The remarkable Eyelash Fungus, Scutellinia scutellata
The black-rimmed red eyes stared at me, unblinking, and I stared back in amazement. Despite seeing many pictures of them in field guides, I had expected something much bigger. That’s the trouble with pictures, especially paintings that omit any surrounding vegetation which might give some sense of scale. These Eyelash Fungi were a mere 1 to 3mm across, and the lashes themselves were so fine that only with an eyeglass could I be certain that what I had found was indeed Scutellinia scutellata, the elusive Eyelash Fungus. Surely it should be referred to as ‘one of several eyelash fungi species’, as there are quite a few Scutellinia species - but no, it has been granted BMS-approved common name status as the Eyelash Fungus.
Asci and spores of the Eyelash Fungus
Scutellinia are fungi in the class Ascomycota, more commonly referred to as ascomycetes. They differ from cap-and-stem gilled mushrooms in producing their spores in pressurised tubes known as asci (singular ascus). Don’t ascus why, but the ascomycete fungi have huge spores (compared with basidiomycetes such as Field Mushrooms etc) and so they provide ideal opportunities for anyone new to fungal microscopy. Squash a tiny piece (so small you can hardly see it, and then use just half of it!) of the upper (fertile) surface between a glass microscope slide and its cover slip and the chances are that under any reasonably high-powered (x100 to x400 magnification) microscope you will easily be able to see the separate asci each with eight spores inside. Ripe spores will be the larger ones, but immature spores will almost certainly be visible too. Here (left) is one I made earlier.
For more pictures and information about the Eyelash Fungus, see our web page at:
During August 2012 I have received news of a number of sightings of Clathrus ruber, the Red Cage or Lattice fungus, much further north in Britain than in previous years. Nearly all appearances of this strange-looking fungus in the past have been in the Chanel Islands, the Isle of Wight, southern England or (very rarely) along the south coast of Wales. It’s a Mediterranean mushroom, and far more common in the Algarve than in Aldershot!
Has climate change enabled the spores to survive winter in northern England? A large group of Red Cage fungi sprung up recently in Daventry, Northamptonshire, and now I have received news and photographs of a fine but so far solitary specimen in a garden nead Huddersfield, in Yorkshire. At this rate these colourful, weird and very smelly members of the stinkhorn family, Phallaceae, will be over Hadrian’s Wall and fighting it out with Scotland’s armies of midges before long. Wish them luck!
Full taxonomic, distribution, habitat and identification details and together with more pictures of Clathrus ruber are online here…
If you take an interest in fungi, it won’t be very long before you are reading some of the serious scientific works on the subject of mycology. I did say reading… not necessarily understanding. The trouble is that, like anything else you might try to learn about – whether it be birdwatching or stamp collecting – the science of fungi is shrouded not so much in mystery (although mushrooms certainly are mysterious organisms) as in its own almost impenetrable jargon. Technical terms such as ‘cystidia’ and ‘infundibuliform’ can be looked up in a dictionary or Googled for guidance, but rarely do we find all that we need in one place. The same is largely the case with the history of mycology and, in particular, biographical details of great mycologists of the past: coverage is either superficial to the point where dates of birth and death are virtually all you get to know or, at the other extreme, you have to plough through pages of details of early childhood illnesses, preferences for plums over cherries, or whatever the author has been able to exhume (no corpse pictures in my own research so far, thank goodness!) and decided to fill the page with.
