Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An update, I'm still around, and Best Christmas Wishes

I've been traveling, and I'm back in the US of A, and I have been out and about in ol' Alabama, but now I'm celebrating Xmas with the in-laws out west.
I did get a chance to play around with the new Wii game, Mushroom Men: Spore Wars. What can I tell you? I'm not a big gamer geek, but I did have fun trying it out. There's a lot of fun fungal references in the game, although the protagonist, Pax, is supposed to be a bolete but he has gills. When he gets abused by the vicissitudes of life, bits of his mutated brain are exposed through his cap, which he can then regenerate by consuming special spores. Also, another type of spore is sprinkled on other objects, which Pax can move by 'sporokinesis'.
Hopefully, I'll get through more of this game when I get back to my friend's house. I confess to the lame act of giving someone a gift with the intention of using the gift, since I don't have a Wii, myself. For now, Merry Christmas! Hope you find some fungal gifts under the trees of the forest!

Monday, December 1, 2008

An interesting top ten list courtesy of the BBC

What's my secret? Google news alerts, mostly. And for the most part, what I get is recipes, news of people poisoning themselves, the use of the word mushroom to depict rapid growth, news about forays and foragers, articles about "magic mushrooms" and information about kits for growing edibles. But here's a link to an article from the BBC telling about what fungi do for us (Thanks, Mat!). I'm not sure I agree that Marmite is number 1, and they don't mention mycorrhizas (except in the case of orchids), but here's a good quick list of reasons to study fungi. Maybe the top ten list is related to this article and is meant to bait the hook for those considering a career in mycology?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sorry for the delay...

I've been in South Africa for the past month and a half, and will be until the end of November. But there has been some interesting mushroom news out there...

First of all, I haven't been able to find out which of these lovely ladies became the Texas Mushroom Festival Queen, and I'm pretty ticked off about it. There's been no follow up. (sigh)
But other interesting news has been developing.

Could fungi have contributed to the Stradivarius sound? This article suggests so. Xylaria longipes is not really a mushroom, per se, but is related to what I've been calling dead man's fingers. I had a fling with this family awhile ago, especially the genus Hypoxylon, and was interested in the decay caused by these fungi. While basidiomycetes, especially polypores, cause rots of the brown and white varieties. Ascomycetes like Xylaria cause 'soft rot', which has been classified as a type of white rot, but apparently the loss of wood structure is not as extreme, and can apparently still be used for wood under stress (like in a violin).

In other news, a Spanish man found a puffball weighing over 17 pounds. He declared it "too good to eat". Actually, my experience has been that bigger isn't always better with fruiting bodies, as far as flavor goes. Usually, the bigger ones are older, and may be past their peak. The puffball in question was a basidiocarp of Lycoperdon perlatum (in the article, Lycoperdum, which is incorrect), which has a funny translation.

And finally, mycodiesel? It appears that a certain fungus may be capable of turning wood fiber (cellulose) into diesel. Now wouldn't that be something? I mean, it shouldn't be such a surprise, seeing as yeasts have been converting sugar into ethanol for us for thousands of years, as well as making carbon dioxide to give us this day our daily bread. In the case of myco-diesel, the fungus in question is a mold (or mould, if you will), in the sense that it is a microfungus that may produce a macroscopic fruiting body, typically somewhere you don't want it. You can learn a lot about moulds (or molds) from this site. Why are molds and molds so different? I've often wondered, but have no answer.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

In the mushroom news...

Let's see, what's going on in the mushroom news this week.
First, the bad news: more mushroom poaching tales here and a bit more locally(Florida), here. People eating poisonous mushrooms. A Nebraska woman complained about the mold in her apartment, and was ignored until a mushroom was found growing out of her carpet. Note: Molds do not produce mushrooms. Both are fungi, and require damp conditions to sporulate (fruit), but they are NOT the same thing. No word on what kind of mushroom it was, of course. Could have been a morel!

Now the good news: Mushrooms provide some good nutrition, may even be considered a SUPERFOOD! And in other good news, an enzyme produced by many fungi, laccase, may serve as an important catalyst in fuel cells. Maybe some good environmental benefits from them fungi, eh?
And by next week we should know who the next Texas Mushroom Festival Queen will be!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

In the mushroom news...

