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