The Fate of a Tanoak (Hammer of the SODS)
Bolbitius aleuriatus- you won’t read about the partial veil of this species in any book (I think), but look closely - the wispy fibers of that structure adorn the edge of the cap of very young fruitbodies.
Tanoaks (Notholithocarpus densiflorus) These majestic members of the oak family are one of the few hardwoods (along with Madrone) that regularly infiltrate dense redwood forest. They are well known and well-loved.
But alas, they are a species getting completely getting hammered by Sudden Oak Death Syndrome (better known as SODS). This oomycete (read: NOT A FUNGUS) pathogen was introduced from the Himalayas to Scotts Valley on nursery rhododendrons. There it began its rapid and deadly spread throughout the state and beyond.
It’s a tragic situation, much more so for a mushroom afficionado (consider the loss of habitat for their mycorrhizal partners). But it ends up yielding a lot of tanoak wood rotting on the ground.
And lo, even after death tanoaks provide habitat (albeit rather ephemeral) for a really distinctive suite of mushrooms. Why such a particular cadre of fungi on these dead trees? The exact explanation is unknown to me, but it’s undoubtedly related to wood chemistry.
Pluteus cf. romellii- green cap, yellow stem, pink spores. What’s not to love? These guys are confirmed tanoak fiends. (Full disclosure I think I’ve seen them on Quercus oaks as well).
I’ve been interested in this phenomenon for a couple years, so today I spent some time in Big Basin Redwoods State Park looking through the remains of a single large old tanoak, in which I found 18 species of fungi, some of which are illustrated in this post.
(Well, at least what passes for it in CA). Although found on other trees as well, this species seems to particularly love tanoak. I have never seen milky exudate on the cheilocystidia of this species, but these fruitbodies were insulated from drying wind and were very young, so… there you have it. Simocybe. Milky.
Balling When Possible/Lou Reed is Gone
Although my past week has been spectacular, all joy is drained out of the world today, Lou Reed has passed. I can’t imagine how many hours I spent listening to New York in high school and college. I nearly wept upon hearing Vicious on the radio today.
Spent some quality time with Portland friends (ate a deer’s heart/saw Wolvserpent at Rotture), and then went out to Rockaway Beach courtesy of the Oregon Mycological Society hiring me again (thanks Sava).
Rotture, a suitably fucked-up venue to watch Wolvserpent and Druden play music
Found a lot of mushrooms (predictable, right?), the abundance of fruitbodies in the woods was unbelievable.
A slug absolutely mowing down some Panellus
Made it through the camp despite the best efforts of senior citizens to drink me under the table (fear not, I ended up on top of the table).
Feeling victorious, I decided on a whim to check on last year’s spot for Gyrodon (sp?)… and found it. (!!!) This is one of the rarest mushrooms I have had the pleasure of seeing. It’s similar to Gyrodon lividus (a Eurasian species), but is only known from the USA from one prior collection made by Dave Hayward in 1982 in the San Bernadino Mountains in SoCal. Finding this is what passes for Balling in the amateur mycotaxonomy world.
Gyrodon cf. lividus - helzzzza rare
Take joy in the world of mushrooms, and in the world at large. For life is fleeting. In the words of Lou - it’s just a Temporary Thing.
"The boy has no patience."
Panellus mitis. I can hardly wait to see things like this in the woods again.
The words of Yoda ring true in my heart and head. A weekend visit to Bodega Bay moistened me with rain and exposed my fungus-sensors to lichen-draped bishop pines… the teasing was almost unbearable. I have returned to Santa Cruz only to find blistering heat. Death. Despair.
I had a rather difficult summer; a string of bad luck warped my moustached companions and I into veritable Despair Nomads. Scorned by harpies, sung to by sirens, 7 tires flattened by El Duende (lashing out in vengeance against Modernity’s persecution), car crashes in Mexico, robbery by Guatemalan banditos… innocent joy and warm comfort were truly beyond my visar.
My Mexican adventure was not a total loss. I managed to find a first country record of the extremely attractive little Pouzarella ferreri, (particularly satisfying because this was one of my most-desired species, and I had no expectation whatsoever of ever seeing it).
Pouzarella ferreri, an aesthetically successful species.
Other than this fruiting at El Sumidero in Chiapas, I encountered few mushrooms.
Now I have to sit on my hands until November arrives in my home county. Perhaps I will bird in the meantime. Perhaps I will reacquaint myself with the Sparrow, consort with the Wobbler. Fox Sparrows are, after all, extremely worthwhile company.
My better camera was stolen in Mexico, so I had no way to truly crush this bird, which was definitely the most Crush-desiring Fox Sparrow I have ever encountered.
