Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for June 2001

This month's fungus is Clavicorona pyxidata, the crown-tipped coral fungus

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Clavicorona pyxidata This month's fungus is a common wood inhabitor, often found on well decayed logs. We can find it in Wisconsin from May-October in most years. Clavicorona pyxidata is a very common fungus that's edible! It can often be found in large quantities when no other fungi seem to be fruiting. If you taste a bit of it raw (be careful not to swallow!) it's pretty mild at first, but develops a peppery hot flavor after a minute or so. The peppery flavor remains in some specimens when cooked, but it's really the texture that makes this mushroom an interesting addition to a stir-fry. However be careful about overindulging-- some books report Clavicorona as having a "cathartic" effect, causing diarrhea and mild vomiting in some sensitive people. I've never experienced any problems myself, but you should always try small quantities of a new mushroom for yourself before eating a large batch.

This coral fungus or coral mushroom is appropriately named because it looks like coral from the ocean floor. Of course real coral reefs are formed by animals as their outer protective covering. The upright branches of coral fungi are covered with basidia that produce basidiospores. This serves to greatly increase the surface area of the fruiting body and thus the number of spores that can be produced. Remember that the main function of a fruiting body is to produce spores that can be disseminated over a large area, to ensure that the fungus can spread to new sites where new food sources are available. Remember that there are many other ways of increasing surface area, such as gills, pores, teeth, and folds. coral reef  from the aquarium in Boston, which I visited in 2000 with Toby Feibelman

There are many different types of coral fungi, all of which have some kinds of upright branches. However you may be dismayed to find out that most of the genera of coral fungi are not closely related to one another. There seems to have been quite a bit of convergent evolution, where many different kinds of fungi have evolved the same form of fruiting body. Clavicorona species grow on wood, have amyloid spores and crown-tips. Ramaria species are mostly mycorrhizal, with dark spores and often with brightly colored, highly branched fruiting bodies. Clavaria species are unbranched, with light colored spores. Other clavarioid (coral) genera are Ramariopsis, Clavulinopsis, Clavariadelphus, Lentaria and others. They have all traditionally been placed in the Clavariaceae (coral fungi family) in the Aphyllophorales (without bearing gills order), but these were dumping grounds for fungi that shared only these single morphological characters. We now know that there are many other micromorphological, ecological and DNA characteristics that group most of these genera away from each other and with non-coral fungi.

crown tips of Clavicorona pyxidataClavicorona (also known as Artomyces) is one of the easiest genera of coral fungi to distinguish. It is one of the few that grow directly from wood, and the crown tips of the branches, as shown to the left, are a dead giveaway. One other similar tan-colored coral fungus that grows on wood is Ramaria stricta, but that one has no crowns on its tips (and microscopically has non-amyloid dark spores).

Clavicorona pyxidata (also known as Artomyces pyxidatus) is actually one of the duller-colored coral fungi. There are some very striking, brightly-colored coral fungi, especially west of the Great Plains. Here's a small sample of beautiful corals. A is a Ramaria from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. B is Clavaria purpurea from the mountains outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. C is Clavaria vermicularis from Wisconsin. D is a Ramaria from the coast of central Oregon. The species of Ramaria are actually quite difficult to distinguish from one another, since they are quite variable in their color and habit. Anyone know which species these two Ramarias are? Ramaria, Clavaria, Clavaria, Ramaria

I hope you enjoyed learning something about coral fungi today. They're really quite beautiful and fun to find in the woods. Remember this is just another (gorgeous) way for a fungus to increase its surface area for bearing spores. I get to see many magnificent areas with eye-catching fungi as a mycologist. Maybe you can find some in your area if you get out and look!

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This page and other pages are © Copyright 2001 by Thomas J. Volk, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

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