Mushrooms/Fungi of Distant Hill
Common and Beautiful...but Tiny and Hard to Find
I noticed this tiny fungus growing in the grass on my way to the swimming pond recently. Cyathus striatus, commonly known as Fluted Bird's Nest, is a common bird's nest fungus with a widespread distribution throughout temperate regions of the world.
Fluted Bird's Nest can be distinguished from other bird's nest fungi by its hairy exterior and fluted inner walls.
Cyathus striatus is a saprobic fungus, deriving its nutrition from decaying organic material, and is typically found growing in clusters on small twigs or other woody debris. It is also common on mulch under shrubs.
Fluted Bird's Nests are also known as Splash Cups. The name refers to the method of spore dispersal. When raindrops hit the 'eggs' in the cup, they spring from the cups and are thrown three or four feet away.
Shortly after discovering the Fluted Bird's Nest, I found an even smaller species of this interesting family of fungi. It is called White-egg Bird's Nest (Crucicibulum laeve) and is the only
bird's nest fungi to have white "eggs". (See photo below)
The World’s Most Common Mushroom?
According to Wikipedia the Common Split Gill (Schizophyllum commune) is the world's most widely distributed mushroom, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. It is found predominantly from autumn to spring on dead wood, in coniferous and deciduous forest.
Often when fungi appear to be similar but occur on widely separated continents, DNA analysis shows that their genetic separation is so great that they should be classified as distinct species. Thanks to the work of John Raper and colleagues at Harvard University over two decades from the 1950s to the 1970s we know that Schizophyllum commune is one species worldwide. Roper and friends collected Split Gill mushrooms from all over the world. From germinated spores they grew mycelia and showed that as two strains are of different mating types they were able to mate with one another. They also discovered that Schizophyllum commune has more than 28,000 sexes, an adaptation that minimizes the risk of siblings mating and hence maximizes the genetic diversity by achieving nearly 100% outbreeding with new genetic stock.
Although European and US guidebooks list it as inedible, this is apparently due to differing standards of taste rather than known toxicity, being regarded with little culinary interest due to its tough texture. S. commune is, in fact, edible and widely consumed in Mexico and elsewhere in the tropics.
The Iceman Mushroom
Piptoporus betulinus, the Birch Poypore, develops from a small white spherical swelling on the side of dead or living birch trees. It quickly grows into a large shelf-shaped mushroom up to 10 inches (25cm) across. Barbers used to 'strop' or sharpen their razors on strips cut from these polypores, and so they are also sometimes called Razor Strop Fungus.
An extremely useful medicinal fungi, Birch Poypore has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. It also contains compounds that are effective against intestinal parasites.
Pieces of Birch Polypore were found on the 5000 year old mummy known as Ötzi the Iceman. Ötzi's frozen and mummified body was found in September 1991 by hikers in the Ötztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy. It is uncertain why Ötzi carried the pieces of Birch Polypore, but he did have intestinal parasites in his gut. Did he use the Birch Polypore as a medicine to help control these parasites?
"The Diamond of the Forest"
Chaga Mushrooms are nothing like the common soft Mushroom. They are almost as hard as wood. Known in Russia as the “Gift from God” and the “Mushroom of Immortality,” chaga have been used medicinally for thousands of years. The Japanese call it “The Diamond of the Forest,” while in China it is known as the “King of Plants.”
Chaga mushroom, Inonotus obliquus, is also known as clinker polypore, cinder conk, black mass and birch canker polypore. It is a parasitic fugi on birch and other trees. The sterile conk is irregularly formed and has the appearance of burnt charcoal. It is not the fruiting body of the fungus, but a mass of mycelium, mostly black due to the presence of massive amounts of melanin.
Documented as early as 4600 years ago, Chaga was used by Asian folk medicine practitioners to maintain a healthy life energy balance or “Chi”, preserve youth, promote longevity, and boost the body’s immune system. It was ingested by the local people of the Siberian mountains as a Chaga Tea, with a flavor that resembles coffee. It was also smoked, or applied to the skin.
Laboratory studies on extract of chaga mushroom have indicated possible future potential in cancer therapy, as an antioxidant, in immunotherapy, and as an anti-inflammatory. For medicinal use, an extract is needed to make the active components available to humans.
An Edible Gem
Gem-studded puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum, are also known as common puffball, warted puffball, or the devil's snuff-box.
Puffballs are considered to be a good edible mushroom when young, when the gleba or inside is still homogeneous and white. Nutritional analysis of pufballs indicates that they are a good source of protein, carbohydrates, fats, and several micronutrients.
In maturity, the top of the puffball sloughs away, revealing a pre-formed hole called the ostiole, through which the spores can escape. Mature puffballs release their powdery spores through the ostiole when they are compressed by touch or falling raindrops. A single puff like this can release over a million spores.
Hands and Knees Fungi
Slime mold is often called "hands and knees fungi" because it helps to be on your hands and knees to see them well. There are over 700 named varieties of these fungus-like organisms. They vary drastically in their size, shape and color and are found during periods of very wet weather.
What is a slime mold?
