Sunday, 23 March 2014

Another Fluke: Sarea resinae

I wrote about the fluke of finding Lachnellula resinaria var. resinaria in my last post—fluke because they were so incredibly tiny. I found those first ones on a dead spruce. When I went back out into the snow to look for more, I discovered an even nicer cluster growing from a large resinous canker on a dead balsam fir. It was while using my loupe at home to inspect that second batch that something else caught my eye. Something just as minute as the Lachnellula, but discoid and reddish brown. Another fluke ascomycete! 

Sarea resinae are .5-1.5 mm in size
Sarea resinae are .5-1.5 mm in size.

Fungi that tiny and dry are hard to get any information from, so I plopped the chunk of resin into a bowl of water and waited. Within an hour the dried discs had swollen and had brightened from dull red-brown to orange. Since there weren't very many, I didn't want to poke at them until I'd given them a chance to come back to life, so I stuck them in a ziplock bag overnight. The next day they'd become active enough that, with the help of the microscope, it wasn't too hard to give them a name, first Biatorella resinae, from Fungi of Switzerland (Volume I), and then, after searching around on the internet, Sarea resinae, their current name

Sarea resinae grow on coniferous tree resin
Fruiting bodies are tiny, stemless discs.
Ascomycetes produce asci (plural of ascus) which contain ascospores. As a group, Ascomycetes average eight ascospores per ascus. Sarea resinae have asci that contain more than eight—way more. I didn't count them, but there were obviously several hundred tiny round ascospores in each—pretty startling when you're used to seeing fewer than ten.

Sarea resinae ascus holds numerous ascospores
A Sarea resinae ascus holds numerous ascospores.

Biatorella resinae spores
Its ascospores are small (2-3 µm) and globose.

Sarea resinae isn't rare, just rarely found, mostly because of its tiny size. Though it usually has an association with diseased coniferous trees, there's apparently no firm evidence that it's a pathogen. Its preferred habitat just happens to be the resin exudates from cankers and other wounds. Which is where you should look if you want to find them.


Hawksworth, D.L. 1980. Sarea resinae. CMI Descriptions of Pathogenic Fungi and Bacteria. 677 (Mycobank)

Monday, 17 March 2014

Tiny White Specks: Lachnellula resinaria var. resinaria

Lachnellula resinaria var. resinaria close-up
Lachnellula resinaria var. resinaria
So this one was just a fluke, really, or maybe desperation on my part at the end of a slow day slogging through the snow and finding nothing new. Whatever it was, on my way home I beaned in on a clutch of tiny white specks on the trunk of a big standing dead spruce at about eye level. I didn't have my loupe with me, so close-up all I could see were tiny blurry white specks. But, what the hey, on the off chance they were something more interesting than ice crystals or bits of mold, I got out my knife.

The second time I found Lachnellula resinaria var.
it was growing on balsam fir resin.

Though I'd anticipated having to struggle through at least a hundred years of bark with my blade, the white dots were actually attached to a chunk of crumby resin, which easily dropped into my hand. I blew on the white dots with my warm breath. They didn't melt, so I wrapped them up and put them in my bag.

At home I inspected them with the loupe—as I expected, just fuzzy specks of mould. But wait a minute—why did two of those specks seem to have slits in the middle? And could that be a dot of egg-yolk yellow in the middle of another? I should probably mention that the biggest of these "specks" was less than a millimetre in diameter.

Rejuvenated Lachnellula resinaria are barely a millimeter wide
Even rejuvenated, the largest was barely a millimetre in diameter.
I submerged them in warm water and half an hour later I was looking at a clutch of tiny perfect Lachnellula that had opened up like flowers, sunshine-y yellow disks trimmed with white "fur." Cute as a button. 

revived Lachnellula produced spores
These Lachnellula quickly revived in warm
water and then produced spores. 

I offered these tiny ascomycetes a slide to drop spores on overnight and they kindly obliged, which made the task of identifying them to species easier than it might have been otherwise. Their spores were very small (2.75-4.25 x 1.5-2.4 µm) and ellipsoid-fusoid, which made them Lachnellula resinaria var. resinaria. The only other species with such tiny ascospores, along with white hairs, is the closely related Lachnellula resinaria var. calycina, but its spores are more globose.

Lachnellula resinaria var. resinaria ascospores

Though Lachnellula resinaria var. resinaria, like most Lachnellula species, is usually saprobic, it might occasionally also be mildly pathogenic. Only Lachnellula willkommii is problematic as a pathogen. Introduced to North America in 1904, it causes "European larch canker," which can spread easily from branch to branch, particularly where conditions are moist. 

