The use of puffballs and other fungi for medicinal uses is well known, but the use of them for religious objects is less well known. In a review of the uses of puffballs amongst North American Indians, Burk (1983) reports that the Blackfoot tribe believed that puffballs were fallen stars that fell to earth during supernatural events. They wer often burned as incense to keep ghosts away. Some medicine men would take hollow dried puffballs, fill them with gravel and use as a sort of rattle to ward off evil spirits. Puffballs were often painted around the base of Blackfoot tipis to insure that those within would be able to have a good fire which was so important in Indian life.
Source: Burk, W. (1983). Puffball uses among North American Indians. J.Ethnobiol.3(1):55-62
Fungi form an important part of the diet of Red Squirrels and there are a number of reports of this from the UK (see another fascinating fact). However, an article in Finland by Seppo Sulkava and Erik Nyholm tells an amazing story. There, Red Squirrels "pick" a variety of fungi (mainly boletes) and store them in trees where they dry. The dried stores are then eaten through the long winter and form up to 25% of the diet. The squirrels store all sorts of fungi. Boletus edulis, Leccinum versipelle, Suillus bovinus, S.luteus, S.variegatus, Paxillus involutus, Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca, Gomphidius glutinosus, Chroogomphus rutilus, Laccaria laccata, Armillaria mellea, Mycena galericulata, Cortinarius trivialis, Russula decolorans, Polyporus brumalis, Sarcodon imbricata and Rhizopogon luteolus were all listed. The fungi were taken up into the trees and stored in a fork between the main and side twig or left supported by conifer needles. It is stated that the mushrooms soon soften but then dry and fasten firmly on the twig. Squirrel diet was then sampled through the winter and the dried fungi showed to take up to 25% of their diet.
This has also been reported from England and Scotland (Lurz and South, 1998) with transects in coniferous plantations finding 58 fruiting bodies in trees. 49 were of Russula ochraleuca, 7 of R.emetica (!), 1 of R.vesca and one of Collybia maculata. These however were short lived with most gone after 2 weeks. The damp weather probably not being conducive to drying of the fungi.
Another study looked at red squirrels in the Alps. There all the squirrels looked at had eaten hypogeous fungi (underground fungi eg truffles) whilst only a few had eaten species of Bolete or Laccaria. They suggest that this could be because squirrels prefer the hypogeous fungi where these are available, that hypogeous fungi form an important part of the diet in early summer when pine nuts have not developed and that the squirrels will be playing a significant role in the dispersal of the spores of the hypogeous fungi spores.
Does this happen in Ireland? Has anyone puzzled over a bolete stuck up a tree? If so, please tell me, I'd love to know!! Photos accepted as well. And what about the digging you see in circles around the base of trees. Are these from squirrels digging from truffles?
Source: Sulkava, S & Nyhol, E. (1987). Mushroom stores as winter food of the Red Squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris, in northern Finland. Aquilo. Ser. Zool. 25:p1-8.
P. W. W. Lurz & A. B. South (1998). Cached fungi in non-native conifer forests and their importance for red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris L.) J. Zool. Lond. 246, 468–471.
S. Bertolinoa, A. Vizzinib, L.A. Wautersc, G. Tosic (in prep). Consumption of hypogeous and epigeous fungi by the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in subalpine conifer forests. Forest Ecology and Management
A recent paper by Ursula Peintner, Heidi Ladurner and Giampaolo Simonini in Mycological Research details research undertaken in the Xerocomus chrysenteron group (Xerocomus, Boletus, that is another topic for another time...). They took many morphological features like spores, features of the hyphae in the cap cuticle and put them through rigorous statistical tests and then backed it all up with molecular data. It was prompted by the realisation that there was a different species lurking in the often grey area between B.chrysenteron and B.pruinatus. This species is noted by its striate spores (difficult to see with a light microscope), 'pruinatus hyphae' (both features typical of B.pruinatus), but with a cap cuticle more like B.chrysenteron. This species was described and called Xerocomus cisalpinus. It can be quickly separated from B.chrysenteron by its 'pruinatus hyphae'. These are thick walled amyloid hyphae in the stipe context. To see them, take a sample of stipe context, treat with Melzers and then wash off with concentrated chloral hydrate. These hyphae should then stand out. To distinguish X.cisalpinus from B.pruinatus, the spores are on average less than 5um wide in cisalpinus, the context is pale yellow rather than bright yellow in pruinatus, the lower stipe especially blues strongly and the cap is always cracked.
