Sunday, 10 February 2019

On second thoughts, maybe I won't start getting into Mollisia

These mushrooms caught my eye the other week, growing on a decaying branch of a tree by the stream at Woods Mill.

They looked oysterling-ish. But darker than the ones I usually see.

The fruit body I collected has been sat on my radiator for a couple of weeks, and I finally got around to taking a look at it today.

Masses of spores floated off my little slice of gill, mounted in ammonia.

Spores (in ammonia). 400x magnification.
My measurements of the spores came out at 8.5-10 x 5-5.5 μm{based on 10 spores}.

Having been all round the houses (and through the ID books) with this one, I'm now thinking it's probably an old Peeling Oysterling Crepidotus mollis? Although it doesn't look much like the young C. mollis I've recorded before at Woods Mill. Over on the British Mycological Society Facebook Page, Richard Shotbolt has suggested it could be Crepidotus calolepsis (considered by some authors to be a variety of C. mollis) which is differentiated by its covering of minute rusty-brown scales. Hmm.

Growing with these mushrooms, in the sheltered cracks of the dead branch, I caught a glimpse of something else. Some tiny little grey discs.

I collected a few of these yesterday. Here they are under the stereomicroscope.

I remembered a conversation with Brian Douglas about a small grey disc fungus, which he described as 'mollisioid'. I wondered if what I have here might be a Mollisia species of some kind.

My next step was to Google 'Mollisia key', which brings up a discussion on entitled, "Mollisia - is it impossible?", which makes interesting reading, if you're considering venturing into this dark corner of mycology. The answer's kind of, "Yes, but don't let that stop you having a go."

I don't think I will be able to mount a serious identification attempt on this, as I don't have any Lugols Iodine (and after seeing this article by Hans Otto Baral on 'Iodine reaction in Ascomycetes: why is Lugol's solution superior to Melzer's reagent?', I figured it wasn't worth trying with Melzers instead). But I thought I'd have a little play anyway. See what I could see.

Clockwise from left: Apothecia under the stereomicroscope; apothecia in cross-section, 100x magnification; spore (with small oil droplets?), 1000x magnification; asci and paraphyses, 400x magnification. All mounted in water.

I can say confidently this is definitely an ascomycete, with those spores lined up in long sacs (asci).

It's got pretty long thin spores: 10-13.5 x 3-3.5 μm. And I'm thinking the contents of the paraphyses are slightly refractive.

That's all I got. Hopefully I'm right on it being a Mollisia!

For the record
Date: 09/02/2019
Location: Woods Mill
Grid reference: TQ21761367

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Storm Erik brings a surprise

I stopped by Woods Mill this lunchtime, after Storm Erik had passed through, and came upon a scene of devastation.

An old willow by the dipping pond had blown over and taken out a section of the new dipping platform. I couldn't resist going in for a closer look at this wet woody mess.

Halfway up the trunk, in an area where the surface of the trunk had started to rot, I noticed some little brown clusters growing on old knots of wood.

I'd never seen anything quite like this before, so popped back later that afternoon with a penknife and a collecting box, to get a specimen.

Under the stereomicroscope, I could see that the clusters were made up of tiny round cup-shaped fruit bodies: pale on the inside, tobacco-brown on the outside. I thought they must be an ascomycete of some kind.

With some difficulty, as the individual fruit bodies were so small, I managed to get a thin section of one of the cups under the microscope.

Cross-section through cup. Mounted in water 100x magnification.

The cups are super-hairy on the outside!

Looking more closely, the brown hairs appear to become more translucent (hyaline) towards the tips.

Hairs. Mounted in water 400x magnification.

And I'm thinking they perhaps look slightly encrusted? Not completely smooth anyway.

Hairs. Mounted in water 1000x magnification.
Once I'd got a good look at the hairs, I started looking for asci – the long thin bags full of spores which are a characteristic feature of ascomycetes  on the inside of the cup... but, er, couldn't find any.

I got confused.

But then a vague memory of a cyphelloid fungus flashed across my mind. It didn't take long to track down what I was remembering: a photo on a wikipedia page that I was reading a few weeks ago, after I found that weird cyphelloid fungus on Ulva Island.

This photo in fact:

The clustered Merismodes fasciculata, USA. This image was created by user damonbrunette ©2009 at Mushroom Observer, a source for mycological images. CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Reckon I'm onto a decent lead here...

The very clustered growth of my collection would be right for Crowded Cuplet Merismodes fasciculata (= confusa). But a quick search on the internet suggests that M. anomala can look pretty much the same. [Malcolm Storey has images of both M. fasciculata and M. anomala on his BioImages website, if you want to see what I mean.]

I see that some folks from the Chinese Academy of Sciences have published a simple key to Cyphellopsis (= Merismodes), in a paper on 'Two new species of cyphelloid fungi (Basidiomycota) from China'. This suggests spore size is a key feature when separating these two species.

