I found this fleshy, flower-like structure growing on Lyonia ferruginea (rusty staggerbush) at Archbold Biological Station (Venus, Florida). Heaths don’t make flowers like this, so I originally thought it might be an insect gall or phytoplasma infection, but I was wrong. After poking around online I think it’s Exobasidium ferrugineae, a Basidiomycetes fungus. Members of the genus grow in between cells of flower and leaf tissue, then in the Spring send hymenial tissue through stomata and other cracks in the epidermis, eventually turning the surface white with spores. I’d never heard of such fungi before. I’ve led a sheltered life.
The above was the largest structure I found (perhaps 3 inches high) but there were dozens of others (see below) at the same location. If you’d like to know more about the species and genus, a good starting point is Kennedy et al. 2012 and references therein. In older literature the fungus was known as Exobasidium vaccinii (Burt 1915), but it seems likely that that species is host specific to Vaccinium vitis-idaea.
Some photographs of Armillaria (honey mushroom) underneath the bark of a dead tree. The rhizomorphs look like plant roots but they are filled with hyphae, which sometimes emerge in a more classical mycelial fan. If you find these in your backyard, look for bioluminescence on a cloudy, moonless night. Just give your eyes about 20 minutes to acclimate.
Here’s a gooey, mysterious find from my trip to Mohonk Mountain House over Thanksgiving.It took me a while to identify, but I think it’s a stalked puffball-in-aspic (Calostoma cinnabarinum), an ectomycorrhizal boletes that is associated with oak tree roots. It has a number of amusing common names such as hot lips and pretty lips. This one was growing around a pine tree, so perhaps they are flexible about their symbiotic partner. It’s also possible that roots from distant oaks extended to this location (there are some leaves in the frame). But I think the former is more likely, partly because I found a paper (Bautista-Nava and Moreno-Fuentes 2009) that says they grow in pine forests in Mexico. But that paper is in Spanish, which I cannot read, so I could have that wrong.
After reading they were puffballs, I of course had to hike back to the site to confirm that. Sure enough, filled with spores.
I’d love to know whether the smaller blobs (most visible in the first photograph) have some supporting function. They apparently are part of the spore case and fall off as the fruiting body matures. But do they also mature into mini puffballs, too? If they don’t, I wonder whether they might act as egg mimics to attract vertebrates (squirrels? raccoons? birds?) that would then step on the larger fruiting bodies, releasing spores. Likely not, but I’m risking the speculation because they look exactly like fish or amphibian eggs, and most guides mention this similarity. In really weak support of this idea, some guide books say it is especially common near streams (where frogs, salamanders, and fish might be common). For those laughing hysterically at me, I would like to mention in my defense that fungi have evolved to mimic termite eggs on several occasions (Matsuura and Yashiro 2010), so it’s not completely without precedent. OK, you can keep laughing now.
Here is a trio of fruiting bodies approximately a foot or so away from the above location. They are in the process of emerging from the soil. The egg-like pieces are still attached underneath, I believe. Would be nice to capture the emergence and maturation on time-lapse.
If you can share any natural history on this species, I’d love to know more. Please leave a comment or email me.