When they studied all the micromorphological features, they showed that spore size is a good character but that there is a wide variation and a statistically significant number should always be measured. The structure and length of the end cells in the cap cuticle is also a good feature as are 'pruinatus hyphae'. If all these are looked at, the importance of striate spores in identifying the species lessens which is great news to all of us with light microscopes.
This is an important paper in terms of identifying this difficult group of boletes with excellent drawings of the cells in the cap cuticle and a revised key to the group. However, they don't recognise B.communis describing it as a brown form of B.rubellus. British mycologists might disagree with this.
Now we have to find out if what we have been calling B.chrysenteron is really B.cisalpinus and there are some indications that B.chrysenteron could turn out to be much much rarer than we ever imagined...... The only problem is getting ahold of chloral hydrate solution to look for the pruinatus hyphae. As it (apparently) is used as a date rape drug, it is not easy to get.
Source: Peintner, U., Ladurner, H. & Simonini, G. (2003) Xerocomus cisalpinus sp.nov., and the delimination of species in the X.chrysenteron complex based on morphology ad rDNA-LSU sequences. Mycol.Res. 107(6): p659-679.
Drug taking allegations were common in the ancient Olympics just like with the modern ones and one of the most commonly used performance enhancers was the Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria. It is even rumoured that Pythagoras of the triangle fame took it when he won his boxing gold to give him a crazy hallucinogenic boost.
This is a very important question in conservation terms so it is good to get some good science looking at this question. Although the research looked at Norway Spruce forests in Sweden which are obviously different to our forests, the results are interesting. Old growth forests had 80% more species than mature forests and 38% more than overmature managed forests. They estimated that threatened species were usually found in forests with over 20 m3/ha of dead wood and it is the volume, but also the diversity of dead wood that is critical. They are even recommending killing trees in managed forests to try to increase polypore diversity.
Source: Penttilä, R, Siitonen, J and Kuusinen, M. (2004) Polypore diversity in managed and old-growth boreal Picea abies forests in southern Finland. Biological Conservation 117(3), p271-283.
Dead wood fungi are not found in large quantities in managed forests (see above). A study in Sweden recorded the succession of fungi on stumps and logs for 9 years and showed that logs were significantly richer than stumps with annual diversity peaking 4-7 years after logging. The greater diameter of the log, the more diverse it was mycologically, but surprisingly, the diversity was not linked to shade. Hence they recommend leaving large cut logs in managed forests as there appears to be no difference in the fungal diversity on felled trees and trees that died naturally.
Source: Lindhe, A, Åsenbladb, N, and Toresson, H (2004) Cut logs and high stumps of spruce, birch, aspen and oak – nine years of saproxylic fungi succession. Biological Conservation 119(4), p443-454
Recent research in Sweden was looking at fungal diversity in fine dead woods (twigs, small branches) against coarse dead wood (logs). It found that ascomycetes preferred the fine debris and basidiomycetes the coarse debris. 75% of ascomycetes, but only 30% of basidiomycetes were found exclusively on the fine debris and 2% of ascos and 26% of basidios were found exclusively on the coarse debris.
Source: Nordén,B, Ryberga,M, Götmarkb,F and Olaussona ,B (2004): Relative importance of coarse and fine woody debris for the diversity of wood-inhabiting fungi in temperate broadleaf forests. Biological Conservation 117(1), p1-10.
The following was taken from Richard Mabey’s book “Food for Free” which in turn took it from an article by J.E.Manners in Country Life on 7th Jan 1971.
The last of the professional truffle hunters stopped work in 1930. His name was Alfred Collins and he worked in the Winterslow area of Wiltshire. He hunted for truffles, mainly the Summer Truffle, Tuber aestivum, using two trained Spanish poodles. The truffles grew under beech trees at a depth of about 3 inches. If they grew any deeper than this, they were no good. The young dogs were trained by tying them to an older one and they often its nose rubbed with a truffle to give it the scent. Their noses had to be looked to keep them in a good state. Once the dog found the truffle, the truffle had to be quickly removed from its mouth before it ate it! The dogs could often smell the truffles from 20 yards away and even Alfred Collins could smell them or feel them underfoot. Small clouds of flies were also a give away.