I managed to find a few spores, by sitting my specimen upside-down on a glass slide for a while.

Two spores (top left and bottom right). Mounted in water at 400x magnification.
My measurements came out at 8-10 x 4.5-5 μm {based on measurements of 11 spores}. This is close to the quoted measurements for M. anomala (8-11 × 5-6.5 μm) in the paper I mentioned above; and I note that, like mine, Malcolm Storey's collection also came out a bit smaller on the width (8-9/4.5µm).

I think this is pointing towards my collection being Merismodes anomala.

For the record
Date: 09/02/2019
Location: Dipping pond, Woods Mill
Grid reference: TQ21781369

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Heaphy Fungi

Fungus observations from AOTEAROA | NEW ZEALAND

After our trip to Ulva Island, we headed up the west coast of New Zealand until we ran out of road. Then we started walking.

Starting the Heaphy, at Kohaihai beach.

The route we'd chosen was the Heaphy Track: one of New Zealand's Great Walks. Over the course of the next four days, this would take us from the seemingly endless beaches of the West Coast, through palm forests, over scrubby peaks, across tussocky downs and back down through the beech forests towards Golden Bay.

We were there in summer not a great season for fungi. But there were still a few things to interest a holidaying amateur mycologist.

Day 1: Kohaihai to Heaphy Hut

We set off late, as we'd been exploring the Oparara Basin in the morning. It felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Thick palm forests hugged the long white beaches.

These are Nīkau Rhopalostylis sapida – New Zealand's native palm tree. And very nice palm trees they are too.

We were there at the right time to see their mauve flowers burst out from the base of the lowest branch. Over the course of the next year, while the next couple of branches wither and drop off, the Nīkau will fruit and produce a crop of bright red berries.

The palm forests looked quite messy to me – with these huge fronds littering the floor.

But I noticed these guys are busy tidying up...

Many of the fronds I looked at were covered in these tiny mushrooms, with horsehair-like stems and thin brown caps. They reminded me of the Marasmius species I am familiar with at home and, sure enough, a dessicated specimen revived quickly in a drop of water, revealing widely spaced gills.

I found a 'Checklist of fungi on nikau palm (Rhopalostylis sapida and R. baueri var. cheesemanii), in New Zealand' (2004) published online. They list a species Marasmius rhopalostylidis – which they considered may be confined to nikau. An image on the website does look quite like what I've found, albeit fresher and better photographed. A description on the website notes that M. rhopalostylidis is "minutely pruinose overall" which gives it a slightly frosted texture, when viewed with a hand lens; this is not a feature which I observed. I assume microscopy would be required to confirm an ID on this one. So I'll leave it there.

We did come across some other bits of woody debris lying around in the palm forest, and some of these were hosting fungi. 

I think this must be a Pleurotus species, but that's as far as I've got.


This one looked remarkably like Jelly Ear Auricularia auricula-judae which I see a lot in Sussex, except a bit grey-er.

When I shared this observation through iNaturalist, two mycologists suggested an ID of Auricularia cornea. "Ah hah!" I thought. New Zealand must have different species of Auriculariales, compared to what we have in the UK... Except when you look on the website, A. auricula-judae is listed as a synonym for A. cornea. Perhaps this is one of those situations where our universal system of naming is not so universal after all? Anyway, I reckon I saw this species a few times over the course of our trip to New Zealand. They were definitely less brown and more grey than the ones I see at home. Which is interesting, right?

Eventually our journey up the west coast came to an end. Where the Heaphy River meets the sea, just before that headland, we found the Heaphy Hut and our beds for the night.

We got there just in time for dinner with a view up river to where the Heaphy Track would lead us the next day.

Day 2: Heaphy Hut to James Mackay Hut

Turns out people get up REALLY EARLY in tramping huts, and make a lot of noise. So we hit the track bright and early the next day. The tramp up river didn't turn up much in the way of fungi.

But we did see a Sacred Kingfisher Todiramphus sanctus, which was nice.

We left the nikau palms behind us, and tramped on through thick forest.

Past Lewis Hut, the track begins its slow climb up to the Downs. The bush here was home to some cracking mushrooms.

Folk over on iNaturalist have identified this one as Amanita pareparina. The website notes that this species was "originally described from New Zealand, associated with Southern Beech (Nothofagus). It is known from the southern part of the North Island and the Northern part of the South Island." What a beauty!

This brown mushroom also had a lot going on, with that sulcate margin and patterning on the stem. I was grateful to the folk on iNaturalist for a suggested ID: Amanita pekeoides. According to the website this species is only known from New Zealand.

I particularly liked the dark margin to the gills, and that shadowy ring around the top of the stem where the free gills meet the cap. Very smart.

This bracket fungus has so far evaded identification, but it's a great looking thing.

Check out those pores!

I took this thing for an earthball, but was intrigued by the blue staining. I think it's probably Rossbeevera (= Chamonixia) pachydermis, another species which is restricted to New Zealand.

