The Hunt for Fungi

11 Nov

The diversity of fungal species is outstanding. Whether one is considering location, shape, color, touch, smell, or even taste, fungi are the masters of symbiotic interactions. They tap into the resources of both living and dead plants to gain nutrients and energy to feed their prolific underground networks. Fungi are incredibly important in nutrient recycling, as many of them act as decomposers, helping to maintain the richness of the forest habitats that supports a diversity of life.

DSC06290Crepidotus herbarum

This semester I am working with Ellena Baum to create a fungi collection as part of our work for Plant Ecology. We began our hunt for local fungi at the MacLeish Field Station. The location’s segmented land-use history makes it an ideal location to explore both old stand and new growth forest stands, and provides an opportunity to exploring the diversity of what each forest type has to offer. The soil squishing beneath our feet and the moist warmth in the air were  harbingers to success, as these conditions are ideal for the growth of fungal fruiting bodies. Apparently, these were the ideal conditions for tree frogs as well. With every step we took, half a dozen little frogs, no bigger than an inch in length sprung from the leaf litter. We stepped carefully around the forest in awe of their presence. Despite these summer-like conditions, the trees above had already started to drop their canopies, resulting in a dense blanket of leaf litter covering the forest floor that necessitated our dropping down on all fours to be able to carefully move leaf litter aside and scan the ground.

DSC06220Clitocybe Truncicola

It wasn’t long before we started to note an abundance of fungal species everywhere- on the leaf litter, dead logs and even living trees. Some species were hard to spot, as they blended in flawlessly, like the brown and funnel shaped Lentinus detonsus. Others stood out, like the red topped Russula. We also stumbled across fungi with beautiful organic shapes, like Crepidotus herbarum, which we called delicate coral. And even some that looked nothing like the mushroom bodies that we typically associate with fungi, like the black fungus that we called the “dead finger” (scientific name is Xylana polymorpha.)

DSC06327         DSC06239
Xylana polymorpha                                          Russula

Our day concluded with over 5 dozen brown bags each containing a fungal specimen. While field work was done for the day, our analysis was nowhere near finished- now it was time for lab work!  As we headed back up the leaf-covered slope through the forest, I stopped for a moment to consider just how much life exists in the complex and interwoven forest environment, from the giant white pines to the tiny soil microbes. And while my head pondered this thought, my grumbling belly wondered just how many of these specimens we collected were edible!

-Hanna Mogensen ’14

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