...two Germans were arrested in Australia for trying to leave the country with a bounty of fungal samples.
And, check out these lovely young ladies, one of whom will be the the next Texas Mushroom Festival Queen!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Got my new mushroom book

I just got my copy of Mushrooms of the Southeastern United States, by Alan E. Bessette, William C. Roody, Arleen R. Bessette, and Dail L. Dunaway. What can I tell you? I'm tickled pink to have it in my library, and it will certainly help me in my identifications. They cover lots of different macrofungi other than gilled mushrooms sensu stricto (agarics), including puffballs, crusts, cup and saucers, bird's nests, carbon fungi, and polypores. Beautifully illustrated, including keys (which I haven't gotten to test out yet), and even some mushroom recipes. Unfortunately, I'm about to leave the country for a couple of months, so I'll miss a good chunk of the fall fruiting, as well as the rest of the college football season, baseball playoffs, and elections.
It's a bit spendy, but an indispensable addition to any Alabamian mycologist's library.

In Alabama news, you may have heard of Dothan, Alabama's recent incentive program to bring more Jews to the area. If you are Jewish, and are considering moving to an area of moderate climate, you may wish to consider Dothan, as there's a cash prize involved.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

So you've discovered an ancient yeast in an amber deposit, what do you do?

Brew beer, of course! That's what a Cal Poly researcher did. The amber deposit may be as old as 45 million years, and had over 2000 different microorganisms trapped inside, including a yeast which, although a bit choosy in its carbon diet, still was able to ferment and make beer.

In other cool myco-news, an article just came out in PLoS ONE about the speed of spore discharge in some coprophilous fungi. It turns out that some fungi can shoot their spores at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. Among those fungi examined was a species of Pilobolus, the hat-throwing zygomycete (not the dance troupe), which is an important part of any intro mycology lab, and which has a very cool mechanism for shooting its spores straight up into the air for maximal dispersal.
To view the action, Yafetto et al. used a camera with an amazing 250,000 frames per second capture rate!

Friday, September 19, 2008

An actual Alabama fungus article!

While I'm not the only mycologist in the world, nor the only person in Alabama (Alabamians do outnumber mycologists in the world, you can be sure), neither am I the only mycologist in Alabama. But one thing I'm pretty certain about at this point, is that I am the only mycologist in Alabama blogging about it. So while I usually post news of a fungal bent, I also post about some things in Alabama, and some things about fungi that I find in the local area. Here though, is an unexpected surprise: an actual article from the Birmingham News about mushrooms in Alabama. More specifically, about the fairy rings like the ones I've recently observed.
They also mention the existence of the North Alabama Mycological Society, which I should really check out, and you should too. And another bonus, is finding some good resources on mushrooms for all the Alabama mycologists out there, including some field guides on southeastern mushrooms!

Holy cow! In other news, History Channel is going to have a program on fungi this week, on Modern Marvels! I may have to check it out if I can, although that's also when some important pigskin is happening, too.

Friday, September 12, 2008

More Mushroom News!

It seems as though mushroom news is trying to keep pace with mushroom fruiting. Which is to say, there's been quite a lot of it.

It British Columbia, three men died at an industrial mushroom facility in a 'composting accident', prompting a wave of farm inspections. The worst composting accident I've had to date is a bad case of maggots. Just gotta dry that pile out and try to keep the meat and dairy out of it.

In other mushroom related news, two new video games are coming out from Nintendo. Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi, for DS, and Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars for the Wii. The basic premise is that a meteorite strikes the earth, and rather than wiping out dinosaurs or creating a race of zombies, it makes the mushrooms sentient and animate. According to the website, nice edibles like boletes (Boletus spp.) and morels (Morchella spp.) form utopian societies, while poisonous genera like Lepiota and Amanita become, surprise surprise, jerks. I did espy a bolete with gills, rather than tubes, which is just silly. Enemies include jackalopes, chihuahuas, rabbits, spiders, and moles.
Les Claypool, formerly of Primus fame, has written music for the games. You can hear some at the website for the game. Someone needs to tell this other yahoo that mushrooms don't have to 'come to life'. They are already plenty alive, even if they aren't motile. Sigh, zoocentrism strikes again.