As the track gains elevation, the thick ferny bush gives way to sunnier woodland.

I can't identify Russulas at home, so it won't surprise you to hear I don't know what species this is, growing at the side of the track. But it was a looker, with that rose-pink stem.

Up on Mackay Downs, the bush and woodland gives way to sweetly-scented Manuka Leptospermum scrub.

We found a nice place to sit and watch the sun go down, and I noticed these little things on a dead twig beside me: bird's nest fungi. My best guess would be one of the Nidula species.

I tried to find some with the 'eggs' (peridioles) still in them, until I got distracted by the sunset.

Day 3: James Mackay Hut to Gouland Downs

We had a reason to be up on these Downs. We were looking for Takahē Porphyrio hochstetteri, which had recently been reintroduced up there, as part of the Department of Conservation Takahē Recovery Programme.

We scanned every patch of promising-looking Takahē habitat, for signs of these birds...

We found plenty of signs of Takahē. But no big blue birds.

These signs got me thinking about the communities of organisms one finds associated with individual species, when you start looking: parasites and such like. Are there fimicolous fungi associated with Takahē, I wonder? [Answer, yes: I see someone's done a science on this.]

On a bank, where the track cut through the scrub, I did see some snazzy orange mushrooms.

I noticed they seemed to be growing in association with green algae.

The decurrent gills reminded me of a Lichenomphalia species I found at Graffham Common once.


Responses on iNaturalist are in agreement with this specimen being from the genus Lichenomphalia. New Zealand based mycologist, Jerry Cooper, has written a note on the New Zealand Lichenomphalia, here. Sounds like there's quite a bit of work to do on them!

After the scrublands, the path eventually drops down to the flatlands of Gouland Downs.

Still we scanned the tussock grass for Takahē. Someone said they'd seen one by the river. But we saw none.

With the sun at our backs, sun orchids (Thelymitra sp.) turned to greet us as we made our way to Gouland Downs Hut.

The path takes you through a small beech (Nothofagus) forest...

... before arriving at the hut.

Here, eating the lush grass by the hut, we finally found our Takahē. What a bird!

We'd had a relatively easy day walking, which left plenty of time for fossicking about in the 'enchanted forest', as the brochure calls it.

The beech forest sits over a limestone outcrop, and you can take your torch and have a poke around. in the various caves underneath. Didn't find any cave fungi.

Did see this MASSIVE WORM popping up out of the ground. Which was the first time in my life I've ever seen a worm poke it's head up out of the ground... and I had quite the shock when it JUST KEPT COMING.

In the leaf litter, I spotted this rather gorgeous ascomycete. Haven't been able to narrow down an ID on this one, unfortunately.

At the base of a beech tree, I also saw some weird black golf ball shaped things. And I'm gutted I didn't get a picture, because it's since occurred to me that what I was looking at was this species:

Beech Strawberry Cyttaria gunnii. Image via
One of those crazy Australasian species folk like me normally only see in pictures.

At the edge of the enchanted forest, a waterfall tumbles out of a large cave. Which made a nice spot to sit and watch the Welcome Swallows Hirundo neoxena fly by.

On the damp rock by the waterfall, I spotted this globular brown alga, shining in the evening sun...

At least I think it's an alga.

Day 4: Gouland Downs to Brown Hut

It was raining as we packed our bags for our final day's tramping. But by the time we turned to take a last look at Gouland Downs, the rain had given way to a wet mist. We passed more golden yellow Lichenomphalia mushrooms, glistening at the side of the track.

After the path had taken us up and over Perry Saddle, we found ourselves again on the forested flanks of the Downs.

The descent through the bush was gentle, but long! This bracket provided a welcome excuse to stop for a moment, and take a closer look.

Yup, it's a bracket!

I thought it might be a Phellinus species, with those cinnamon-brown pores. But I think there are other genera in the Hymenochaetaceae which have brown pores.

As we walked further on, the forest opened out, and a few piles of cut timber lay next to the path – home to these bright orange bracket fungi, with orange pores. Reckon these are Orange Bracket Pycnoporus coccineus: an Australasian species.

As we got down into the beech forest, I was mystified by these black trees which had the sweet smell of fermenting sugar and hummed with the sound of wasps.

The smell reminded me of that time some giant aphids took up residence on a willow tree at Woods Mill. I imagined the black coating must be some kind of sooty mould. But I could see no aphids.

I found out later that this is a natural phenomenon in New Zealand's southern beech forests, caused by scale insects which live in the bark and drip honeydew from their long anal tubes (more here). But the wasps I could hear are not part of the natural order of things here and their voracious habits are, sadly, causing major problems in New Zealand's unique ecosystems.

And that gets us just about back to the car park at Brown Hut where thanks to Heaphy Track Help our car was waiting for us.

Wonder if I'll ever get to go back and do this again in Autumn, with a collecting box...

For the record
Fungus observations have been added to iNaturalist.