Sunday, September 16, 2012

Lactarius - Mushrooms that have Milk

The mushrooms in the genus Lactarius are fun to try to identify. They have gills that are easy to break, and when you break them, they 'lactate'. Yes, that's right, they drip milk.

Lactarius corrugatus
Lactarius corrugatus gills and milk

 It is not known why they drip milk, but presumably it could be a deterrent for predators. The color of this milk can be an identifying feature. It also comes in clear, yellow, red, and green.

Taste is another identifying characteristic of Lactarius. Some of them are spicy, like pepper.  Several species have been given the name 'Candy Cap' because they are edible and smell like maple syrup when dry. However, you should also go out with an experienced mycologist when you taste fungi. You now have the tools to identify the genus Lactarius.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Marvelous Morels

The true morel (Morchella) is one of the most exciting fungal finds in the forest. They are a culinary delicacy (sold for $36.00/lb fresh) (, they are difficult (virtually impossible) to cultivate, and they are difficult to spot, sometimes masquerading as pine-cones. There are at least 41 phylogenetic species worldwide, 19 which may be endemic to North America (O'Donnell et al. 2011). In North America we have been using the European species names M. esculenta (for white morels) and M. elata (for black morels) but these species do not occur in North America (Kuo et al. 2012).  Kuo et al. (2012) describes 14 new species of Morchella in North America and provides a key. The white morels and the black morels cluster into two distinct clades, with Morchella rufobrunnea by itself appearing in a basal lineage (Kuo et al. 2012). I'm happy that I can now probably call this mushroom that I ate in the elata clade Morchella brunnea M. Kuo sp. nov. and these ones in the esculenta clade Morchella esculentoides M. Kuo, Dewsbury, Moncalvo & S.L. Stephenson, sp. nov. or Morchella cryptica M. Kuo & J.D. Moore, sp. nov.

Left: Morchella brunnea. Right: Morchella esculentoides or cryptica

Of course when hunting morels, you don't want to mistake a true morel for one of its poisonous cousins like Gyromitra esculenta. When cooked, Gyromitra esculenta releases monomethylhydrazine, a toxic rocket propellent used by NASA. If you are not sure if it's a true morel, cut it in half. Only true morels are hollow in both the 'cap' and 'stipe'. Make sure you go collecting with someone with a lot of experience before you go off on your own.

Gyromitra esculenta
O'Donnell K, Rooney AP, Mills GL, Kuo M, Weber NS, Rehner SA. 2011. Phylogeny and historical biogeography of true morels (Morchella) reveals an early Cretaceous origin and high continental endemism and provincialism in the Holarctic. Fungal Genet Biol 48:252–265.

Kuo M, Dewsbury DR, O'Donnell K, Carter MC, Rehner SA, Moore JD, Moncalvo JM, Canfield SA, Stephenson SL, Methven A, Volk TJ. 2012.Taxonomic revision of true morels (Morchella) in Canada and the United States. Mycologia.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Coccomyces dentatus - An Ascomycete

I can't wait to get out into the woods to see some spring fungi. Since I haven't been out yet, I'm going to post a fungus I saw last spring. Its called Coccomyces dentatus. Its an ascomycete, which means its spores are in a sac called an ascus. This one is on an Oregon Grape leaf.
The black dots are the fruiting bodies which are cups where the spores are released. The lines are borders where the mycelium from two individuals have met and are sexually incompatible. Here's a closer picture.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Mycophobia: the fear of mushrooms. In the west, mushrooms have been vilified as being deadly poisonous, harmful and hallucinogenic. In reality, there are only a handful of fungi that have these properties. With experience, one can learn to identify these fungi and avoid them. Fungi are in fact vitally important to life on this planet. They may have helped plants colonize land through mutualistic symbiotic relationships, they break down rocks into soil, and they recycle nutrients in the ecosystem.

I am most interested in fungal diversity. There are an estimated 1.5 million species of fungi, yet only about 10,000 of these have been officially described. That means that there is an entire universe to discover, most of which is underground and microscopic. In most of Europe and Asia, fungi are part of the culture. They grow up knowing how to collect and eat wild mushrooms, yet in North America, we are scared of them. My friend from Russia tells me she grew up knowing the word "mycelium", the body of the fungus that is underground and gives rise to the fruiting body above ground. I live in the Province of British Columbia, possibly the most botanically diverse provinces in Canada, and thus there are mushrooms completely unknown to science, lying there at my doorstep. Through advanced scientific techniques, we are able to detect these novel fungal at a faster rate than we can describe them. I am part of a scientific community who is just beginning to learn what to do with this information.

I invite you to look through the eyes of a mycologist and delve into the world of fungi. We will go on fungal forays, look at delicious edible fungi, poisonous fungi and just plain interesting fungi. We will also explore topics in the science of fungi. The adventure begins now!