July 09, 2019

June Salt Spring Island Fungus of the Month: Phellinus igniarius

Only two non-lichenized fungi were reported on the island in June: a bird's nest fungus and a bracket fungus.

June is a slow time for mushrooms here, especially since we had such a dry spring. Most fungal fruiting bodies use water to inflate themselves rapidly like those little animal-shaped sponge toys sold inside gelatin capsules. They don't grow when there's no rain. The tough woody textured mushrooms observed this month actually grew this spring, or perhaps even earlier.

observation by caladri

Phellinus igniarius, the willow bracket, has a cork-like texture and grows primarily on willows, like on this tree next to the stream at the centre of Ganges. It also sometimes grows on alders and birches. It does not shrivel away like water-based mushrooms. Instead, each year it adds a layer of new growth around the edge of the mushroom, so its age can be determined by cutting into it and counting the rings, like a tree. One specimen was found to be eighty years old. Another species in the same genus, Phellinus ellipsoideus, has the same add-a-layer-each-year growth pattern and has produced the largest known single fruiting body, ten meters across and weighing 400-500 kilograms!

This species feeds on the inner heartwood of trees, leaving behind soft, extra-flammable wood called "esca" or "torchwood" and giving the mushroom another common name: fire sponge. Both fruiting body and esca have been used as kindling to start fires. In serious cases, the entire interior of a tree may become hollow, even while the outside layer is still alive.

observation by dianalynn1

Woodpeckers, like this pileated woodpecker, love esca. It's much easier to dig out a nest hollow in wood that has been softened by a willow bracket or other heart rot then an unaffected tree.

Tests using instruments that see in the same colour wavelengths as woodpeckers have discovered that heart rots change the colour of trees in the ultraviolet spectrum - invisible to humans, but visible to birds. Woodpeckers would be able to see which trees have been infected and will be easy to nest in. Experiments drilling into trees looking for infection have also found that fungal infections in trees spread outward from woodpecker holes and nests, so there's evidence woodpeckers are spreading the fungus from tree to tree. The woodpeckers dig around in infected trees, get fungus spores on their beaks, and transfer those spores to infect other trees they hammer on.

So woodpeckers and heart rot fungi have a symbiotic relationships very similar to bees and flowers. The fungi make a bright colour birds can see that indicates a good place to put a nest, and then the woodpecker lives in the esca and carries fungus spores to other trees.

Humans do not find Phellinus igniarius's wine-cork texture edible, but in parts of Alaska, it was burnt and mixed with tobacco to make iqmik. The alkaline fungus ashes make nicotine more absorbable by the body, and a higher dose of nicotine is available from less tobacco. The burnt willow bracket ashes are traditionally stored in carved wooden boxes like this one.

For more information:

Posted on July 09, 2019 04:57 by corvi corvi | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 08, 2019

May Salt Spring Fungus of the Month: Pleurotus Ostreatus

May's fungus of the month is the Pleurotus Ostreatus group, a handful of species in the Pleurotus genus that can be difficult to tell apart without a microscope. These oyster mushrooms can be found around the Rock on dead and nearly-dead trees in April and May, like this one growing on the south end:

Observation by leafygreeny

The Carboniferous Period began about 360 million years ago and lasted about 60 million years. During this period, plants evolved the ability to make lignin, a hard biological polymer. The plants used lignin to strengthen their cell walls, resulting in sturdy plant tissue: wood.

Nothing alive then could eat or even damage the wood. Forests covered the earth. When a tree died and fell over, it just lay on the ground unrotting and invincible. Water and dirt piled up on the hard fallen trunks, and eventually the weight of the ground above them compressed the trees into coal. "Carboniferous" means "I carry coal". Nothing could destroy the lignin, only squash it into rock-like coal with the polymers intact.

Until the oyster mushrooms and their friends evolved, that is. They're "white rot" fungi - fungi that can create enzymes that digest lignin. They're the reason no new coal can be created - wood doesn't lie unchanging on the ground for thousands of years any more. Before a handful of years have passed, white rot fungi take apart the lignin structure inside wood return the nutrients to the soil.

Here is a scientific article dating the evolution of species of fungi with lignin-digesting enzymes to the end of the Coal-Carrying era.

There are many kinds of white rot fungi, but Pleurotus species are particularly good at taking apart difficult long chain molecules with enzymes. The mycologist Paul Stamets has experimented with using oyster mushrooms to break down diesel in bus yards and petroleum in oceanic oil spills.

Observation by caladri

They're also quite tasty cooked, with a slippery and slightly rubbery texture. They're traditionally used as a vegetarian replacement for shellfish, leading to the common name "oyster mushroom."

On the Rock, oyster mushrooms can be bought at Thrifty Foods, but they don't sell very quickly and tend to set for a while in the store and get dried out and sad.If you want to cook them in some way that doesn't work with half-dried mushrooms, there are often venders selling them at the Saturday Market in Centennial park.

Posted on June 08, 2019 04:23 by corvi corvi | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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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