Cryptomycology: Searching For Fungi Outside of their Normal Ranges

@drandy (13)
United States
December 17, 2006 3:18pm CST
RARE MUSHROOM FOUND In July 1994 a local employee of the state parks department brought a mushroom to me for identification. I have become accustomed to this, being a mushroom hunter of long standing others often come to me for information. The mushroom was a bolete, which was easy to establish. It was, however, a red-pored variety, which is not very common. Boletes are a large and common group of fungi, most of which are edible. They are characterized by an oval cap which has a waxy or plastic-like appearance. I've often said that they almost look like the artificial mushrooms you find in the craft stores. Underneath the cap, rather than having gills, they have what appears to be sponge (otherwise referred to as pores or pipes). The sponge can be of several colors ranging from brown, white, yellow, tan, orange, or red. Very often the sponge will turn color when touched. This effect is called staining and can be green, blue, or black. All boletes are edible except those which have red or orange sponge. Over the years I've collected many varieties of boletes and I had never seen one with red or orange sponge before. As a nascent mycologist I was awe stricken on seeing my first poisonous bolete. Not only was it fascinating, but pleasant to look at too. Dennis had been having trouble identifying it with his field guides as they lacked any which matched or even resembled this bolete's characteristics. I immediately knew that it was a bolete but I was uncertain as to which species. I thought it might be Boletus eastwoodiae (now named B. pulcherrimus) but, this only grows in the Pacific Northwest. I took it home and examined it more closely, referring to other texts and field guides. According to Orson Miller's Field Guide to North American Mushrooms it looked a lot like B. pulcherrimus and had some other similar characteristics like the staining pattern. When I'm uncertain about a mushroom's identity I refer to my friend, Dr. Howard Goldstein, who is the chief pathologist at Nyack Hospital. He is a longtime member of the N.Y. Mycological Society, as well as medical societies which specialize in toxic fungi identification, and a former Bear Mountain League of Naturalists member. Being that he's such an authority on fungi identification I highly respect his expertise on the subject. He examined the specimen microscopically (at which time he also took some excellent slides of it) and thought that it might be B. pulcherrimus. He also referred the matter to some other mycologists; who said that in recent years other mushroom species have been found in places where they're not supposed to be, so maybe it could be B. Pulcherrimus Up to this point all examinations were inconclusive. The next step was to send it on to Dr. John Haines who is the senior mycologist at the N.Y. State Biological Survey in Albany, N.Y. Dr. Haines said that he had spent the better part of a day trying to identify it and couldn't come to any conclusion. He said that it didn't match any of the other bolete specimens he had in his files for comparison. And he had specimens of all boletes known to be native to N.Y. State. So, he too was stumped. He returned the specimen to me and suggested that it be forwarded to Dr. Roy Halling at the N.Y. Botanical Gardens who is one of the world's leading authorities on the bolete genus of fungi. He is the one who changed the Linnaean nomenclature of B. eastwoodiae to B. pulcherrimus. If there was anyone who could identify this specimen it would be him. At this point, generally, evaluation must be by microscopic examination of the spores, aided if available, by a picture of the fresh specimen. Thus, with the aid of one of Dr. Goldstein's slides (by then the specimen had degraded considerably as it had turned gray) Dr. Halling identified it as Boletus subvelutipes! The two species are rather similar except that B. pulcherrimus is larger in size and its spores are round. Whereas B. subvelutipes' spores are elongated and it is considerably smaller in size. Also, B. subvelutipes has been found in the east, while B. pulcherrimus has not. Dr. Halling said that although B. subvelutipes does occur in the east, finding one is not an every day event. He also said that I could go the rest of my lifetime and never see one again. To my knowledge, this is the first verified finding of B. subvelutipes within the region. ANOTHER RARE MUSHROOM IDENTIFIED Over the past decade there have been a few unusually wet and cool summers intermingled with several unusually hot and dry summers. During the cool and wet times this offers an opportunity for profuse fungal growth. Not only does this foster larger than normal amounts of mushrooms to grow but it also encourages larger specimens and a wider variety of them to grow and flourish. As an avid mushroom "hunter" for many years I can attest to the fact that during the years 1992, 1994, 1996, and 2000 all offered ideal growth conditions for fungi. In 1994 I was presented with a red-pored bolete (Boletus subvelutipes). I had never previously seen one and I knew it to be unusual in the very least. The process of positively identifying it took some six months and was quite a scientific adventure in itself As it turned out this was the first time this species was ever reported in New York State. In July 2000 I was finishing a "mushroom hike" with a friend