Slime molds are not true fungi but primitive fungal-like organisms currently classified with protists. More than 700 different species of slime mold exist. Those found on lawns or flowerbeds have a two-part life cycle. During warm, moist weather the slime mold lives as a shapeless, growing blob called a plasmodium. The plasmodium may be gray, cream, colorless, bright yellow or orange. A plasmodium can slowly creep across the ground, moving like an amoeba and consuming bacteria, fungi and organic debris as it moves. Beds of shredded, decaying wood mulch are prime real estate for slime molds because mulch is especially full of tasty fungi and organic debris. Those that live on turf feast on the fungi and bacteria that live in the thatch. When the environment dries out, the plasmodium transforms its shapeless body into many small, often stalked, fruiting bodies that are full of dust-like spores. Sometimes, a plasmodium moves itself to a dry spot to accomplish this transformation. The dry, sporulating slime mold often looks hard and crusty. The tiny spores can remain dormant in the soil for years, waiting for another period of moist weather, when they germinate and each release a small, motile cell. Two motile cells fuse together and grow to become a new plasmodium, starting the cycle anew.
(Thanks to Iowa State University Extension for the above definition.)
aka Matchstick Fungus
Swamp Beacons are the club-shaped fruiting body of the Mitrula elegans fungus. They grow in marshy and wet areas either solitary or in groups, and are often found growing directly in shallow standing water. Appearing in the late spring or early summer, they sport an irregular blob-like orange/yellow cap, with a stem that is smooth, straight, and translucent white. Up to 2 inches tall (5 cm), Mitrula elegans is a ‘recycler’ fungus, feeding on dead and decaying plant litter. They play a vital role in driving the carbon cycle, releasing nutrients that they don’t require back into the habitat.
Swamp Beacons are native to North America and are considered a common fungus. The habitat they require, however, is becoming quite rare. They need very specific conditions to thrive, but when those conditions are met they can be found in profusion. Of the twelve different wetlands here on Distant Hill, Swamp Beacons are growing in only one.
A very similar species, Mitrula paludosa (known as Bog Beacon in the UK) is native to Europe.
Fungi play a major role in decomposition of wood and leaf
litter in forest ecosystems. To break down this material, many fungi use enzymes that need oxygen. Swamp Beacons belong to a class of fungi that can degrade leaf litter and woody debris under water, without the need for oxygen.
Check out this University of Virginia website for more on the Swamp Beacon.
Medicinal Mushroom of Spring
On one of the first days this spring with no snow cover on the ground, I noticed this group of Scarlet Elf Cup Mushrooms (Sarcoscypha coccinea) on the forest floor. This medium to large mushroom, with its bright scarlet stalked cups, fruits in very early spring, often rising through the snow.
These mushrooms are widely distributed in hardwood forests east of the Rocky Mountains, and along the West coast. The Scarlet Elf Cup is a saprobic species, growing on rotting wood. Basswood (Tilia) is the preferred wood type for the species, and American Basswood (Tilia americana) grows in abundance in the woods of Distant Hill.
The fungus has been used medicinally by the Oneida Indians of Northern New York State. The dried fungus was used as a styptic for the navels of newborns after the umbilical cord was cut in order to help it heal properly. Scarlet Elf Cups were also used as a dressing for wounds.
The 'Have No Fear’ Mushroom
The Yellow-orange Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria var. formosa, is common in the woods at Distant Hill. It is somewhat poisonous and hallucinogenic when consumed by humans, but not deadly like some species of Amanita. The toxins affect the part of the brain that is responsible for fear, turning off the fear emotion. Viking Berserkers , who had a reputation for fierceness, are said to have ingested this mushroom prior to battle.
According to Wikepedia, it's called the fly agaric because residents of a number of European countries used it as an insecticide to control flies. Albertus Magnus was the first to record it in his work 'De vegetabilibus' sometime before 1256. Small pieces of the mushroom are placed in milk to attract flies and they become inebriated and crash into walls and die.
An Edible Mushroom at Distant Hill
Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), are shown here growing on a dying sugar maple at Distant Hill Gardens. They are one of the easiest edible mushrooms to identify. Often found growing in large numbers, it usually doesn't take long to collect enough for a meal or two. In this case, I shared half of the find with a friend and still had enough to freeze for later.
Their name comes from the fact that they resemble oysters in looks, and some say in flavor. According to Wikipedia, the genus Pleurotus is one of the most commonly cultivated edible mushrooms in the world.
More Than Just a Tasty Mushroom
Oyster mushrooms are not just tasty, but they are good for you too. They contain chemicals that help to lower your cholesterol.
And Pleurotus fungi have been used in mycoremediation of some oil based pollutants. They help decompose the oils. The key to mycoremediation is determining the right fungal species to target a specific pollutant. Certain strains have actually been reported to successfully degrade various chemical weapons.
There any no poisonous look alikes in North America or Europe. However, the poisonous Omphalotus nidiformis, which grows in Japan and Australia, is sometimes mistaken for an oyster mushroom.
A Cure For Cancer?
Hemlock Varnish Shelf mushrooms, Ganoderma tsugae, grow on dead or dying Hemlock trees. There are four species of Hemlock occurring in North America. At Distant Hill Gardens you will only find the Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong in Shatin, Hong Kong, conductrd a scientific study in 2006 and found that extracts of the Hemlock Varnish Shelf, along with extracts from both Ganoderma lucidum and Ganoderma sinense supress breast cancer tumors. In a 2008 scientific study, conducted by Taipei Medical University in Taipei, Taiwan, extract from Ganoderma tsugae, the Hemlock Varnish Shelf mushroom, was found to inhibit colorectal cancer cell growth.
Ganoderma lucidum enjoys special veneration in East Asia, where it has been used as a medicinal mushroom in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years. This makes it one of the oldest mushrooms known to have been used medicinally.