Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for April 1999

This month's fungus is Scutellinia scutellata, the eyelash cup fungus

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Scutellinia scutellata fruiting bodiesYes it's true! Spring is almost here in Wisconsin, and Spring means ascomycetes! There are a wide variety of the cup fungi out in the woods here every spring. Scutellinia scutellata is one of the fun fungi to find. Some of its best features (the eyelashes) are visible if you've got really good eyes or if you have a hand lens with you. The eyelash cup fungus is somewhat similar to April 1998's fungus of the month, Sarcoscypha coccinea, although it is much smaller (usually less than half an inch or about 1 cm) and has small eyelash like appendages on the edge of the cup. It is usually found in small groups on well decayed very wet wood. Scutellinia scutellata is one of several closely related species that look similar and can only be distinguished with the aid of a microscope. Of course in the picture to the left there's another fungus amid the eyelash cups. Can you find it? Read down further and see if you can decide to what phylum the "intruder" fungus belongs.

Scutellinia scutellata fruiting body cross sectionCoprinus basidium with attached basidiospores
So, what distinguishes the Ascomycota? All Ascomycota (commonly called sac fungi or ascomycetes) bear their sexual spores-- the products of meiosis-- internally in a sac called an ascus. These red-staining ascospores are shown in the image of a Scutellinia scutellata fruiting body cross section to the left. On the other hand, most of the fungi you are probably familiar with from your collecting are members of the Basidiomycota, which bear their sexual spores externally on a club-shaped structure called a basidium (shown to the right). Only two of the four spores normally on a basidium are shown in this sectional view. If you don't have access to a microscope there's another simple rule you can follow-- Ascomycota usually have their spores on the upper or outside surface of their fruiting body, while Basidiomycota usually have their spore bearing surface on the underside of the fruiting body.

Spathularia flavidaChlorociboria aeruginosa
There are a number of other interesting looking members of the Ascomycota. To the left is Spathularia flavida, with its strange looking flat fruiting body. The spores on this fungus are all over the outside top part of the fruiting body. To the right is Chlorociboria aeruginosa, which causes a green stain of wood. In times past it was very popular with cabinetmakers, who used it as a veneer. The green stained wood can be easily found in most northern locales, but it is much less common to find the fungus fruiting. There are some other interesting ascomycetes on April 1998's fungus of the month page

some of the 117 morels under one tree 1998One 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 April 1997's Fungus of the Month was the morel, and I've also made a page on the Life Cycle of the morel. In 1998 I collected my first morels on April 25, when I found 117 morels under a single dead elm tree on a very steep directly south facing slope. Always look for morels in the order in which the sun warms the slopes-- first on the south slopes, then west, then east, then north. In 1997, when spring was late, I didn't find my first morels until May 15. -- but collected them as late as June 13. Just to whet your appetite, here's a nice bunch of morels I collected under that one huge elm last April. 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!

I hope you enjoyed learning something about the differences between Ascomycota and Basidiomycota. If you have a microscope, this is a good time to look at Ascomycota spores. Many of them are quite beautifully shaped and sculpted. If you can get access to a microscope there's a whole different world waiting for you. It's time to get out and look for those ascomycetes!

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