And finally, if you're travelling through Macau or Hong Kong, you may want to stay away from canned cream of mushroom soup for a little while. Nothing grave, just a little foul smell when you open the can. Really, you should be trying the local stuff anyway.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What the ...? Hey, it's Mushroom Month!

Well, knock me over with a feather. I just checked the mushroom news, and apparently, September is Mushroom Month. It's being celebrated in Canada, and Pennsylvania, but it seems reasonable that it would be a pan-North American phenomenon. There's been plenty of mushroom activity around here, as the flurry of recent posts would indicate. If you'd like to celebrate with a fancy piece of clip art, you may go here. Or just check out this example:

You could even send someone a nice e-card. Isn't that nice? Happy Mushroom Month!

Now I have to wonder, will there be a Mold Month? Rust and Smut Week? Yeast Day?
How about a Fungi Imperfecti Festival?

Monday, September 8, 2008

The rare lacquered bracket

Here's another fungus in the news, a rare shelf fungus of the genus Ganoderma, G. resinaceum, otherwise known as the lacquered bracket (try saying that ten times fast). It appears that an amateur mycologist stumbled upon it in Worcestershire, UK.

We do have Ganodermas here in Alabama. According to North American Polypores (the 2 volume tome on these fungi, sadly out of print), there are three species in Alabama, G. applanatum, G. lobatum, and G. lucidum. Ganoderma applanatum is known as the artist's conk, due to the staining reaction that occurs when the hymenium (pore surface) is scratched. Kind of like that bolete over there with my name on it. Artist's conks are really common.

Ganoderma lobatum, I haven't seen. Or if I have I didn't know about it.

Ganoderma lucidum
is also known as reishi or ling zhi, and like the fungus in the article, may have some medicinal properties. It's also really common, with a lacquered appearance and often, an offset stipe.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Follow up on neighbor's fairy ring

I've just keyed out a mushroom from my neighbor's yard, and I do believe it to be Chlorophyllum molybdites, a common lawn mushroom of the Lepiotaceae (or rather, the Lepiotoid clade). Apparently, it is one of the most common agents in mushroom poisoning, although the toxin is rarely fatal. Key features include: a scaly cap (due to veil remnants, typical of Leps), an annulus (ring around the stipe or stalk), and gills free, at first whitish-yellowish, turning green and yielding a greenish spore print (hence chloro meaning green and phyllum meaning leaf or gill in the case of mushrooms). So, perhaps my neighbor is wise in plucking these mushrooms from her yard, to prevent bold mycologists from attempting to eat them.

Also, I just got back from a trip out west to Tuscaloosa. Quite a few mushrooms busting through over there. Quite a few. Boletes, Amanita, all kinds of good stuff...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Alas, Horse Whisperer author not Mushroom Whisperer

Mushrooms strike again. This time, it's the author of "The Horse Whisperer", Nicholas Evans. Apparently what he thought would be edible and choice were poisonous and life-threatening. The offending basidiocarps were Cortinarius speciosissimus (syn C. rubellus, above). Generally speaking, Cortinarius spp. are not really things for people to eat. According to "The Great Encyclopedia of Mushrooms", one might confuse the species in question for a certain species of chanterelle (Cantharellus tubaeformis). But chanterelles don't truly have gills like these guys do, and their spore print is not rusty brown like the corts.

People, please. When in doubt, throw it out. Your liver and kidneys will thank you. The old saw still holds, "there are old mycologists, and there are bold mycologists, but there are few old, bold mycologists".

Also, an update. My neighbor's fairy ring is fruiting AGAIN less than a week after she diligently plucked all the mushrooms and pitched them into the street.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another mycophobe

Just saw an article about an air passenger who's allergic to mushrooms, who had a jar of mushroom juice drip on him in the middle of a flight. This forced an emergency landing. What are the chances?
No word on what species of mushrooms was involved, but I'll keep looking into it.