The truffles had to be eaten quickly, usually within four days, but could be preserved in vinegar. On a good day, Alfred could collect 25lbs of truffles. In the early 1920s, truffles fetched 2s 6d per pound, by 1930, the price had risen to 5s 6d. His father once found a truffle weighing over 2lbs which he sent to Queen Victoria.
Some very familiar fungi have some strange habits. Fungi in the genera Hohenbuehelia and Pleurotus which includes the The Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus both have devised cunning traps for nematode worms that may live or crawl over their fruiting bodies. Pleurotus species microdroplets of an acid - transdecenedioic acid - that is aimed at the nematodes. It produces these droplets on the ends of aerial hyphae and nematodes that brush against enough of these droplets eventually become paralysed. The hyphae then enter the nematodes mouth and anus and grow inside the nematode digesting its contents. Species of Hohenbuehelia have a slightly different method growing adhesive knobs. If a nematode becomes stuck on one of these knobs, hyphae penetrate the nematode and digest it from the inside.
Species in the genera Pleurotus, Hohenbuehelia, Lentinus and Panus have been argued about taxonomically for a long time with the species often switching names. Now, this habit of consuming nematodes, backed up by DNA work, is proving to be a defining character. Hohenbuehelia and Pleurotus are now shown to be distinctive from Lentinus and Panus and this strange habit has solved a long term controversy. But will it affect your choice of edible fungi??
Source: Thorn, R.G et al (2000): Phylogenetic analysis and the distribution of nematophagy support a monophyletic Pleurotaceae within the polyphyletic pleurotoid-lentinoid fungi. Mycologia 92(2), pp 241-252
John Bjarne Jordal and Geir Gaarder have written a paper in Blyttia, the Journal of the Norwegian Botanical Society about the waxcap, Hygrocybe vitellina. They suggest it is an oceanic species as it is only found in Norway in sites, usually coastal, that are outside the January 0°C isotherm quite unlike all other waxcap species. In Europe, it is only found in Norway, Denmark, Great Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands. It was first described from Sweden, but there is no type specimen. As it has not been refound there, it is possible this was not actually H.vitellina given the oceanic nature of the species. If this is true, the name is wrong and it may actually be H.luteolaeta or H.nitida an American species. For full details see Jordal, J.B. & Gaarder, G. (2002) Hygrocybe vitellina - an oceanic species. Blyttia 60(4), p195-202. (text in Norwegian apart from the abstract). In Northern Ireland, we have 7 sites for this species varying from uplands (Slemish, Cave Hill, Garron Plateau) to lowland grasslands (Barnett's Park) to two sites in woods (Ness Wood and Lusty Beg Island).
The National Poisons Information Centre (NPIC) in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin recently produced a paper on the incidences of mushroom poisoning cases in Ireland for the EAPCCT International Congress in Lisbon. They reviewed all mushroom poisoning cases reported to the NPIC between 1997 and 2000. In total, there were 114 enquiries - 0.22% of all poisoning enquiries. 62 of these enquiries were related to the taking of the magic mushroom Psilocybe semilanceata. The average age of these patients was 17.5 and they were predominantly male (7:1 male:female). 43 of the enquiries were due to the ingestion of unknown mushrooms. These were mostly by children (average age 3.5) and there was one case of an animal having eaten a mushroom (there is no note if the animal was sick or what the animal was). Gastrointestinal symptoms were the main effect. There were also 5 cases of mycophiles eating the wrong mushroom. The Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthodermus) was responsible for 2 cases causing headache, dry mouth, muscle weakness and abdominal pains. There was one case of poisoning due to the Devil's Bolete, Boletus satanus, which is very interesting given the paucity of records of this species in Ireland. The father had diaphoresis (heavy sweating), sinus tachycardia (increased heart beat) and first degree heart block and his 4 year old daughter had vomiting, sinus tachycardia and bad stomach pains. I wonder if that girl will ever believe her father again! Finally, the most serious case. One man collected a wide range of fungi and cooked them all up. 6 -12 hours after the meal, he had severe gastrointestinal problems. The remnants of his meal were examined and in the mix was the Death Cap, Amanita phalloides and the Destroying Angel, Amanita virosa !! He arrived in hospital about 60 hours after the meal with acute renal failure (kidney failure) and hepatic impairment (liver malfunction). He was given haemodialysis and chemotherapy immediately. The liver damage was most acute 5 days after the meal, but luckily he was not quite at the stage of organ transplant. He survived, but was dependent on haemodialysis for 5 weeks and still 2 years later, his serum creatinine levels were elevated. These elevated levels indicate abnormal kidney function.
