December 26, 2022
Good evening friends,
This week I thought I might write a holiday themed MM about the fly agaric (Amanita Muscaria) and the mushroom’s relation to Christmas imagery. I started reading the Sacred Mushroom and the Cross by John M. Allegro and realized this is a much more convoluted connection than I originally thought – and it goes much further than mere comparisons to Santa Claus. I realized the missive, whenever I do write it, isn’t something to be rushed. It’ll probably be long-form or come out as it’s own weekly series when the time is right (i.e. when I’ve finished the book). Fortunately, we still have a winter mushroom to learn about. This week we’ll look at the only gilled mushrooms I’ve seen growing in December, the Scurfy Twiglet (Tubaria furfuracea).
I’ve found this mushroom several times over the past month, but the last encounter was the most interesting. Not only was it growing through the snow, but one mushroom (below) was growing on the invasive vine japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). I always try to take note of which fungi break down invasive plant species, like Resupinatus applicatus on oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus). The smaller mushrooms in the snow were frozen solid and when I returned to them after the snow melted they had yet to get any larger – perhaps their development had been permanently stunted.
The species name furfuracea – derived from the Latin furfur – means “bran”, “scurf”, or “scale”. Scurf is a flaky, dandruff-like deposit and the common name “Scurfy Twiglet” relates to the most distinguishing characteristic of this mushroom. On the margin, the outer edge of the cap, you can see some scurfy remnants that were leftover from a partial veil – a membrane that protects the gills before it releases spores. These fragments are short-lived and were only on a minority of the mushrooms I examined.
The fungus is saprobic and grows from decaying organic material. I’ve found the mushrooms growing from a dead log, mulch, and various detritus in the soil. These mushrooms grow from late fall well into the winter with most iNaturalist observations occurring in December and January – a true winter mushroom. It grows throughout the northern hemisphere and can also be found on continents in the southern hemisphere. Aside from this mushroom comprising a complex of other Tubaria species – several identical mushrooms distinguished from one another only by DNA sequencing – it also looks like a lot of other little brown mushrooms so it’s range may be exaggerated and not fully understood.
The mushroom is hygrophanous which means the flesh of the mushroom changes color/texture as water levels fluctuate in the mushroom. As it dehydrates, the cap will turn paler and even scurfier. The stipe is hollow and that physical trait is consistent throughout all species Tubaria (which means “pipe-like” in Latin). The spores are rusty brown in color and compliment the ochre-colored cap and stipe.
Happy Boxing Day, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and last day of Hanukkah – I suppose that’s why they call it the holiday season.
1) Matheny PB, Vellinga EC, Bougher NL, Ceska O, Moreau PA, Neves MA, Ammirati JF. Taxonomy of displaced species of Tubaria. Mycologia. 2007 Jul-Aug;99(4):569-85. doi: 10.3852/mycologia.99.4.569. PMID: 18065008.