when I spied something large growing on the lawn about 100 feet away. Upon close inspection I identified it as a species of puffball but one which I hadn't seen before. It was large in size of about eighteen to twenty inches across. It was roughly round but not circular. It was tannish-brown in color with brown cracks and streaks across its surface. It was also growing in an odd configuration which could best be summed up as pillow-shaped. Another unusual characteristic was that its pore mass was not the pure white or brown-black that every other puffball I had ever seen had been. Instead, this one was cream to yellow. Some puffballs are quite edible while others are listed as inedible (which is different from toxic as this designation means that it is indigestible much as is shoe leather or wood. Even though we can't digest them they aren't poisonous). Strangely though, this species' edibility is listed as unknown. Next I needed to attempt identification by consulting my textbooks. The answer was fast as it was the Tough Puffball (Mycenastrum corium) as named in the Audubon Guide to North American Mushrooms. I also learned that it must have been in an immature state as the pore mass turns to purple in adulthood. My next step was to establish if it was indeed rare for the state or if it was a matter of my never having seen one before. I spoke with Dr. John Haines chief mycologist at the State Museum in Albany, N.Y. He checked his archives and discovered that mine was only the fifth one ever reported in New York State. He went on to say that the French naturalist Desveaux identified it in Europe in 1840. The American naturalist and mycologist Charles Peck first identified it in Wisconsin in 1881 (at the time he named it Mycenastrum spindulosum). Afterward he discovered it growing in New York State. Dr. Haines said that there is also one verified in New Jersey and one in Ontario, Canada. But mine was only the fifth on record in this state. It is, however, quite common in the western states. Being part of this mycological Sherlock Holmes story was not only quite an honor but a lot of fun too. I hope that it isn't the last one of its kind I'll experience. SHROOMS A POPPIN': ON THE HUNT FOR RARE MUSHROOMS VOLUME III In previous editions I have illustrated the fascinating adventures of tracking down and identifying unusual fungi species. There is a field of science called cryptozoology which strives to find "hidden" species of animals, or more exactly, animals which are said to exist but science doesn't recognize or those which have been declared extinct but are alleged to still persist. I'm toying with the idea of coining a new term, "cryptomycology", which would be the study of "hidden" fungi. The summer of 2000 was one of several wet and cool ones over the last decade. As such it allowed for uncommonly large growth of fungal species and encourages the growth of some which aren't seen very often. In a previous article I played a role in the identification of a seldom-seen puffball this summer. Only a few weeks later, during a weekend of torrential downpours, my longtime friends, Al and Kathy D'Ambrosio of Suffern, N.Y. brought to my office at Perkins Tower a collection of various mushrooms for identification. They were all common species of boletes and chanterelles with a few poisonous ones too. They had hardly left when they returned with a bag full of very large mushrooms for me to identify. I was immediately drawn to their vase-shape which is indicative of the edible and excellent chanterelles as well as a variety of other species (some of which are poisonous). But I was flummoxed by their enormous dimensions. Normally chanterelles, even the largest of this family, the golden chanterelle, grow only to a few inches high. But these specimens were about eight inches high and perhaps five inches across. Truly huge in size for just about any mushroom, not to mention the chanterelles. Some other features did not distinguish them as chanterelles. One is that the color wasn't the yellowish-gold of the golden chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) but bordering on the yellow-orange. These grew in bunches or cespitose whereas chanterelles grow singly or in pairs (occasionally in threes, but never in bunches as I was seeing). The cespitose growth pattern was indicative of the Jack-o-lantern (Omphalatus olearius) as is the vase-shape. The gills ended at the stipe (which is the mycological term for stem) whereas on the chanterelles the gills continue down the stipe for a distance. This gill pattern also indic
2 responses
• United States
12 May 10
There are just so many species out there that we are finding that are rare or never even seen before until now. I hate to say it but there is always something new in this world for us to find. Of course though with us cutting down all the forests and many other things, it may become hard for us to keep these things growing and living. It seems like the more we cut and the more we destroy the fewer of these rare plants there will be.
@Catkin (480)
• United States
18 Jan 07
Although I don't know all that much about fungi, I found this post quite interesting (if long, heh). I hadn't realized that there was a field of cryptomycology, but I suppose it makes sense; cryptozoolog can't keep all the mysteries to itself! I haven't tried to identify species found in my area, but I do enjoy going out and unexpectedly coming across mushrooms while walking outside.