Having decided that what I most wanted to learn about was what an authority had contributed to the body of scientific knowledge and in what circumstances they did so – many had demanding careers outside of science and biology, but yet contributed enormously to what we know so far about the kingdom of fungi – I thought ‘Surely I cannot be alone in this need’. Hence, over the past few months, I have been gradually adding biographical details of mycological giants of the past to the fungi section of www.first-nature.com and I hope that the new pages will be a helpful start for anyone else seeking similar enlightenment. Famous French mycologist Lucien Quélet (1832 – 1899) is the latest addition to the Hall of Fame. His page is online here…
As well as naming and describing many fungal species (and despite recent rigorous assessment based on molecular analysis most of them have retained the names that Quélet gave them) Lucien Q is immortalised by two mushroom species that are named in his honour. One is Boletus queletii, a pored woodland bolete, and the other is Russula queletii, another woodland species, commonly referred to as the Fruity Brittlegill. Here is a picture of the latter:
Russula queletii, the Fruity Brittlegill, is one of two mushroom species that have been named in honour of Lucien Quelet
Getting on for 20,000 lichenised fungi (usually abbreviated to ‘lichens’) are known, and nearly all of them have an ascomycete (spore shooter) fungus as the mycobiont. Just a few dozen have basidiomycete (spore dropper) mycobionts, and these kinds of lichens are therefore referred to as basidiolichens. Half a dozen or so basidiolichens are found in Britain, and I saw one of them in early July 2012.
I had gone with colleagues from the Countryside Council for Wales and the National Trust to see some of the work going on to restore upland peat bogs on Migneint, a huge mountainous area in North Wales. Much of the work involves blocking up drainage ditches so that these vast upland bogs remain wet and so act as carbon storage reservoirs. (When peat bogs are drained the stored carbon, comprising dead sphagnum moss and plant debris built up over thousands of years, dries out and releases much of its carbon into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases.) There are many other ecosystem services from ‘healthy’ upland bog habitats, including maintaining vital river flows during periods of severe drought. We are not in drought-worry mode in Wales this summer!
The Lichen Agaric requires a sphagnum moss habitat
Growing in the sphagnum moss were pale ochre mushrooms that looked quite similar to Loreleia marchantiae, the Liverwort Navel – a small funnel-shaped cap-and-stem basidiomycete that grows on Umbrella Liverwort. These were rather paler, though, and on close inspection I noticed that the fungal fruitbodies were sprouting from green algal blobs on the stems of the sphagnum. They were, I realised, Lichenomphalia umbellifera – something that I had been hoping to see one day. (They are not rare, but they certainly don’t occur everywhere.) The fungal fruitbodies of this species, which some people call the Lichen Agaric, are cap-and-stem gilled fruitbodies related to the waxcaps, Hygrophoraceae.
With Fascinated by Fungi launched and so well received both in reviews and by the hundreds of people who have bought copies in the first six months of its availability, there is now a bit of time to update this blog, and in the wettest spring I can remember there ought to be plenty of grassland and woodland fungi around. Judging by the number of request for help in identifying fungi, many people are noticing mushrooms and starting to take a real interest. If you are a newcomer, then do take a look at www.first-nature.com/fungi where there are identification guides, a glossary, advice on safety, forays and loads more. If you already a seasoned fungiphile, here’s even advice on getting started in microscopy, understanding scientific terms, the ICBN classification system, and authirty names – plus brief biographies of several famous mycologists of the past..
What would be really nice would be to have your suggestions for improvements or new features that would make the site even more useful. More than 400,000 people a year visit the website and we do receive a lot of help already, so thanks very much if you have already sent us your suggestions, questions or contributions.
We had a tremendous attendance at the launch of Fascinated by Fungi, Pat O’Reilly’s amazing new book. More than 150 people turned up for the launch at the National Botanic Garden of Wales on Saturday 24th September 2011, and among them were several noted experts from the world of mycology including David Harries the county recorder for Pembrokeshire, Nigel Stringer (who needs no introduction to fellow fungi enthusiasts) and Ray Woods, who ranks among the all-time greats in communicating a fascination with the kingdom of fungi to those of us with a much more limited experience of mycology.
Dr Rosetta Plummer, Director of the National Botanic Garden, opened the proceedings and welcomed people to not only the book launch but also the exhibition From Another Kingdom, a mushroom cookery demonstration by Gary Whiteley of Maesllyn Mushrooms, and special mushroom menu in the on-site restaurant, and after lunch a fungus foray that despite poor weather attracted a huge following and was acclaimed a great success. Many thanks to Bruce Langridge and Ray Woods, who held the participants spellbound throughout the foray.
Roger Thomas, chief executive of the Countryside Council for Wales, formally launched the book, which he confidently expects will become essential reading for anyone, whether a lay person or a professional mycologist, with an interest in fungi.