Xylaria polymorpha

May 10, 2021

Good evening team,

This week’s mushroom is Xylaria polymorpha, commonly known as Dead Man’s Fingers. It was found on 5/6/2021 growing out of a dead stump just south of the castle. There are a few different species of Xylaria that grow in the area, and they’re only distinguishable using a microscope, but we’re going to assume this is X. polymorpha (the other species it would likely be is X. longipes).

X. polymorpha is commonly found in woodlands across North America east of the Rockies. As expected of a mushroom growing out of a dead stump, X. polymorpha is saprobic and consumes the dead wood for nutrition. What is unique about X. polymorpha is that it releases spores over a period of months, whereas most mushrooms release their spores over a period of days/weeks. In spring, the juvenile fruiting bodies (conidiophores) produce asexual spores that look like white dust and coat the tips of the fruiting bodies (as seen in the pictures). In late summer/fall, sac like structures called peritheciae develop just beneath the surface layer of the fruiting body and produce sexual spores. This is another fungus that is capable of both asexual and sexual reproduction. The fungus has also been found to possess compounds known to cause cell damage/cell death and scientists have tried (without success) to use these compounds to fight HIV.

The reason for the late release of this email today is because I found what I think is a Northern Softshell Spiny Turtle (Apalone spinifera spinifera) and I wanted to make sure I attached some pictures in the email. It’s conservation status in New York State is “imperiled” per iNaturalist. However, Manhattan is too far east of its native range of western New York state, so I imagine this turtle was probably released into the lake. Nonetheless, it’s fun to think about how it got here (naturally or with a helping hand) and if there are other softshell turtles lurking in the murky lake water.

Have a rocking week,

1) Kuo, M. (2019, October). Xylaria polymorpha. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/xylaria_polymorpha.html
2) https://ultimate-mushroom.com/poisonous/136-xylaria-polymorpha.html
3) https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/58698-Xylaria-polymorpha