforme is the anamorph of Xylaria cubensis.    

Most Xylaria species produce copious amounts of conidia in the spring (the pale powdery stuff that coats them when they're growing). The conidia of these species all look pretty much the same, so they're useless for ID purposes. To get a good name, you have to catch them when they're producing their black sexual spores on the same structures later in the season. An exception is Xylaria cubensis. Instead of powdering itself with conidia in the spring, X. cubensis produces a distinctive-looking conidia-producing anamorph. These anamorphs can sometimes be seen near old or new teleomorphs, which makes naming the teleomorph a cinch.

The pink "frills" of Xylocoremium flabelliforme 
are always hard and dry when I find them.

The anamorph, still called Xylocoremium flabelliforme, is weird enough that it's unlikely you'll confuse it with anything else. It appears in the spring on hardwoods, has a short black Xylaria-like stem topped with a firm to hard, pale salmon "frill." It doesn't exactly look fungal; it looks alien.

Though I've found these fancy-pants little guys a number of times—always on alder in my wetland—I have never come across its teleomorph, nor, to my knowledge, have my intrepid Mycoquebec friends to the east, though they have numerous samples of the anamorph displayed on their indispensable website. The teleomorph is apparently not uncommon farther south in the US and in the tropics, but it would be a coup to find one here. (See Mushroom Observer for pics of the teleomorph of Xylaria cubensis.)

I do not pretend to understand why Xylaria cubensis refuses to produce its teleomorphs in Canada. If anyone has found one up here, or has a theory for why they can't be found, I'd love to hear from you!

(All photographs copyright Jan Thornhill)

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The Piggyback Pinkgill: The Mushroom Mushroom-Parasite Volvariella surrecta

Last week's Mycological Society of Toronto foray was a wet one. It rained for hours. Despite the amount of water that was falling from the sky, there were slim pickings since it's been unseasonably and unreasonably dry for months. 

Because of this dearth of fungi, I was doing a quick last minute gleaning of the woods beside the parking lot hoping to add to the meagre display on the identification table when—through my dripping glasses—I spotted a tight clump of whitish mushrooms among the fallen leaves. My first thought was that they were Coprinoid. Knowing that I wouldn't be bringing it home if they weren't easily identified (I knew they'd liquify before I'd have time to get to them), I just roughly grabbed a couple as a sample. 
The first engraving of Volvariella surrecta by John Leonard
Knapp, 1829, showing strangely unaffected hosts.
The host of the ones I found, Leucopaxillus albissimus,
was barely recognizable as a mushroom.
Since the mushrooms came up attached to a squidgy piece another, larger mushroom, I knew before I even straightened up what I'd found: Volvariella surrecta (though its name escaped me and I had to be reminded of it by Nathaniel, our club's 13-year-old budding myco-meister!). Nonetheless, it was a joyful moment—but a sad one, too. Joyful because I've been wanting to find this character for nearly a quarter century. But sad because the specimens were pristine, with multiple stages of development—which would have been the perfect set-up for photography of a rare species. If I hadn't thoughtlessly wrecked its display. Dang!

Volvariella surrecta emerges from a well-developed volva, or cup.
Volvariella surrecta is one of very few mushrooms that grow on other mushrooms. It's pretty picky about who it grows on—primarily on Clitocybe species, but occasionally Tricholoma. Apparently in western North America and in Europe. Its preferred host is Clitocybe nebularis, which is not found in eastern North America. 

Volvariella surrecta is usually found on Clitocybe nebularis. (Wikipedia)
There's some dispute about whether it's an obligate parasite or if it's sometimes simply saprobic on its hosts. Some host fungi are considerably deformed, but are otherwise solid, while others, like mine, are decaying messes. I should say that I had a devil of a time finding any spores on the seemingly undistorted gills of the Leucopaxillus albissimus that mine had chosen to grow on. I eventually found a dozen are so. I have no idea if they would have been viable or not. 

Though rare, Volvariella surrecta is easy to recognize.
There were lots of little nubbin babies waiting in the wings.

On-line References for Volvariella surrecta:

on Mycoquebec
on Scottish Fungi (are the Scots responsible for the common name "Piggyback Pinkgill")
Arthur Henry Reginald Buller (1924) Researches on Fungi: vol. 3

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Nature's Spray Paint: Inonotus glomeratus

fallen tree covered in yellow spores

I've never been able to pick favourites—be it a colour, a food, a flower, or a fungus. But I do have long lists of top contenders.

I have a particular soft spot for fungi that do something, that, in particular, show me process, whether it be life cycle or interaction with other Kingdoms or longterm movement through a landscape. Which is why it's a no-brainer for Inonotus glomeratus to make my fungi long list.