Source: Cassidy, N., Casey, P.B. & Tracey, J.A. (2002) Incidence of Mushroom Poisoning in Ireland 1997-2000. Proceedings of the European Asssociation of Poisons Centres and Clinical Toxicologists XXII International Congress. Reproduced with the permission of the NPIC.
Interestingly, the only known case of death due to the Death Cap in Ireland was caused by a non-Irish mushroom. Apparently, a Russian stewardess working for Aeroflot arrived badly ill in Shannon airport having eaten the Death Cap in Russia before flying. Unfortunately, this case did not have as happy an ending as she died in hospital
Most fungi are terrestrial, but there are a number of species that are aquatic. The main aquatic group are the Chytridiomycetes which are a primitive group of fungi that were possibly the ancestors of all the fungi. There are however there are about 11 species of Basidiomycetes (species with spores forming on structures called basidia – most of our toadstools belong to this group) that are also aquatic occurring in either freshwater or marine environments. Four of these species are ballistotrophic, that is they forcibly eject their spores thus remaining "typical" basidiomycetes. However, seven of these species have lost this capability and have become more like underwater puffballs enclosing their spores inside an outer structure. One of the more common British marine basidiomycetes is Nia vibrissa which forms 1-3mm wide subglobose unstalked pale cream to orange brown fruiting bodies. It is found on woody substrates like driftwood, sunken ship timbers (eg the Mary Rose) and Cord Grass, Spartina spp. culms and rhizomes. The evolution of this marine species has fascinated some scientists who looked at its molecular relationships with other fungi. They clearly showed that although it is a gasteroid fungi in appearance, it is not related to other gasteroid fungi. It is closest to the Mangrove Fungus, Halocyphina villosa, which is close to the terrestrial fungus, Henningsomyces candidus. This suggests that the evolution trail was first marine, then terrestrial and this species has curiously returned to the marine environment. Other terrestrial fungi that could be related (suggested by molecular work) are Schizophyllum commune and Fistulina hepatica, the Beefsteak Fungus. These are both microscopical oddities with similarities to Nia vibrissa, but more work is needed to confirm this relationship.
Source: Binder, M. & Hibbert, D. (2001): Phylogenetic relationships of the marine gasteromycete Nia vibrissa Mycologia 93(4), pp. 670-688 &
Binder, M. & Hibbert, D. (2001): Evolution of Marine Mushrooms. Biol.Bull. 201: pp.319-322
Species that enclose their spores in an outer structure and that do not forcibly eject their spores have long been grouped into the Gasteromycetes. However, it was realised some time ago that this is not a valid taxonomic group, a point which molecular studies has proven. One factor that was pointed out some years ago was some "Gasteromycetes" eg the Dyeball, Pisolithus arhizus, was found to contain pulvinic acids, a substance only known to be synthesized by Boletes. Then it was also noticed that the ascomycete Sepedonium (teleomorph: Hypomyces) – the species that forms the yellow mould like bloom on decaying Boletes, also attacked earthballs in the genera Pisolithus and Scleroderma. This led to the realisation that these species were actually closely related to the Boletes and not other "gasteromycetes". Molecular work has since confirmed this and in addition, also put the Barometer Earthstar, Astraeus hygrometricus in the Boletes. Earthstar and Stinkhorns are closely related and are in the euagaric group, the Puffballs, Lycorperdon, are most closely related to Lepiota, and there are Gasteroid genera like the truffle Hymenogaster that are linked to the Cortinariaceae and even one species, Zelleromyces stephensii, that is related to Lactarius. We may have to get used to the Stump Puffball, Lycoperdon pyriforme, getting a new name because molecular work is showing it to be different to the rest of the genus Lycoperdon. This would not be a great surprise as it is the only Puffball on wood and there are microscopical differences with the rest of the group as well, but more work needs to be done to confirm this.
