Following are a few species that appeared in my yard this September that might be missed by an observer who was focused mainly on the larger, fleshy mushrooms. It’s a heterogenous group, sharing only their inconspicuousness. All were encountered following an extended rainy period.
Marasmius– a genus of small, fleshy mushrooms with many species distinguishable from the many other small, brownish or tannish, hard-to-identify mushrooms by their ability to recover from the desiccated state in the presence of water. A seemingly dead specimen can be placed in a cup of water and it will swell up to the fresh state within the hour. In doing so it is may be extending its ability to release spores over a longer period such as extends between rainy periods but this is not verified. I note, however, that sprayed water is sufficient to rehydrate the dried mushroom.
Marasmius haematocephalus, with a bright red cap, is saprophytic on twigs and leaves. Short-lived, this member of the Marasmius genus, based on my experience, appears not to revive after being watered. Note the well-separated lamellae on the underside and the thread-like stipe.
Cyathus, the “bird’s nest fungus”, is a tiny saprophyte that grows on various substrates such as fallen twigs or herbaceous stems. In the photo, the Cyathus fungi have established on a dead stem of the herbaceous Salvia (sage) which is 3 mm in width. I have also found it springing up in flower pots with organic matter on the surface. The fungus is shaped like an urn or nest which contains even smaller capsules (“eggs”) which contain spores. Interestingly, it is the capsule that is the dispersal unit rather than the spores as in mushrooms. The capsules have been shown to be washed out of the nest by raindrops only to land several or more feet away. The capsule then disintegrates, releasing the spores.
Mature Cyathus fungus with spore capsules.
Geastrum, the earthstars are related to puffballs but are a bit more elaborate. At least two species are represented in the photographs. The outer layer of the fungus (the “skin”) splits open into segments that bend back, propping up the fungus above the substrate. An inner layer is revealed which soon develops an apical opening through which the abundant spores escape just like in puffballs. One species shown here has an apical “beak” and a narrowed base which gives it an urn-like appearance. Note that before the initial skin-splitting, the immature earthstar resembles nothing more than its cousin the puffball.
Two species of Geastrum probably matured before the September rains.
Trametes versicolor– “turkey tail”, is one of the commonest of the shelf fungi that springs up on dead branchwood and tree trunks. Small compared to the large conks it’s related to, the upperside of this rather stiff or cardboard-like fungus features colorful bands similar to that of Stereum (discussed in an earlier post). But Trametes is more specialized as its underside is packed with dense pores (looking closely the pores are barely visible to the naked eye so a hand lens is better), the walls of which generate countless spores.
Unknown crustose fungus- the photograph below shows a type of fungus that serves as an example of a large group that tend to be obscure and difficult to identify. Given the nature of the field, it would be quite unsurprising to find changes in nomenclature, discoveries of new species and genera, and new understanding of the basic functionality of this group! In crustose species, the spore-bearing surface forms no specific structures but hugs the surface of the woody substrate, discharging spores into the air.
Stemonitus- not a fungus! This slime mold was found growing on the same piece of wood as the Gymnopilus mushrooms (see previous post). The photograph shows the spore-bearing structures which will soon disintegrate, releasing spores. Slime molds resemble fungi in that the vegetative state is spent in dark, moist habitats, but differs in important ways. Most strikingly, the slime mold spends its vegetative days in a state of slow, flowing movement over the soil and leaf surface absorbing organic matter, nutients, and water as it goes!