Pray for me. My mornings are visited with panic attacks. The fungus beckons.
Geographic Variation: Travel ‘Round and Take Notes
You, esteemed reader, in your woods-wanderings have no doubt crossed paths with the equally estimable Marasmius plicatulus. If not, it is my pleasure to introduce the both of you. Charmed, I’m sure.
The tall, brightly-colored fruitbodies occur in many kinds of habitats every year, often in large troops. And what an excellent little mushroom to be so familiar! This species has a lot of features setting it apart from the rest of its marasmioid brethren: electric-sunset stipe coloration, oddly wiry stipes (often tipped in pom-poms of creamy-white mycelium), and finely velvety caps (often covered in beaded-up water droplets).
But how many of us have given much thought to the geographic range and morphological variation of this species? Don’t answer that. A quick search on www.mushroomobserver.org (hereafter referred to as ‘MO’) gives us the following map of observations for this species:
Some interesting points to take note of:
- As we try and familiarize ourselves with any species, it’s always a good idea to try and describe its range in one or two simple sentences. For this one, I’d summarize it as: Pacific states, primarily coastal, common. More detailed looks at the notes and photos included with these MO observations would show that it inhabits almost any kind of habitat: pine, cypress, oak, fir, spruce, really any place with trees and sufficient duff on the ground.
- The glaring gap in southern Oregon – this is almost certainly due to the lack of observers in the area, not an actual disjunction in the distribution of the species. Just goes to show how important citizen scientists are in our effort to document the distribution of macrofungi. Going on a beer tasting tour to Oregon’s Arch Rock Brewing Company? Take a photo of our Mushroom of the Month while you are in Curry County and help us fill in the Gap on the Map!
- The apparent southern limit around Los Angeles – does this species really not occur in San Diego County? A quick message to Bonni McKintosh of the San Diego Mycological Society confirmed my memory that it’s common there (especially under shrubs like Toyon and Laurel Sumac)! So why the gap? Once again, lack of participation on mushroomobserver.org. Public databases like this are absolutely dependent on their users for data!
- A closer look at the map would show a few observations away from the coast and a bit closer to the central valley, but none from the Sierra foothills or higher elevations.
Now that we’ve got a basic sense of the distribution of this species, let’s look at its morphological variation, specifically with regard to color. The sequence below shows two typical forms (from the mainland and Santa Cruz Island, of the Channel Islands), followed by two less-common forms.
The typical coastal form, with a red cap, and fairly dark stem showing a gradient of stipe color from black near the base to orange, pink, or white near the apex.
A bright but typical form found on Santa Cruz Island, with vivid magenta and pink colors on the stipe, and nearly cherry-red caps.
An orange-brown form (almost entirely lacking pink and red colors) from Santa Cruz Island, where it was nearly as common as the red form.
These are the most unusually-colored fruitbodies of this species I’ve ever encountered: completely pastel-pink, with hardly a trace of orange, and most importantly, none of the characteristic black or brown stipe pigmentation.
The orange-brown color form in the third photo is not restricted to Santa Cruz Island; in fact, fruitbodies showing these colors are more commonly found in the northern reaches of this species’ range on the mainland, (where the typical red form is also present). Most of the “Orange-brown Form” currently on Mushroom Observer are from Oregon: Sava Krstic’s 117825, Daniel Wheeler’s 14662, Britney Ramsey’s 80819, 61364, and 59467; although there are a few from northern California: Darvin DeShazer’s 122671 and Douglas Smith’s 17325; Noah Siegel has also found it in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in Del Norte County.
* Note: to search for any of the observations listed above, go to mushroomobserver.org and type or paste the observation number into the search bar at the top of the page as shown below:
So what accounts for the color variation in this species? Climatic conditions don’t seem to explain the pattern, since three of the forms have been found growing right next to each other. Partially (or completely?) reproductively-isolated populations combined with random drift in pigment genes? Possibly, but it’ll take a lot of work to prove that hypothesis. Inherent variation between freely-interbreeding populations? Possibly, but why are the bulk of orange-brown forms found north of Mendocino County, and why is the pink form so rare? And even then, they co-occur with the “Red Form”; do any of fruitbodies in these areas show intermediate coloration? All these questions remain to be answered.
As I hope I’ve shown with this month’s article, we have much to learn about even the most common and familiar mushrooms. No area is too small, no question too basic! Get outside and document what you see. Take notes, take pictures, take specimens for your herbarium. With the help of citizen scientists like you, we’ll make more rapid progress to a Mycoflora of North America.
Don’t go to college. Buy a cheap camera and a bunch of Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks. Hitchhike and hop trains and document mushroom pigment variations.