SOURCE: Binder, M. & Bresinsky, A. (2002): Derivation of polymorphic lineage of Gasteromycetes from boletoid ancestors. Mycologia 94(1), pp. 85-98. &
Kruger, D., Binder, M., Fischer, M. & Kreisel, H. (2001): The Lycoperdales: A molecular approach to the systematics of some gasteroid mushrooms. Mycologia 93(5) pp 947-957.
Molecular work (looking at DNA) continues to make us think about our understanding of many groups of fungi and their relationships and the Boletes are no different than other groups. It is now accepted that gasteroid fungi like the Earthballs (including Scleroderma spp.) are in the Boletales and recent studies are proposing a new suborder in the Boletales – the Sclerodermatinae which includes the Pisolithaceae (Pisolithus), the Astracaeae (Astraeus), the Calostomataceae (Calostoma), the Sclerodermataceae (Scleroderma & Veligaster), the Boletinellaceae (Boletinellus & Phlebopus) and the Gyroporaceae (Gyroporus). The interesting thing about this list is that molecular work is showing that the large fleshy fungi, Gyroporus cyanescens and G.castanea which look on the outside so like our normal "Boletes" are more closely related to Earthballs than the Cep, Boletus edulis! Sometimes molecular work is throwing up some quite surprising suggestions.
Another genus that is changing rapidly is Leccinum. The presence of certain chemical compounds plays an important role in grouping species of fungi. Most of the species in Boletus contain pulvinic acids which oxidise on exposure to air (hence the flesh goes blue when cut). However, Leccinum species do not contain pulvinic acids except in certain circumstances like the yellow colouration around insect holes in the flesh. They often contain caffeic and gallic acids which cause the blackening reaction of the cut flesh and the blue-green colours of other species in the stipe. These observations, combined with molecular research are suggesting changes in some species names, something we have to get used to as molecular research clears up some of our understanding of fungal evolution. Familiar species like L.carpini and L.crocipodium are being shown by molecular research, backed up by observations like just quoted, to be quite different from the rest of the known Leccinum species. Leccinum might thus have to be broken into two or three genera with the yellow fleshed L.crocipodium group forming a new genus and the L.carpini group forming another group. There is still more work to be done though…..
SOURCE: Binder, M. & Bresinsky, A. (2002): Derivation of polymorphic lineage of Gasteromycetes from boletoid ancestors. Mycologia 94(1), pp. 85-98. &
Binder, M. & Besl, H. (2000): 28S rDNA sequence data and chemotaxonomical studies on the generic concept of Leccinum. Italy. Centro Studi Micologici, Micologica pp.71-82.
A mite (Verroa) is attacking honey bees in GB (it hasn't arrived yet in Ireland) and is having devasting effects. Pesticides are often looked to as an answer, but the mite could become resistent to them and then the problem would take off again. However researchers have found six different types of fungi that attack the mite and destroy it from the inside. It is not easy becoming resistent to this sort of attack so fungi could provide an answer to this sticky problem.
A recent paper, available on the web (Miller, S., McClenn, T. & Buyck, B. Molecular Phylogeny of the Genus Russula) argues that one reason that Russulas are so difficult to identify is that their taxonomy is not fully understood. Various classifications like Romagnesi (1967), Bon (1988) and Sarnari (1998) have identified quite different classification systems. Also, features that are used to classify the different groups often intergrade and it is also not fully known if they are taxonomically important or not.
What colour is this?
In this paper, the authors used molecular techniques to look at Russula taxonomy and the characters used to identify them and quotes initial findings. For instance, the Compactae (eg R.nigricans) and Lactariodiae (eg R.delica) are found to be quite different and should not be in one section. There are other combinations and relationships suggested that were not previously conceived and for full details, see this paper.
