Sunday I participated in a fungi walk led by mycologist Dianna Smith at the Cadwell Memorial Park in Pelham. Despite a recent lack of rain in that part of the state, we still found over 25 different kinds of fungi. For this post, however, I will limit myself to four highlights that I found interesting or bizarre.
Toothpaste slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum)
Oddly enough, slime molds are not actually fungi, although they often catch the interest of mycologists anyway. These small, soft, round objects resemble miniature grayish-pink puffballs, and are the fruiting bodies of the slime mold. They can occur either scattered or in groups on damp rotten wood, especially on large logs, like the one on which we found these. Although when they mature, the inside will be filled with dust-like spores, in the early phases of its development, the inside is filled with pink paste-like fluid (as seen in the photo below), from which was the inspiration for the common name of this species: toothpaste slime mold.
There are a few different types of slime mold, but Lycogala epidendrum falls within the plasmodial slime mold category. Plasmodial slime molds are basically enormous single cell organisms with thousands of nuclei. They form when individual flagellated cells swarm together and fuse.
Blue green cup fungus (Chlorociboria aeruginascens)
Unexplainable blue pieces of wood have haunted my hiking trips for years. I often see them on or near the trail but had never figured out what caused the phenomenon. Sunday I learned that the blue coloring of the wood is caused by the mycelium of a species of a blue cup fungus, Chlorociboria aeruginascens. This species is saprophytic on well-decayed, barkless logs and sticks of both hardwoods and conifers. Although it is evident as blue-green stainedwood year-round, the small cup- or disc-shaped fruiting bodies typically appear in summer and fall.
To make this fungus even more interesting, it was also dotted with pretzel slime molds (Hemitrichia serpula). When mature, this slime mold occurs as a pretzel-like networks of bright yellow to mustard-yellow veins or strands.
One of the distinctive features of Lactarius subvellereus is that the surface of the cap has a slight velvety feel. Although convex, the cap can be somewhat depressed in the center. The mushroom is initially white overall, but can develop an off-white color overtime. Another useful identifier is that L. subvellereus can have forked gills. The genus name Lactarius comes from the fact that when the gills are cut or damaged, the mushroom exudes a white sap-like substance resembling milk. Spore color can also be a useful identifying feature in mushrooms; L. subvellereus produces white spores, which were evident around one specimen we found. This species is mycorrhizal with conifers and hardwoods, especially oaks, produces fruiting bodies in the summer and fall, and is widely distributed east of the Rocky Mountains.
Netted stinkhorn (Phallus duplicatus)
Stinkhorns are fairly unique in that they are topped with a foul-smelling slime, emerge from little underground “eggs,” and can grow to full size fast enough that you can actually watch it happen. We actually set up a camera to take a time-lapse video of this one, but unfortunately it didn’t seem to change at all in the half hour we left it there – much of the development had already occurred by the time we found this one. There are a few species of stinkhorns, but this one is easily identified by its “lacy veil” or “net-like skirt” hanging below the cap. This “skirt” develops slowly and lengthens downward as the stinkhorn develops. The cap begins as a smooth structure and only later develops the pitted and ridged surface seen in the photos below. The slimy top of the stinkhorn emits a foul odor to attract a plethora of flies and other insects that will help disperse its spores.