Tom Volk's Fungus of the Month for June 2002

This month's fungus is Mycena haematopus, the blood-foot mushroom

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Mycena haematopus with Dan Czederpiltz's hand-- check for fingerprints!

Mycena haematopus [my-SEEN-uh hee-MAT-o-puss] is a common little mushroom that grows on wood. It is called the "blood-foot mushroom" because, when you cut the stipe a red bloodlike latex oozes out. In fact "haematopus means "blood-foot" in Greek. This bloodletting ability is quite variable, depending on the freshness and age of the specimen, how dry the substrate is, and how you cut the mushroom. Sometimes there's barely a trickle of "blood," and sometimes it almost seems to rush out, as in the picture to the left.

The genus name Mycena also has an interesting origin. According to Dr. Chris Oakley, Mycenae (Mykenai, in Greek), which was the capitol city of Agamemnon, was named for a mushroom (mykes in Greek).

"Popular legend has it that Perseus founded Mycenae, so called because when he was thirsty a mushroom sprang up, and by some unspecified means provided him with a stream of water. This is yet another distortion of the truth. What really happened was that when on a picnic with Andromeda and some of the nobles, he plucked and ate a mushroom because he was thirsty. It was a poisonous one, one of these which is very hard to tell from the non-toxic variety. He then started hallucinating, seeing visions of a city all around him. The nobles, who were anxious to curry favor with the king took all of this seriously and founded the city upon the spot where the picnic had been. So it was the nobles, not Perseus who established the city, and (coincidentally) much later it became a thriving center for the illicit drugs trade. "

Mycena haematopus in a caespitose clusterAccording to Constantine J. Alexopoulos, Introductory Mycology (Wiley, New York, 1962), p. 3

"Three and one-half millennia ago, so the legend goes, the Greek hero Perseus, in fulfillment of an oracle, accidentally killed his grandfather Acrisius, whom he was to succeed on the throne of Argos. Then, according to Pausanias, 'When Perseus returned to Argos, ashamed of the notoriety of the homicide, he persuaded Megapenthes, son of Proetus, to change kingdoms with him. So when he had received the kingdom of Proetus he founded Mycenae, because the cap (mykes) of his scabbard had fallen off, and he regarded this as a sign to found a city. I have also heard that being thirsty he chanced to take up a mushroom (mykes) and that water flowing from it he drank, and being pleased gave the place the name of Mycenae.' "

Thus one of the greatest civilizations that man has developed, "the Mycenean," may have been named for a legendary mushroom.

The Mycena mushrooms are all rather small and not attractive for the table, although I don't know of any that are poisonous. I do not recommend eating any Mycenas, however, since most of them have not yet been tested for toxins. Mycena haematopus generally grows throughout the spring, summer, and fall in small clusters on hardwood trees, usually well-rotted logs that have been on the ground for a while. I believe they cause a white rot of wood (click here for a good explanation of the types of wood rotters) but seem to grow later in the rotting process. I don't recall seeing M. haematopus on a log that still had the bark on it, but only on well-rotted wood. They also seem to require a rather humid and moist area for fruiting.

Spinellus on M. haematopus, viewed by Sam RistichSpinellus on M. haematopus close-upMycena haematopus often has problems with parasites, particularly with members of the Zygomycota. Fruiting bodies are often a rich resource for microfungi, and the fragile fruiting bodies of Mycena are particularly vulnerable to attack. Very often you can find these "punk rock" Mycenas with their seemingly wild "hairstyles," but in fact these are the sporangiophores of Spinellus. The sporangia, which bear the asexual (mitotic) spores internally, are borne on the tips of the sporangiophores. Like all good and efficient parasites, the Spinellus does not kill its host, nor does it infect all members of a population. It's important for a parasite to keep its host alive so that it can continue to feast on it (or its offspring) in the future. Incidentally, to the left is northeastern mycoguru Sam Ristich, who gets very excited about these little fungi.

Mycena leaiana gills-- note the orange gill edgesThere are many other species of Mycena that you might find in the woods this time of year. Most of June in Wisconsin is considered "Mycena season," when it seems like the only mushrooms fruiting are various members of this genus. Most of the species of Mycena are relatively small, all about the same size. They can be distinguished by color, bleeding capabilities, and microscopic characteristics. To the left is Mycena leaiana a very common mushroom in our area from May- October. Note the beautiful orange coloration, especially on the gill edges on the underside. Microscopically the orange color is restricted to the sterile cells called cystidia on the gill edge. It's worth a microscopic look! Other species, such as Mycena galericulata M. pura and M. acicula can be locally abundant as well. There are a number of other species, but most people find the species very difficult to distinguish from one another except for these several very distinctive ones. Microscopic characters are helpful, especially the large branched cells on the surface of the pileus or cap of the mushrooms.

I hope you enjoyed learning something about Mycena haematopus and its relatives and parasites today. There's plenty to see during Mycena season in the woods.

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