Some, but not all, of the characters commonly used to identify Russulas were examined. Spore print colour was shown to be a good character with 'basal clades' or older more primitive groups of species having lighter colours than more recent clades that have more ochreous to yellow spore prints. Likewise, species with hot tasting gills tend to be older than mild tasting species. The acrid taste of many speces is due to sesquiterpenoid lactone compounds and their oxidative states. Fuchsinophile hyphae were only found in one closely related group with the exception of R.atropurpurea, R.ochraleuca and R.pulverulenta. These however have incrustations that are not fully acid resistant and the dark staining quickly fades (fuchsinophile hyphae can be seen when the hyphae have been first stained in the basic carbol fuchsin followed by Hydrochloric acid. Most parts of the hyphae lose their "basic" stain when the acid is added except for these acid resistant incrustations).
However, these characteristics are not clear cut as character loss or reversal appears to occur quite often. Other characters that have not been examined yet are the type and character of the cap cystidia (dermatocystidia), their reaction with sulphovanillin, basidia and spore characteristics and the type of pilius trama.
So this work is providing some interesting insights into Russula taxonomy and could eventually help the frustrated Russulologist.
A recent article in Mycological Research (Straatsma, G., Ayer, F. and Egli, S. (2001) Species Richness, abundance and phenology of fungal fruit bodies over 21 years in a Swiss forest plot. Mycol.Res. 105 (5) 515-523) reviewed 21 years worth of intensive survey in a reserve in Switzerland. Long term monitoring projects are so rare in mycology that this article offers some fascinating insights into what was going on in this wood. Some of the findings are included here, but it is well worth reading this article in full.
There are fears in New Zealand that all their native frog species could be decimated by the deadly fungus (to frogs) Batrochocchytrium dendrobatidis that has finally reached Kiwi shores. This fungus is responsible for the death of thousands of frogs and is thought to have come to New Zealand via imported frogs destined for the pet trade. New Zealand has a number of particularly ancient endemic species so this is a tragedy. Some already endangered species like the Archey's Frog are disappearing fast having disappeared from 80% of its known sites.
Source: Ready to Croak. New Scientist 6 April 2002, p.17
In 1998, when a new railway line was being built in the Netherlands near Hardinxveld in the centre of the country, two river dune systems were found with traces of human habitation in excavations. They were dated at 5500 to 4450 BC. Linked to these, a number of bits of wood with some associated fungi were found. Seven species were in a state that could be identified and all primarily wood inhabiting species hard in nature. They were Daldinia concentrica, Phellinus igniarius, Fomes fomentarius, Ganoderma australe (adspersum), Ganoderma lipsiense (applanatum), Gleophyllum trabeum and Ustulina deusta. The author of the paper also wondered if as they were found in proximity to human settlement if this might have meant that these species were being used by people maybe in making fires.
Source: J.Adema (2002) Paddestoelen in het Mesolithicum. Coolia 45(1) 31-32
It is obviously difficult to estimate how many species of fungi we may have in Northern Ireland. David Hawksworth (1991) estimated that, based on intensively recorded areas where the total numbers of fungi and higher plants were relatively well known, that there should be an approximate ratio of 1:6 higher plants to fungi. This would make fungi the second largest kingdom behind insects. This number includes lichens which are classified based on their fungal component, but not anamorphic fungi. So then if there are in the order of 1000 higher plants in Northern Ireland, we should have about 6000 species of fungi. Presently, excluding anamorphic fungi and including lichens, we have about 3000 species recorded so we are about half way in our knowledge of fungi in Northern Ireland (if this 1:6 estimate was not too conservative!)
But which fungi are better recorded than others in Northern Ireland. In January 2002, the following ratios of fungi have been recorded from Northern Ireland:
The figures from the BMS database (as of 30 January 2002) are a little different:
So this would indicate that our recording is very biased towards Basidiomycetes, "toadstools", that Myxomycetes and Anamorphic Fungi (thanks to Professor Muskett in the first part of the last century mainly) are actually relatively well recorded but that Ascomycetes have still a long way to go.