Like L. willkommii, Lachnellula resinaria var. resinaria can also be found on Larix, as well as on Abies (see photo above) and Pinus, but it's preferred host is Picea, where I first found it. Though it can sometimes grow on dead twigs or bark, it appears most frequently on blackened, resinous canker wounds. 

There's not a lot of information about Lachnellula resinaria var. resinaria in North American on the internet. I'm not sure if this is because it's rare, or just rarely collected. Because of its diminutive size, I suspect it's the latter reason. 


H.O. Baral's Worldwide Key to Lachnellula (pdf)

USDA Lachnellula willkommii Fact Sheet

See also my post on Lachnellula subtilissima

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Winter Mushrooming in the Alder Swamp III: Plicaturopsis crispa and Plicatura nivea

Plicaturopsis crispa has gill-like spore-bearing folds
The gill-like folds of Plicaturopsis crispa often have a green tinge.

Plicaturopsis crispa is a sweet little sessile mushroom that often grows in large, overlapping numbers on dead deciduous trees. The species part of its name, "crispa," comes from the Latin word for "curly" and refers to the wiggly, often forked, spore-bearing folds on its underside. I've found these little guys many times in late summer and early fall on forest trees. It was only when I started mushrooming in the dead of winter that I started finding them down by the creek on dead alders.

Plicaturopsis crispa is shrivelled up in the winter
Though tiny and shrivelled in the winter, Plicaturopsis
will produce spores if reconstituted indoors. 

But wait! Not only did I find Plicaturopsis crispa, I also found her sister, Plicatura nivea, which I've been looking for for years with no success, and which, because I hadn't found it, I'd decided was terribly rare in my neighbourhood. Well, it's not.
Plicatura nivea looks unimpressive in the winter
Plicatura nivea is an unimpressive
mess in cold weather.

First I'll have to admit that I've avoided looking for anything on those wetland alders for more than twenty years because a) the hip-waders I bought at a lawn sale way back when only lasted one season, and b) there are a whole lot of bloodsuckers swimming around in the water those alders stand in. So that's my excuse for not knowing that all I needed to do to find Plicatura nivea was to wade into the alder swamp in the late fall where I would have found plenty of fresh ones since there certainly are an awful lot of frozen ones in there now.

Close-up of spore-producing hymenial surface of Plicatura nivea
This reconstituted Plicatura nivea has less defined, more serpentine
folds than Plicaturopsis crispa.
In their frozen desiccated state both Plicaturopsis crispa and Plicatura nivea look pathetic—P. crispa all shrivelled and tiny and dull, and P. nivea smeared over alder bark like cake batter. But if I've learned anything about winter mushrooming this season, it's that appearances can be deceiving out in the cold. It turns out that a lot of fungi, these two included, are not dead and done and over with, which is how they look, but are merely dormant. All they need is a little TLC—a short soak in warm water indoors—and they not only plump up into fresh-looking specimens, they also display an admirable commitment to self propagation by producing spores—and often copiously. Presumably, if the weather around here ever warms up, if spring ever comes, there will be an absolute spore-fest out there in the woods.

close-up of Plicaturopsis crispa hymenial surface and cap
Close-up of Plicaturopsis crispa.

Plicaturopsis crispa and Plicatura nivea, which are both wood decaying saprobes, are similar enough both genetically and morphologically that many now think they should share the genus Plicatura

Plicaturopsis crispa and Plicatura nivea are so closely related they can grow side by side
Plicaturopsis crispa and Plicatura nivea are so closely related,
they sometimes grow together. 

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Winter Mushrooming in the Alder Swamp II: Daldinia childiae

Small Daldinia with stems grow on Alnus
These small, stalked Daldinia grow on alder.

My favourite find in our ice-and-snow-covered wetland this winter is a very peculiar little Daldinia. Unlike any I've ever found before, these have stems, or stalks, and a shiny, varnished appearance.

stemmed Daldinia are much smaller than normal
The mystery Daldinia are often warty and varnished.

Daldiniawhich belong to the Xylariaceae family, are hard black lumps that grow on wood. Because they're black and roundish and brittle and look like they've been charred, one of their common names is King Alfred's Cakes, which stems from a purported incident in the 12th century when the English monarch, King Alfred, allowed some cakes to burn that a peasant woman—who had kindly offered him shelter from attacking Vikings—had asked him to watch

Daldinia childiae growing on a log
King Alfred's Cakes growing out of the bark of a dead tree.