Here are the basics about Inonotus glomeratus:

  • it's a polypore
  • it can be found on a wide range of hardwoods 
  • its fruiting bodies show either effused-reflexed or resupinate growth
  • its spores are bright golden yellow 
  • it is both parasite and saprophyte 
But what does it do  

1. It Produces a Cool Optical Effect

Inonotus glomeratus is one of a many polypores that produces a "glancing" effect when the its pore surface is turned towards and away from light. When it catches the light the right way, it seems to flash silver.

Inonotus glomeratus glancing pore surface
This chunk of I. glomeratus shot from two different angles shows the
glancing effect on the pore surface. It's wickedly hard to photograph.

2. It Weeps Black Teardrops

tar-like black drops Inonotus glomeratus
Black, tar-like guttation droplets 
Well, they're not black teardrops; they just look like black teardrops...or blood...or tar. 

When the fungus is young and actively growing, it produces black drops of exudiate, or guttation (see my post on this phenomenon). Since I. glomeratus is usually resupinate and white to very pale grey at this stage, the black drops can be quite startling. The exudiate is often so plentiful that the ground beneath is splattered with pools of it. 

exudiate black drops polypore Inonotus glmeratus
The contrast between the lightness of the pore surface
and the black guttation can be striking.

black weeping Inonotus glomeratus polypore
Guttation droplets can be so plentiful that they drip to the forest floor.

guttation pits on Inonotus glomeratus
The droplets are sometimes reabsorbed into the fungus,
leaving negative drop-like pits.

3. It Paints Its Surroundings Yellow

polypore coats log with yellow spores
It can produce copious amounts of yellow spores.
Not only does I. glomeratus produce ridiculous amounts of spores—on par with Ganoderma applanatum—its spores are an unusually bright yellow or sulphur. When there is little draught or wind near the time of maturation, this unassuming fungus can cover everything near it with with a yellow coating that looks exactly as if someone has gone overboard with a can of spray paint. It's a particularly eerie effect when it happens in woods you know no one else goes in.

yellow spores of Inonotus glomeratus polypore
white resupinate polypore Inonotus glomeratus
These two shots were taken just a few days apart—the second, after a rain.

4. It Grows Whiskers

setae hairs pore surface of Inonotus glomeratus
Close-up of Inonotus glomeratus pores showing setae, or hairs

Like most Inonotus species, I. glomeratus grows setae, which stick out of the pore surface like minute whiskers that are visible under magnification. Under the microscope these abundant setae look more like weapons than hairs.

setae hairs Inonotus glomeratus
Under the microscope, the hairs look vicious.

5. It Can Mimic Chaga

Inonotus glomeratus canker conk looks like chaga
An I. glomeratus canker can look a lot like chaga. (Dianna Smith)

Another thing this extraordinary fungus does is produce sterile cankers that can look exactly like the infamous Inonotus obliquus canker, more commonly known as chaga. This happens in living trees, in its parasitic stage, after entering a living tree through a wound. Once it's gained entry, it causes a white rot of the heartwood. 

Inonotus glomeratus canker conk on maple
This knot is the likely entry point of I. glomeratus on this red maple.
Though I. glomeratus is most commonly found on maples and oaks, and is not uncommon on Populus, and can also be found on other hardwoods, including, I’ve read, on Betula, or birches.When it attacks maples, it does not normally develop a chaga-mimicking canker, rather it causes a prominent ridge of bark to grow around a rotten knot. Once this appears on a maple tree, (or a lumpy canker grows on another hardwood), there can already be a column of decay inside the tree 3 to 4 meters high. The fruiting bodies that produce the yellow spores are not produced until after the tree is dead.

6. It Can Confuse the Heck Out of Those Who Come Across It

I. glomeratus is a mushroom of many guises. It can be totally resupinate, sheeting a fallen log, or seriously pileate. Parts, or all of it, can be white, brown, orange-yellow, black, sulphur yellow, or grey. It can be covered with black guttation, or remnants of these drops, or it can have none. Its upper surface can be coated in golden or sulphur-coloured spores, or there can be no sign of yellow anywhere. Particularly when there are no spores or black guttation evident, it can leave people scratching their heads about its identity. The following selection of photos are all I. glomeratus.

Inonotus glomeratus yellow cap resupinate polypore

Inonotus glomeratus brown shelves polypore

Inonotus glomeratus

young Inonotus glomeratus

Log spray-painted yellow spores Inonotus glomeratus

Inonotus glomeratus yellow and white polypore
dried black exudiate
polypore yellow spores
white edge brown polypore Inonotus glomeratus