Source: BMSFRD and Hawksworth, D. (1991): The Fungal Dimension of biodiversity: magnitude, significance and conservation. Mycol.Res 95 (6): 641-655.
Pigs are well known as an essential item in hunting for black truffles, Tuber melanosporum, in the woods of Italy or France. But why? It is simply because a ripe truffles smells like male pig pheromones which means that the art to getting a truffle is stopping the excited pig from demolishing it. The smell is so strong that if you want to make a truffle omelette, you put four uncracked eggs and a fresh black truffle in a closed container in the fridge for a day and the eggs then taste of truffles!
Interestingly, now that most black truffles are farmed (hazel and oak saplings are infected with truffle spores so starting the ectomycorrhizal partnership), Australia and New Zealand have jumped on the bandwagon and started truffle farms. The truffles grow well in these climates and the big selling point is that the truffles come into season when the European season is over meaning fresh truffles year round!
Unfortunately, we do not have this wonderful fungus in Ireland and I have never been able to afford one out of the delicatessens.
Source: Festive Fungi: New Scientist, 22 December 2001
It certainly seems that money can be made in picking fungi in certain parts of the world. It has been estimated that the global trade in matsutake is between US$3-5 billion annually and that it is about US1.5 billion for chanterelles alone.
Source: David Aurora (2000): Wild Mushrooms and rural economics. In Fungal Conservation: Issues and Solutions.
A NERC studentship has started to look at the effects of different management regimes on fungi at the Soil Biodiversity Site at Sourhope in Scotland. The student, Lewis Deacon, has set up different plots: a control, a limed plot, a plot sprayed with nitrogen and lime and one sprayed with insecticide. The fungi present in each plot are looked at to try and work out what function they have and their importance to the ecosystem. It is early days, but in year one, it was found that the untreated plot had the most species (24), the limed plot 11 species and the plot sprayed with nitrogen and lime only 8 species. However, there were more microfungi on these latter plots! One of the most common species, Psilocybe semilanceata, the Liberty Cap, was most common in the plot sprayed with insecticide whilst on the limed and nitrogen + lime plots there were none at all. This makes me wonder if invertebrates could have a limiting effect on mycelia. Anyway, these are interesting results of what could be a very interesting study.
Source: Fruits of the Field, Lewis Deacon, NERC news Autumn 2001 issue. See also the Soil Biodiversity Programme
Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, the Frog Chytrid fungus responsible for some of the die-off of world amphibians, Cryphonectria parasitica, or Chestnut Blight that is responsible for the death of most of American chestnut trees, Ophiostoma ulmi, or the fungus that causes Dutch Elm disease and Phytophthora cinnamomi, or Phytophora root rot that kills many plants by reducing the movement of water and nutrients within the plant are the four fungi that have made it onto the World Conservations Union's Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) list of the 100 Worst Invasive Alien Species.
The Marbled White butterfly is a species of open land. As a slow flying butterfly, it needs a defence mechanism against predators. It was known to contain toxins as a defence, but it was not known until recently where those toxins came from. It now appears that its caterpillars target grasses infected with an un-named (in this article) endophytic fungi that contain lolines (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) from grasses. This is the first known instance of a butterfly obtaining its toxins from a fungus. It is just a pity we don't get this lovely butterfly here in Northern Ireland....
Source: Butterfly Conservation News No 78 Autumn 2001 p17
An article in the recent edition of the Mycologist (Radiocaesium intake in Great Britain as a consequence of the consumption of wild fungi: Barnett, C.L. et al, Vol 15, pt3, August 2001, p98-104) looked at the risk due to your health from eating wild fungi that may be radioactive following the Chernobyl disaster. This is a detailed article that looks at the radiocaesium concentrations in different species and while the total radiocaesium intake is within saftey guidelines, the highest amounts in the edible species were in ectomycorrhizal species with Hydnum repandum and the Boletes (and surprsingly Hygrocybe pratensis) being the worst species. The advice was to mix your intake with non-ectomycorrhizal species eg the field mushroom, Agaricus campestris or the Giant puffball, Calvatia gigantea. Interestingly, it was thought that if you pour the cooking liquids away just before eating, a lot of the radiocaesium would be discarded. This study was conducted in Great Britain and not Northern Ireland.
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