Sunday, May 22, 2011

Happy Birthday to a prominent Alabamian?

Today would have been the 97th Birthday of jazz artist Sun Ra, who first appeared on Earth in Birmingham,AL on this day in 1914 with the name of Herman Poole Blount.  After an experience where he claimed a passage to the planet Saturn, he later legally changed his name to Le Sony'r Ra, and lived in the persona of an intergalactic traveller. 

Sun Ra was a pioneering musician even within the highly creative medium of jazz.  His song titles and lyrics often feature clever word play and focus on the themes of space travel, the empowerment of African Americans, and Egyptology.  His band, the Arkestra,continues to play today, and contains the forward and reverse of his adopted surname (RA), as well as supporting the idea that his intergalactic travels were like those on a great Ark such as Noah's, or that the entire Earth exists as just such an Ark. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Cryptomycota! The new, new thing

The mycologists I've worked with, in contrast with many of the botanists I've worked with, tend to be more comfortable saying "I don't know" if they can't identify a specimen of their chosen taxonomic interest.  It is a necessity, as we like to believe that most of our plant species (at least in the temperate regions) have been described, while we admit that alpha-taxonomy of fungi is far behind.  Fungi are essentially microorganisms, with reduced morphology (fewer distinguishing characteristics), and we often rely on what we can culture, which is a small proportion of the total diversity, as DNA techniques demonstrate. 

Thus, I am surprised and not surprised to learn of a new lineage of fungi, just published in the current issue of Nature.  I am not surprised that it has been found, but I am surprised at the proposed diversity of this new lineage, which the authors claim may approach half of the total diversity of kingdom Fungi.  This new lineage appears to ally with basal lineages of fungi, (e.g. the chytrid genus, Rozella), and members have been found in an amazing diversity of habitats, from marine sediments, to eutrophied freshwater, treated drinking water, and soil around the roots (rhizosphere) of corn and aspen.

These fungi appear to be capable of producing a flagellum, like the chytrids (but lost in the other lineages of fungi), and don't have a chitinous cell wall, but they do appear to have assimilative feeding, like good and true fungi do. 

This is a watershed event for mycology, folks. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Get rich quick hunting mushrooms!

TRUE STORY:  A Springfield, OH woman won $100,000 in a raffle, and found out just as she was about to go out hunting for morels.  Upon calming down from the excitement, she did get out on her foray, although the article stops short of telling if she found any. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, I thought I'd share one of my favorite words to say, "HUITLACOCHE"! (Wheedle-la-CO-chay).  Try saying it.  Try not enjoying it.  What can I say, it's one of the most spirited words I know that pertains to the fungal kingdom.

What is it? We do have it here in the US, including Alabama, and it's actually a fungal sign of disease on ears of corn.  It's caused by Ustilago maydis, which is a smut fungus. Smuts are basidiomycetes, which makes them close kin to rusts, mushrooms, polypores, jellies, and sundry others.  Close is a relative term, here.  This article says it's in the mushroom family. No, it's in the mushroom Division, if you want to split hairs, which I clearly do.  But the recipe looks tasty! In here they suggest that the name is from the Aztec language of Nahuatl, meaning "raven poop". You can even buy it in a can. OK, that's soup, but I know you can get the straight stuff in a can as well. 

I did try eating it once, and it is not what I'd call a good experience.  I was working on a farm and would occasionally sample some of the corn fresh off the stalk, in the field, raw.  A little bit is okay, and very sweet. Anyway, I found a smutted ear and tried a little taste.  It was rather grainy.  The smut I tried was black, which is apparently better if you cook it, while the white stuff is better raw. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

New book for me to peruse/ Other fungal news

A new book on one of my favorite subjects has just come out.  I've just ordered it, even though I have a shelf full of mushroom and fungus books. While the old saw tells us we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, it does appear to have a very nice cover, and being written by a pair of old hands from the British Mycological Society, I have high expectations.

In other fungal news, fungi appear to be on the move again.  I got this through my news-alerts and attempted to chase the rabbit down the hole to the original source, only to find my library doesn't subscribe (frown). However, the article suggests that truffles have been found in an area in previously not known to have them, north of the Alps. They hypothesize the cause is climate change.  Click on that link if you want to see a cute dog with a gigantic truffle.

I also learn in this article of the existence of a breed of dogs known for their ability to hunt truffles: the Lagotto Romagnolo.  At $2500+, I don't think I'll be getting one any time soon, though there is a club (actually two clubs) for their people here in the US.

While Australians may have been salivating at the thought of a bumper crop of pistachios, Colletotrichum acutatum seems to have gotten to them first, unfortunately.  This fungus, which causes an anthracnose, affects a broad range of plant hosts, including Pistacia vera (Anacardiaceae).  The article goes on to suggest that this isn't the only fungal disease outbreak occurring in Australia this year.  Blame it on the rain

"Worm-grass" is neither worm nor grass, but as you can guess from its mention here, is a fungus.  In this article, about Cordyceps spp.(though it is not mentioned by name), it is suggested that harvesting of this fungus may be threatening the delicate ecology of the Tibetan Plateau.

And finally in this installment of the Fungal News, another item that I have WANT for, a Super Mario Mushroom lamp.  While the article claims it is a 1UP lamp, it appears to come in PowerUp as well.

I'm okay, lots of other Alabamians are not.

While I tend to focus more on fungi than the state where I live and blog, we've just faced a terrible tragedy here in Alabama.  Myself and the area immediately around me were spared, but there are many people in Alabama who were not so fortunate.  Please consider those impacted by the tornadoes, and give whatever you can to help.

Thank you.