My neighbor, mycophobe

My neighbor, bless her heart, hates mushrooms. She has a lovely fairy ring of mushrooms that sprouts up everytime it rains. She dutifully plucks every single mushroom and chucks them in the street. These pics aren't of her yard, but are nearby.
Tropical Storm Fay came through our corner of Alabama, and now the whole place is bursting forth with succulent basidiocarps, the more technical terms for most mushrooms. We've seen some more boletes coming up too, and I'm still not planning on eating them.

In other news, I've added Wisconsin to the list of States I've visited. WooHoo!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fungal Entomophagy vs Insect Mycetophagy: a lesson from Butch

Here's a link to a flash game featuring an insect-eating mushroom named Butch, as opposed to an insect eating mushrooms. The war of the creepy crawlies goes both ways, with lots of insect groups reliant on fungi for food and shelter, and fungal taxa reliant upon insects. I work with ophiostomatoid fungi, which includes things like the causal agents of Dutch elm disease, Ophiostoma ulmi and O. novo-ulmi. These fungi rely upon their insect vectors for transportation, and have sticky spores on long appendages to "paint" their beetles with spores as they leave the tree they were born and raised in to move on to their next victim. Ambrosia beetles possess mycangia, which are pockets on their exoskeletons, specifically for carrying the spores of their fungi, which are what the larvae eat. Some mycangia even have glands to feed the fungi while in transit!
There are other mycetophagous families of beetles, such as the pleasing fungus beetles (Erotylidae), hairy fungus beetles (Mycetophagidae), handsome fungus beetles (Endomychidae), tooth necked fungus beetles (Derodontidae), silken fungus beetles (Cryptophagidae), round fungus beetles (Leioidae). The list goes on and on. What do you expect? They're BEETLES.
Anyone who has hunted for wild edible mushrooms knows how much little creepy crawlies are also enamored of tasty basidiocarps. Springtails, fungus gnats, and other arthropods are often the first on the scene, and can protein-enhance an unwary mycotroph.
One of the best seminars I've ever witnessed was about leaf-cutting ants in the tropics. Leaf cutters don't eat the leaves, they feed them to their fungus gardens underground in vast colonies. It turns out that the fungus they eat is susceptible to a mycoparasite, which is inedible to the ants. How do the ants tend there gardens? The first thing they do is to try and weed their garden physically. When that doesn't work, they use another symbiont, a bacterium that produces and antibiotic, to treat the infestation.

As for insect-eating mushrooms, there's nothing quite like Butch out there, but there are some pretty neat entomoparasites, like the zygomycetous Entomophthorales. When Entomophthora muscae infects a fly, it will hijack its nervous system, making it crawl upwards until it explodes, thus serving as a great vector for the wind-blown spores.
Beauveria bassiana (Hyphomycetes) will attack just about anything with an exoskeleton, I am told, and is being studied as a potential biological control agent for many insect pests.
And there's also the nematode killing fungi, which can catch the tiny worms in loops of hyphae, or inject spores into their prey, or release swimming spores after their quarry, or just stick them on their bodies. But nematodes are not insects, of course, so let's not get too excited.

Friday, May 16, 2008


What are my favorite sections of the library, you probably would never ask? Here they are.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mushroom torture

Good NIGHT!, people. Don't ever do this to mushrooms, ever. Please. But if you want a laugh, check out this blog of hilarious Weight Watchers recipe cards from the 1970's.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

BONUS: How to play Sweet Home Alabama on the guitar!!!

Can video

I've been real busy finishing up the term. Facebook is stealing from the blog's face-time. I'm sorry to those who may have been interested. Here's a video of the ol' timey German psychedelic band Can performing a song called "Agaricoid Basidiocarp". No wait, it's actually called "Mushroom". I have my doubts that these fellas ever toured in Alabama, but if you know otherwise, drop me a comment.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Interesting cover of Sweet Home Alabama

This is a Finnish band, the Leningrad Cowboys, with the Red Army Choir.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Long time, no blog,

So here's a very strange mushroom related video link.
It does appear that the protagonist is cooking and eating an Amanita muscaria, which does have hallucinogenic properties, but could just as easily kill you.
So I wouldn't accept this guy's liver for a transplant on a dare.