May 14, 2019

April Salt Spring "Fungus" of the Month: Lichenomphalia Umbellifera

Observation by josee_laroche


In honour of the April Fools holiday, April's "Fungus" of the Month is a sneaky fellow who got into this project under false pretences by fooling one of the project administrators. It isn't actually a fungus, or isn't only a fungus - it's a lichen! Lichenomphalia umbellifera, the Lichen Agaric, has a centuries-long history of shenanigans and tomfoolery; Linnaeus himself described it as a fungus that just coincidentally happened to be growing near some algae every time he saw it. The algae he called Byssus botryoides and the fungus he called Agaricus umbelliferous.


So why is this lichen so weird? There are 20000 types of lichen, each of which consists of a fungus and a cyanobacteria or alga living together in a symbiotic relationship. The cyanobacteria or alga (photobiont) makes energy from sunlight, and the fungus keeps it protected and manages nutrients and water.


99.75% of the time, the fungal half of the partnership is a sac fungus, whose relatives tend to make cup shapes. This results in the cup or donuts shaped reproductive structures, like these lichens from around the island:


Rim lichen


Firedots


But the remaining 0.25% of the time, the fungal half of the partnership is an agaric fungus, whose relatives make mushroom-shaped fruiting bodies .And one of those weirdo mushroom-shaped lichens happens to be very happy on the rocky, mossy slopes of Salt Spring Island.


Good job, small sneaky lichen friend.

Posted on May 14, 2019 20:47 by corvi corvi | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 20, 2019

March Salt Spring Fungus of the Month: Flammulina velutipes



Spring got off to a slow start for the Island’s mushrooms this year. There was still snow on the ground at the beginning of march, and still overnight frosts even a couple of weeks in. However, the Winter Mushroom, Flammulina velutipes, like this cluster growing from a stump in the Pharmasave parking lot in Ganges, enjoys cold weather and had a great year. This species just freezes solid and resumes normal growth undamaged when it thaws out.

Also called Velvet Foot mushrooms, this species has a sticky cap with a rubbery texture and a stem with short velvety fuzz that is darkest at the base. It grows from dead hardwood. The mushroom sprouts between wood and bark and grows under the bark as a thin white root-like strand until it finds an opening in the bark it can emerge from, where it thickens up and takes on its usual orange-brown form.

It has a wide distribution and is believed to have originated in Asia and crossed over to North America when sea level were low enough that there was dry land between Russia and Alaska. It is farmed in Japan, where it is grown on sawdust in dark rooms with low oxygen levels so that it thinks it is still under the bark of a tree. The resulting long skinny write mushrooms are sold in grocery stores, including at Country Grocer here on the Rock, as enoki mushrooms.

I like to imagine that the early Japanese settlers on Salt Spring Island in the 1890s were delighted to find, during those difficult first winters here, a delicious food they knew well from across the ocean. I hope it was like being welcomed home by the forests and fungi.

Perhaps the most adventurous of all mushrooms, F. velutipes has even been to outer space on the Space Shuttle, where scientists wanted to see how the lack of gravity affected their growth. I suspect they were chosen because they could be frozen for easy transportation and storage. The mushrooms grew to normal size, but pointed in random directions and many of them made strange spiral stems. Regrettably, I can’t find a picture of the results.

In our area, the Winter Mushroom has a poisonous lookalike that also grows on dead hardwood, Galerina marginata; sometimes they even grow in clumps together. Anyone who decides to collect Winter Mushrooms instead of just buying enoki at Country Grocer should be very sure.

As far as I know, no restaurants on the Rock serve F. velutipes, but there are some on Vancouver Island. Especially recommend for lovers of spicy food: the grilled enoki at Ox King in downtown Victoria or Little Skewer Bar in Oak Bay, served with sesame paste and hot sauce. Mm.
Posted on April 20, 2019 20:46 by corvi corvi | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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