Entries in fungi (3)


What is a Lichen?

The following photo may look like an underwater scene, but I found this amazing lichen growing on a fallen limb.Lichens can be quite beautiful. You may find them draping from trees and covering boulders. They often grow alongside moss. Despite their plant-like appearance, lichens do not have real roots, stems or leaves and have little in common with true members of the plant kingdom. 

A lichen is a complex life form that is a fusion of a fungus and an alga. The partners maintain a symbiotic relationship: the alga photosynthesizes and provides food for the fungus, and the fungus helps the alga to grow and spread in different environments.

Lichens get all of their water and nutrients from their surrounding environment via air and rain. They are able to absorb everything in the air around them, including pollutants. Scientists can determine the levels of pollutants in the atmosphere and assess their ecological impact by extracting heavy metals and other toxins from lichen. 

Lichens are usually composed of layers of algae and fungi. The color of the lichen is often determined by whether it contains green algae or blue-green algae, as well as the color of the fungus. However, the components of some lichen are all mixed together in one uniform layer. The resulting growth is gelatinous, and these are called jelly lichens. Lichens can look like colorful crusts, or they may be leafy, flat, or full of ridges and bumps. They may look like little shrubs, or they may be long and hairy.

Lichens are an important food source for wildlife. They also provide nesting materials for birds. Fortunately, lichens do not harm plants on which they grow, although they may indicate poor plant vigor. If they are considered unsightly, prune out offending branches and stimulate new growth by mulching, watering, and fertilizing. Control on tree trunks is not necessary.

For more information, read my previous post about lichens:  Amazing Lichens


Weird and Wonderful Fungi

A couple of weird and wonderful fungi recently appeared in the garden, and I had never before seen either type. In fact, these things looked more like creatures from the depths of the ocean rather than something growing out of the grass. It took some research to find out what they were.

The first one is Clathrus columnatus, also called column stinkhorn.

It has been found in Africa, Costa Rica in Central America, in China and in Hawaii. In North America it is distributed from Mexico to New York, though it is found less commonly where I live in the southeastern United States.

The red color caught my attention, and the fungus reminded me of the tentacles of an octopus. The mature fungus produces a foul odor that attracts insects that aid in distributing its spores. Column stinkhorn is a beneficial organism, helping to break down organic matter and making their nutrients available for the soil. Despite early reports of poisoning, American mycologist Orson K. Miller, Jr. lists the species as edible.

The second unusual fungus, found the same day as the column stinkhorn, is Ramaria formosa, also called the beautiful clavaria, as well as the yellow-tipped or pink coral fungus. It also is beneficial for the soil.

This fungus is found in Asia, Europe and North America. It is poisonous, but it looks similar to Ramaria flava, an edible fungus that grows in Europe.

These were a fun find, especially now that autumn is fading, and a reminder for me to keep my eyes open. We never know what we may discover in a garden!

You may also enjoy my previous post,  Stump World.