Shrooms masterclass....and I am very pleased to welcome back the amazing Andre Jagger for a few guest posts about fungi. I am always fascinated by his fantastic drawings, like plates out of old books, just wonderful detail. And then his rigorous scientific dive into the plants...just wonderful.
The year 2020 was an excellent year for finding interesting fungi and I was kept unusually busy doing so. It was also a good year in that all the fungi collected provided significant spore prints. I was on a roll ... I present here fungi from three important orders of the fungal family tree, the Agaricales, the Polyporales, and the Boletales. Not only will the diversity in these fungi provide interest but so will their fertile surfaces (hymenial layers) for in the two examples from the Agaricales one can observe the lamellae (gills), in the one from the Boletales one observes teeth or spines, and lastly the one from the Polyporales reveals pores.
Tai Wo Hau Road Playground (大窩口道遊樂場) has been an excellent source of unusual fungi thanks to one particular plant, Common Bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris), providing much of the substrate for which the fungi can grow. My running theme for this playground is that "it is where the people go to play and the fungi grow to kill" and you are in luck as you meet two of my favourites upon the shifting of the lichenised skeletons of those less fortunate, of those one even has teeth! Put it this way, being armed with a basketball and sports shoes will not protect you from the onslaught of these little critters ... as can be often said, fungi pop out of nowhere, can be found and indeed spread everywhere, and some may even kill you ... Heed my warning!
Usually the fungal hyphae live in the dead culms of the bamboo, either below or above the ground. The majority of the time the fungal mycelial mass lives in the culms below ground level where moisture is retained all year round and in the rainy season the fruiting bodies (basidiocarps in this case) appear in some shape or form either attached to the base of the bamboo culm or emanating from the soil close by.
It was on a rather small break between rain showers in September 2020 that I eagerly raced off to Tai Wo Hau Road Playground. The purpose was to catch yet
another glimpse of the ongoing morphology of the golden beauty known as Gyrodontium sacchari. I found what I was looking for and prepared yet more photos of G. sacchari in it's pileal stage. I was then about to retrace steps home when I thought I would inspect the giant bamboo culms yet again looking for the little killers. Behold, I was in for a treat ... Next to the broken remains of a very old bamboo culm (green with algae) inserted into the soil was something like a fry pan but mauve!
So comes the first of the Agaricales, in the family Mycenaceae. It is known as A Violet Oysterling. I will not say that it is THE Violet Oysterling as I have some concerns as to whether this species is the 'same' as the European one. Never-the-less, it is violet-purple and I think you would all agree with that much. The fungus is "kinda funny looking" which translated into technical terms means the stipe(stem) is laterally attached - it grows not up, not down but sideways initially! The underground mycelium finds a ledge, vertical soil face, or very rarely a bamboo culm, and then produces a very small round ball as the beginnings of its fruiting body. The ball grows and extends off the surface by means of a stipe(stem). You may think of this fungus as being a bracket fungus with a stipe but unlike most bracket fungi this one has gills (and even those are a pale violet in colour).
As for the colour of this Violet Oysterling, the scientific species name "violaceofulvus" is meant to reflect just that. It is Violet and Fulvus, fulvus being a greyish brown? Oddly enough 'fulvus' in latin means; deep yellow, reddish yellow, gold-colored, tawny. However grey-brown is griseo brunneis! In "Latin for Gardeners" by Lorraine Harrison, fulvus is described on page 93 as being tawny orange (tawny itself is described in other places as orange-brown or a yellowish-brown colour)! Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fulvous) has other ideas, 'sometimes described as dull orange, brownish-yellow or tawny; it can also be likened to a variation of buff, beige or butterscotch'. Mycologists love the word 'fulvus' and I am almost certain that they 'get off' over it and so it got used extensively in their descriptions of fungi. Those more clever than mycologists will realise HTML colour codes would be vastly superior, good on you designers and artists for pointing that out and a high-five to you all! Let's all face it, even the British Paints Colour Guide could have done a better job! In fairness to the mycologists, fungi have a range of colours depending on the development of the sporocarp (fruiting body), the exposure to humidity and water, and finally the amount of and direction of incident light on the subject.
The flesh of this fungus could best be described as waxy and crumbly, not unlike that of the waxcap fungi(Hygrocybes). Its pileus surface was a little the same and its gills were flaky and waxy. The pileus did not show the usual hairyness towards the stipe that many European specimens do. The pileal context was a quite solid. There are around five series of lamellae (gills). Series One being the shortest, series Five being the longest, in length with respect to the pileus edge. Series One gills are spaced at around 1 mm apart, with at most two of any other series between them.
An Amyloid reaction, from Melzer's or Lugol's Reagent, makes a fungal spore turn blue to black. The reaction is thought to be centred around the reactivity of the free iodine in solution with most likely the amylose sugars and starches contained within fungal spores or in their coats. Melzer's reactions are typically almost immediate. A freely available substitute and powerful iodine storing solution devloped as an antiseptic is used instead. Betadine is a trade name for Povidone Iodine. The amyloid reaction with Betadine was immediate, the Reddish-Brown colour of the iodine solution disappeared leaving a blackened edge to the meniscus of the solution droplet that persisted upon dehydration. A close up view revealed the spores were present and had indeed coloured probably a pale blue, however against a black background for contrast they are seen black. This test is useful in assisting a mycologist determine what the genus might be for a given specimen. One good possibility here is that of Panellus. This fungus fits that description.
The scent was very musty, that of composted grass, and then slightly sweeter when the basidiocarp was severed. The taste of half a raw basidiocarp (pileus and stipe) was very mild indeed, not bitter, bland, almost no mushroom flavour at all.
Almost one year later the gardeners (well armed and wearing suitable body protection not to mention the hazmat suits) of Tai Wo Hau Playground dug a trench to move the soil adjacent to the giant common bamboo (B. vulgaris). With the recent rains of the 6th August 2021, there were a very large number of basidiocarps emerging from the side of the trench close to partially exposed dead bamboo culms and many of the fine roots. The basidiocarps nearly always came out from a soil surface and never a wood surface. Only once did I see a tiny fruiting body on a bamboo culm above the ground soil surface. The presence of dead bamboo, what appears to be the mycelial host, and the fact the basidiocarps emerge from a soil surface are probably evidence that this particular species of Panellus may not be the European one.
Note that in low or diffuse light the colour of this species is distinctly mauve to purple. This is partially due to the white balance being compromised in the digital camera. Once a white object is added to the edge of the scene the blue reduces and a pinkish brown appears, violet, grey, reddish brown being the real colours of the species. This second picture covers this colour variation. Most of these pictures were taken with an iPhone 12 or with a Nikon Coolpix S8200, the Coolpix S8200 was a good camera in the sense that it was ultralight in terms of weight, very portable and given it had good low light capability with macro it could photograph underneath fungi moderately easily.
It can be observed that very few basidiocarps(fruiting bodies) grow straight upwards, often the stipe emerges horizontally off of a vertical surface and then bends upwards.