Good evening, friends,
I hope you had a nice autumnal equinox despite all the rain in the northeast. I was able to get out for a hike Friday afternoon which led me to this week’s unmistakeable mushroom, the Stalked Puffball in Aspic (Calostoma cinnabarinum). If you’re not really sure what you’re looking at, neither was I. The mushroom’s appearance alone seems to validate the hypothesis that fungi are extraterrestrial beings that arrived on earth via spores in a meteorite. Regardless of originating on this planet or the next, let’s learn what this mushroom is doing while it’s here.
The peculiar common name comes from the gelatinous membrane that encases the young mushroom. This protective layer breaks down as the “puffball” (the red-lipped, whitish orb above center) grows into maturity. The membrane breaks down into pomegranate seed-like orbs that you see clinging to the mushroom and those red lips on top open to release the spores.
A little googling introduced me to the cuisine of “aspic” - a savory jelly made with meat stock that encases different kinds of meat. If anyone has ever eaten aspic, do reach out and let me know if it’s good. That being said, it does look like an appropriate name because, when in tact, the puffball does look like a savory morsel suspended in meat gelatin.
This mushroom is more closely related to boletes and earthballs (which we looked at the other week) than it is to puffballs. Puffballs, earthballs, and other mushrooms with a spore sack are called gasteromycetes which translates to “stomach fungi”. They get this digestive denomination because they develop their spores inside their body, a trait that has evolved independently among different genetic lineages of fungi. It is thought to be the “most advanced” method of spore development as those spores are the most protected.
The fungus has been proposed for the Global Fungal Red List Initiative indicating it’s an uncommon and possibly vulnerable species. In Mexico these mushrooms are called Yemitas which means “small sweets” and were eaten raw by indigenous children. Unfortunately, that tradition has faded and not many indigenous folks surveyed were familiar with the mushroom according to a study out of the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Hidalgo (Reference 4). I guess you could say the kids grew up :(
The fungus is mycorrhizal with oak trees. We found this mushroom in a pretty damp area of an oak forest where we were finding a bunch of other summer fungi like black trumpets, Russulas, and peppery Lactarius. I went looking for hen of the woods but haven’t seen it pop yet - perhaps there’s a thing as too much rain. As you see below, the whole organism isn’t very large - the stalk raised a few centimeters off the forest floor and the spore sack was only a couple centimeters wide.
The fungus grows throughout eastern North America, down through Central and South America, and also randomly pops up in China. It seems to be found at a higher elevations (we were at ~1,000 feet) throughout the Appalachian range. It’s noted that the warmer the climate, the higher the elevation you’ll find it. The occurrences in South/Central America have only been documented in humid cloud forests above 1,000 meters. This mushroom pops late summer through early fall in the northern hemisphere.
I forgot to give everyone a heads up about the equinox, but we haven’t seen the sky in a few days anyway. There will be a full moon, the fourth consecutive Super Moon and last of the year, this Friday evening. Hopefully we can see the sky by then.
Speaking of Friday evening, I’ll be giving a presentation on Lesser Known Fungi of the Northeast at 4PM at the For the Love of Fungi Festival in New Paltz. I’m also helping lead a walk on Saturday. Come for a day, come for the weekend, and say hey if you do come through,
Bonus graphic I used to determine the difference between a meteor, a meteorite, and a comet for the intro paragraph:
Kuo, M. (2019, December). Calostoma cinnabarinum. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/calostoma_cinnabarinum.html