They're also called Cramp Balls, which I think sounds vaguely rude. Folklore suggests that if you carry some in your pocket you'll find relief from leg or menstrual cramps—or make your pocket black, since these guys shed copious amounts of very dark spores. 

Daldinia species release their spores at night
Daldinia species release copious amounts of ascospores at night.

The species I normally find around here in southern Ontario is Daldinia childiae, which is erroneously listed in most field guides as Daldinia concentrica, a European species. Like all Daldinia it's a wood  decayer, or saprobe. They can create intricate dark line drawings inside the wood they've colonized, called "spalting," which is prized by woodworkers. 

Daldinia whole and cut in half
Daldinia have concentric rings in their interior.

Daldinia childiae and Daldinia concentrica have a lovely characteristic: when you cleanly cut one vertically, a shimmering display of concentric rings is revealed, like a monochrome jawbreaker. The layer closest to the surface has flask-shaped perithecia, where the spores are produced in asci. The spores are discharged at night, and can do so continuously for a month or two, even during drought conditions. 

Daldinia ventricosa growing on alder

So those are your basic Daldinia. But what I found, and what I keep finding, are not at all like the normal ones, which can be up to 8 cm in diameter, are usually dull black when mature, and have a tendency to closely hug whatever dead tree or branch they're growing on. Nope, mine are much smaller (no more than  2 cm in diameter), have a varnished appearance, very noticeable stems, and seem to only grow on standing dead alder.  

The literature, however is confusing. Elements of Daldinia caldariorum are similar, but that species is apparently only found on burnt Ulex wood in Great Britain. Descriptions of Daldinia vernicosa fit in some ways (varnished appearance, stemmed), but, unlike mine, are supposedly easy to crumble between the fingers, and, furthermore, Mycoquebec suggests that, unlike the single layer of perithicia that Daldinia childiae has (or Daldinia concentrica), Daldinia vernicosa has a double layer. 

Wanting to know what species I had, I sent a couple of samples to Jack Rogers of Washington State University. Despite their unusual appearance, they are, in fact, Daldinia childiae

Close-up views of stalked Daldinia


Daldinia key and species descriptions at Xylariacea

Walkey, D. G. A., and R. Harvey. 1968. Spore discharge rhythms in pyrenomycetes. IV. The influence of climatic factors. Trans. Brit. Mycol. Soc. 51: 779-786.

Rhoads, A. S. Daldinia Vernicosa—A Pyroxylophilous Fungus, Mycologia, VolX November191 8 No6 D Arthur SRhoads

Marion Child, The Genus Daldinia, Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden
Vol. 19, No. 4 (Nov., 1932), pp. 429-480+482-496

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Winter Mushrooming in the Alder Swamp I: Datroniella scutellata (Datronia scutellata)

[N.B. since I wrote this post Datronia scutellata has been moved to the genus Datroniella - see below for reference]

zonate cap of Datronia scutellata
Some Datronia scutellata are prettier than others.
I live in central Ontario. Despite this being one of the meanest snow-and-ice-covered winters we’ve had in years, that hasn’t stopped me from going out mushrooming. While the dog snuffles through deep snow following deer and rabbit tracks, I’ve been peeling and carving and breaking all manner of fungi off dead trees and branches. 

An advantage of the consistent below-freezing temperatures is that it's given me easy access to an area I would normally need hip-waders to explore—the  wetland at the bottom of our property. There's a little creek down there and an ancient leaking beaver dam, a few dogwoods, a few black ash, but mostly a preponderance of alders, none of which I'd ever looked closely at before. But I've been scouring this little ecosystem for weeks and I've been coming up with all kinds of entertaining finds.

One of the first was a ladder of exquisite little polypores, none bigger than my thumbnail. At first I thought they were Perenniporia ohiensis, a diminutive shelf fungus that that looks like an elf's version of Fomes fomentarius, but has thick-walled pores. The little guys I'd found growing on a dead alder were not, however, hoof-shaped, nor did they have those characteristic well-spaced Perenniporia pores. Which made mine Datronia scutellata.    
Pore surface of Datroniella scutellata
When growing on horizontal branches, Datronia scutellata can be almost cap-free.
Since then I've found them on six other dead alder branches or dead. I may have to invest in some hip-waders to see what they look like during the growing season.

tiny Datronia scutellata shelf fungus is 2 cm wide
Datronia scutellata, a diminutive polypore, rarely measures more than 2 cm across.


Li, H.J., Cui, B.K., Dai, Y.C.Taxonomy and multi-gene phylogeny of Datronia (Polyporales, Basidiomycota), Persoonia. 2014 Jun; 32: 170–182.