Observation 20699: Gyromitra esculenta (Pers.) Fr.
When: 2009-04-28
No herbarium specimen

Notes: Found a third patch of these in those woods, and this one had a huge number of quite large specimens already. Fourth photo shows a sizable area dotted with them, and that’s just a fraction of the total size of this patch. There’s probably enough gyromitrin here to kill an elephant.

Fifth photo shows one of them on May 3. Most of them were gone, shriveled up, or otherwise trashed, but not all. (People drive dirt bikes and ATVs around this site, so they probably got run over.)

As they age, they grow larger and more convoluted, moving from crumpled-paper to brain-like. If uprooted, they dry out and shrivel up, so they must continue to draw moisture from underground during their life-span. Once they are no longer producing spores, the fungus presumably stops supplying water to the fruit-body and it will shrivel up at that time even if still intact.

The next seven photos were taken on May 11. The first shows one of them by a dirt road. I found several small clusters scattered along this road, all on the west side of it; the main fruiting in late April was near the southernmost of these but further into the woods. The second May 11 photo here shows one of the small clusters — the southernmost — and the next photo shows the middle one up close. The next four show that same one uprooted and then dissected. It was hollow with a single large chamber.

The growth, changes, and general shapes of the fruiting bodies of this fungus suggest a growth behavior something like this: start with a hollow vertical cylinder capped on top. The cap is darker brown than the rest. Dark brown cells elongate and divide first one way, then at right angles, while paler ones elongate and divide mainly vertically, though a bit more horizontally the higher they are. This gives: a pale stem that eventually gets wrinkled a bit toward the top, or even forked, and a hollow brown ball on the top that inflates, but collapses and gets wrinkled up due to its own weight. Furthermore, in expanding everywhere, it is trying to become a hyperbolic manifold, which won’t fit in flat 3-D space without crumpling up.

A simple way to get a large surface area. Add that brown areas produce asci and spores, and you’ve got a simple recipe for a reasonably effective spore dispersal device.

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Created: 2009-04-29 12:58:57 CDT (-0400)
Last modified: 2009-04-29 12:58:57 CDT (-0400)
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