December 5, 2022
Good evening, friends,
This week’s mushroom is the weeping widow (Lacrymaria lacrymabunda). I found this mushroom four times throughout the fall with the earliest sighting 9/20/2022 and the most latest on 10/7/2022. The mushroom typically grows in disturbed soils, and can even pop out of gravel driveways, so this is one you can encounter in your local park when the conditions are right. While it is edible, it’s rarely eaten because it’s hard to preserve and reportedly not quite palatable, but there are other interesting features of this fungus – like how it got its name…
The mushroom’s common name comes from beads of black, spore-laden liquid that will drip off this mushroom in the early stages of life. The cap starts as a bell shape when young and then opens up to show those distinct gills you see below. The spores of this mushroom are jet black, but I wasn’t able to deduce if the weeping liquid was residual water from the atmosphere that beads up on the gills and inadvertently collects spores, or if the liquid is actually produced by the mushroom itself (I believe it’s the former though).
The names of the genus and the species contain lacryma which originates from medieval Latin and means “a tear”. The suffix -abunda means abundant and suggests that this species of Lacrymaria has particularly active tearducts (produces an abundance of spore-laden black drops of liquid). The last fun word for the day is fibrillose which describes the velvety, hairy texture of the cap.
There are a couple PubMed articles on how this mushroom has lectins that are particularly adept at binding to certain proteins – but I barely understands what that means and I couldn’t understand what real-world applications that provides. I got a C in molecular biology (the whole class was basically memorization which is a gripe I have with a lot of Biology classes I took, and at the time I simply had to allocate those neural resources to other classes – since like I said they also required a lot of memorization – plus I was sleep deprived the whole time but that’s all neither here nor there) so I can’t really makes heads or tails of the papers but if you think you can interpret them go ahead.
The fungus is saprobic and decomposes dead organic material. The mushrooms can be found growing solitary or in large flushes and fruit summer through fall in the northern hemisphere (particularly in the fall). It can be found in temperate areas throughout the northern hemisphere and has even been reported in Australia and South America. Lacrymaria velutina is considered the same species, at this moment, but DNA sequencing may change that. Those mushrooms both used to be Psathyrella velutina.
This mushroom possesses a cortina – surprise, there is in fact another fun word – which is the cobwebby remains of the partial veil (a membrane that protects the gills). You may know this feature as an annulus, or even a simply a ring or a skirt, but when it’s composed of thin, ephemeral, cobwebby strands it is a cortina. You can lightly see the black residue (the white partial veil turned black because so many spores landed on it) three fourths of the way up the stipe (stem) below.
A last interesting note about fungal ecology is not specific to this species but is something I encountered last week. A large portion of my job is removing invasive plant species to allow native plant species to regenerate and flourish. While removing a patch of wineberry I found a cool example of the work fungi do – mostly unseen – in the forest. First, wineberry is a moderately tasty edible berry that was originally brought over for cultivation, but now grows unabated throughout the northeast and competes for the same habitat as our native raspberries and blackberries. I yanked a wineberry stalk out of the soil and realized that it was growing entirely in wood. It’s a cool example of fungi digesting wood to the point where seeds can germinate and plants can grow within it – further expediting the recycling of the carbon in this dead wood. The fungi, filamentous strands unseen in the wood, are a major part of the process that is turning the dead wood of a tree into the living roots of a plant. Very cool to see this playing out in real-time.
My friend Diane let me know that Mars will be in opposition on Wednesday night/Thursday morning. This is when Mars is as close to the Earth as it gets, and subsequently as bright as it gets, but occurs once every two years. You’ll be able to see Mars at its best with the naked eye, binoculars, or a telescope. Set a reminder to check it out,
1) Kuo, M. (2018, February). Lacrymaria velutina. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/lacrymaria_velutina.html