Saturday, April 24, 2010

Know Your Mushrooms, my review

I finally got to see "Know Your Mushrooms" (2008), the documentary by director Ron Mann. I've blogged about this movie a couple of times before, how it was being made, how it features music by the Flaming Lips.

The film was shot primarily at the Telluride Mushroom Festival in Colorado, and features Larry Evans, a mycophile and "mushroom gypsy". Also featured is Gary Lincoff, who is the technical consultant on the film. They go on a foray, give lectures, and even have a mushroom parade.
The film explains and expands upon many of the common ideas about mushrooms. The most common mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus), mushrooms as sources of hallucinogenic substances, wild mushrooms as edible and choice vs. poisonous and toxic.

The film features several quick quizzes including questions about the Humongous Fungus, and some old timey footage from documentaries and other sources as well. And snippets of interviews and talks with mycophiles including composer John Cage, physician Dr. Andrew Weil and Terence McKenna

Also, there is some speculation about the role of psychedelic mushrooms in driving human evolution, the importance of mycorrhizal fungi, and the potential for mycoremediation and mycomedicinals .

At the end, there is a message. "End Fungiphobia now". I highly recommend this film for anyone who cares enough about fungi to have read to this point. While there was little new information for a big myco-nerd like me, the material is accurate, and presents an excellent introduction to the world of fleshy sporocarps.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve

A good friend of mine from the AU Davis Arboretum invited me along on an Earth Day field trip up to the Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve, which is on land owned by Professor Jim Lacefield and his wife Faye. Prof. Lacefield is a geologist and author of the book "Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks", which is a fantastic reference for any student of Alabama's natural history.

Fossils! and a quarter for scale

The Preserve is in Colbert County, up in northwestern Alabama abutting Mississippi and Tennessee. They've got the biggest population of Alabama azalea (Rhododendron alabamense) in the state, as well as lots of other amazing flora.
The Alabama azalea in blooming glory

Azaleas, rhododendrons, blueberries, huckleberries, and many others are members of the Ericaceae, which is a family with its own sorts of mycorrhizas that are slightly different from typical ecto- or endo-mycorrhizas. Read the page from Penn State for more information.

Cypripedium parviflorum, a ladyslipper orchid.

All orchids are obligate mycotrophs, and all require nutrition from fungi at some point in their life cycle. Like the Monotropaceae (split off from the rest of the Ericaceae), some orchids lack chlorophyll throughout their lives and require nutrition from nearby photosynthesizing plants. That nutrition is mediated by fungi!

Pedicularis canadensis, Orobanchaceae
We also saw lots of the Canada lousewort pictured above. Louseworts are another hemiparasitic group of flowers, meaning they rely upon other plants. However, they do not require fungal mediation but produce their own haustoria with their roots.

As for the rest of the mycota, I didn't see a whole lot out there. Pretty much no mushrooms, but I did see a lot of mayapple rust. Mayapple is quite a common wildflower in the eastern US, and was flowering in great abundance yesterday. The distribution of the rust was very patchy, affecting single individuals here and there.
An uninfected mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum (Berberidaceae)

Mayapple rust is caused by Puccinia podophylli, and is an autecious rust, meaning it only requires one host. Compare this with apple-cedar rust, or cedar quince rust which are heteroecious. I *believe* it is also demicyclic (meaning it lacks a uredinial stage)

The upper (adaxial) leaf surface, note the discoloration and puckering
And the lower (abaxial) surface, with the characteristic aecial pustules.

As the host is not of much economical importance, not much research has been published on this rust for many years.

To sum up, not a great day for fungi, but a fantastic day for expanding my knowledge of Alabama's great flora and geological history.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

White Nose Fungus getting closer to Alabama/Know Your Mushrooms DVD

I've previously mentioned the white nose fungus, which has killed over a million bats in the eastern United States. This disease has led to the closing of several Alabama caves to try and prevent movement of the causal fungus, Geomyces destructans (link to pdf of the description of the fungus, via Tom Volk's Fungi). At present, the fungus has not been detected in Alabama, though it it advancing southward and getting close to western North Carolina, detected on the Tennessee side of Smoky Mountains National Park. This article has a current list of the states where WNF has been found, and known and potentially susceptible bat species further south. In my opinion the article is a little vague on those details.

In other myco-news, the film "Know Your Mushrooms" is out on DVD. I haven't seen it yet, but it just went to #1 on my NetFlix queue. I'll let you know what I think soon...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Holy Cow, I can't believe I missed this...

I just learned from Mycorant that two of the three professors killed in the UAH shooting were fungal biologists (neither of whom have I met). Dr. Gopi Padila was one of the victims.. He specialized in fungal genomics, and was working on the sequence of the Laccaria bicolor genome.

Dr. Maria Ragland Davis was another victim. She also worked in fungal genomics, only in Botrytis cinerea, examining the secretome of the fungus with LC-MS (liquid chromatography/mass spectroscopy.

Dr. Adriel Johnson Sr., whose research was in the realm of cell biology and nutritional physiology was the the third victim.

My belated condolences to the families of all the victims.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cedar quince rust

Yesterday it rained, which was greatly needed to take some of the yellow out of the air. The pollen has been off the charts. I took my car to the car wash and a few hours later it was dusty yellow again. But another effect of the cool, wet conditions was the fruiting of this fungus on our small juniper trees. At least I think they're junipers, definitely Cupressaceae. Yesterday the fruitings of this fungus looked slimy, like this...
and this...

But today, they've dried up and look more like this...
And this...
What is this strange orange ooze? Spoiler alert! It's in the title of this post. Cedar quince rust is in the same genus of rusts as apple cedar rust, Gymnosporangium. And like G. juniperi-virginianae and most species in the genus they are heteroecious (requiring two hosts to complete the life cycle) and demicyclic (lacking a uredinial stage). The hosts are in the Cupressaceae and Rosaceae. But clearly this is not cedar-apple rust. The telia of G. juniperi-virginianae are formed out of gall-like growths on the stems. When conditions are right, the telial horns project out of orifices, kind of like the eyes and ears of a stress-doll.

THAT up there is cedar apple rust

Cedar-quince rust, on the other hand, isn't associated with complex galls like cedar-apple rust, though it may cause branch swellings and flaky bark. It's the most important Gymnosporangium rust on the rosaceous hosts, quinces and others, according to Sinclair et al. I can't seem to find my newer version right now, oh wait, there it is! The causal fungus is G. clavipes, and it infects far more than just quince, including more than 480 rosaceous species in 11 genera (again, according to Sinclair and Lyon)! As you can see from the photos above, the smaller juniper branches are killed by the fungus, though the basal infections don't appear to be killing the tree in any hurry.

I just went out to check on my cedar apple rust gall on the juniper in my front yard, and it's gone! I thought I'd see if it fruited after yesterday's rain, but it's no longer there. I guess I never posted pictures of it either. They were a little blurry. But I do see some more small infections of G. clavipes on the big tree in the front yard. And here's a link to an even better photo of a G. clavipes infection, as well.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Red bay wilt reported on Gulf Coast

It was only a matter of time before this little ambrosia beetle brought its deadly cargo with it to Alabama and the Gulf coast. The ambrosia beetle Xyleborus glabratus is an exotic species, as is the fungus it carries, Raffaelea lauricola. The two work together to infest and infect red bay trees, which kills them in alarming fashion akin to other exotic organisms such as those causing Dutch elm disease and chestnut blight. It had been previously found along the southern Atlantic coast, and now this.