Cruelty-free lobster, and mushrooms growing “hair”!

Fungi families grow practically everywhere, and find their nutritional sources in a wide range of places.  Depending on the species, mushrooms may feast on decaying wood,  dung,  or even living  organisms — as it turns out, some even grow on other mushrooms!

These parasites transform their hosts into fantastic-looking and unusual versions of their former selves. This week, the nearby woods offered two fantastic examples of mushroom-attacking molds — Hypomyces lactifluorum and Syzygites megalocarpus.*

[*If you find latin names intimidating, just channel your inner-wizard and say them confidently, with a wave of the arm — who’s going to question you then?]

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to enjoy a meal made with lobster mushrooms, what you were really eating was a Russula or Lactarius fruiting body selectively colonized by Hypomyces lactifluorum. This mold covers the entire specimen in a gorgeous orange-red colour, while maintaining the inner white flesh — hence, the “lobster” nickname. Strangely, they even have a smell that is reminiscent of the sea.

Though the hosts are relatively insignificant to a foodie, both the colour and the taste of lobster mushrooms make them stand out on the local seasonal menu (bonus: nobody had to be boiled alive). Hypomyces (which means “mushroom underneath”) is known to enhance the peppery taste of Lactarius piperatus and create layers of flavour.

Unfortunately, wild insects got to the lobsters before we did —  while these specimens weren’t good enough to eat, they sure were special to experience firsthand. Carrying  a few chunks of them around on subsequent forays has hopefully spread their spores into new patches of the woods, and with any luck, future years will yield more of these incredible edibles!

lobster stalk small lobster underside small

In commercial mushroom-growing, the mycoparasitic Syzygites megalocarpus can be a real problem.  The common meadow mushroom (Agaricus campestris),  a relative of the white buttons usually found on grocery shelves and pizzas, can be susceptible to the same infections as their cultivated counterparts.

Here’s a couple of them, observed in good health:

Meadow mushroom top small Meadow mushroom 1 small

Only a few days later, a return visit turned up these hair-raising images:

meadow with syzy top small syzygites1 small

Like some other molds you may have seen, this Syzygites sends off long threads with spores forming at the end. Their wispy filaments are enchanting, giving the entire mushroom a groovy look, while leaving enough of the host intact as to leave it recognizable.

Just a couple more examples of nature’s spectacular array of untamed resilience, these molds serve as a reminder that everything eats — and gets eaten!

 

Look closer… look waaaaaaay closer…now squint…

Sometimes, mushrooms are gigantic. I mean absolutely freakin’ huge. In the Oregon Cascades, there’s a singular conch of noble polypore (bridgeoporus nobilissimus) estimated to weigh more than 300lbs.

These are not those mushrooms.

While mycelial networks sometimes stretch for miles, and can be so densely woven through the soil or inside trees they could easily go around the earth in the space of a few feet, sometimes they produce mushrooms so tiny it’s amazing we notice them at all.

IMG_0991

Identifying these fruiting bodies isn’t necessarily “the point”: in fact, many mycophiles are content to enjoy the presence of “LBM’s” – Little Brown Mushrooms – without worrying about their names or taxonomies.

Here’s one so small and delicate that the wind was moving it and the camera had a hard time focusing, even after it was brought out of the forest and into brighter light.

LBM with keytag 2  LBM with keytag

Still, some tiny mushrooms present such unique characteristics as to practically shout their presence at you from among the trees. Turquoise wood is not something you see every day, but playing host to Green Stain (chlorociboria aeruginascens) fungi, turns  decaying branches into technicolour forest litter. When they fruit, the cups are miniscule, and awfully fun to look at.

green stain small

This winter, a close inspection of a piece of confier in the woodpile turned up these beauties, tenuously identified as the “common split-gill”.

Common splitgill 1 Common splitgill 2

According to Wikipedia, folks in Mizoram call their local variety Pasi, literally “tiny mushroom”, and it’s considered an important edible.

Watching the end of this  well-myceliated log for a few days turned up a very mini-mushroom (note the size of the fruiting body compared to the rings in the wood of the tree!).

tiny mushroom with mycelium

So keep an eye out in the mossy patches, and look for that telltale mycelium — slow down and hear the littlest mushrooms calling your name!