Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for April 1998

This month's fungus is Sarcoscypha coccinea, the scarlet cup fungus.

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Sacroscypha coccinea One of the first signs of spring in our area, fungus-wise, is the appearance of the scarlet cup fungus Sarcoscypha coccinea. It is most commonly found in maple woods, but sometimes in other woods. It is generally 3-5 cm (1-2 inches) across and can be seen from quite a distance because it's often the only bright thing around!

Sarcoscypha occidentalisSarcoscypha coccinea is one of many member of the Ascomycota that fruit in the spring of the year. Ascomycota are easily distinguished microscopically from other fungi by the presence of asci containing ascospores on the upper surface of their fruiting bodies. Another common species in our area is Sarcoscypha occidentalis, shown to the right. It fruits later in the year and is not quite as brightly colored. This species is quite a bit smaller and can be found alongside hard-trodden paths fruiting from buried wood.

morels with apple blossomsOne other ascomycete that you're probably familiar with since you're reading these pages is the morel, one of the most delicious of the edible fungi--- and the official State Mushroom of Minnesota! If you're up on your geography you may know that La Crosse is just across the Mississippi River from La Crescent, Minnesota. Of course, most people who are out in the woods at this time of year are looking for morels. You may also recall that last April's Fungus of the Month was the morel and I've also made a page on the Life Cycle of the morel. Just to whet your appetite, here's a nice bunch of morels I collected under apple trees last May. It's great to get out into the woods after a long Wisconsin winter-- even if you don't find any morels, you get to see all the beautiful ephemeral spring flowers and watch the trees starting to leaf out. In my opinion, Spring in Wisconsin makes Winter in Wisconsin worthwhile!

Aleuria aurantia, the orange peel fungusThe fungi pictured on this page are all members of the Pezizales, which includes Ascomycota that for apothecia (open ascocarps) and that also have a hinged lid (called an operculum) on the top of the ascus for spore release. This famous picture of Aleuria aurantia, the orange peel fungus, is from Alexander H. Smith's 1949 ViewMaster Reel called "Mushrooms in their Natural Habitats." If you find one of these members of the Pezizales, you can blow gently over the top of the ascocarp, which changes the air pressure enough so that the spores are "puffed" out of the asci in large amounts, creating the cloud of spores you see in this picture.

Urnula craterium, the black tulip fungusAnother spring-fruiting member of the Pezizales is Urnula craterium, the black tulip fungus. I often find it fruiting right below logs that have been lying on the ground for some time. They're not too easy to spot, but there are usually three or four of them in a cluster. They're very leathery in texture.
So I hope you'll make it out into the woods this spring to look for the abundance of spring ascomycetes. There's plenty of other things to see as well. Plus I hope you run into that big patch of morels this year! Be sure to check out my two pages on the morel, the 1997 April Fungus of the Month, and the Life Cycle of the morel.

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