Fungi of Arkansas

Introduction to the Fungi of Arkansas

Members of the kingdom Fungi, or Mycetae, are an integral part of our biosphere. The history of mankind contains many examples of human-fungal interactions that sometimes affected large populations of humans, and perhaps changed the course of human events. For example, mass hysteria and a “mob mentality” historically have been used to explain the Salem witch trials, but more recent evaluation has pointed to the possibility of a fungal cause. Rye was used to make bread, and grains of rye can be tainted by ergot, which is caused by the fungus Claviceps purpurea. Consumption of ergot creates symptoms (ergotism) such as muscle spasms and convulsions, hallucinations, delusions, unclear speech, and a sense of crawling skin. Those symptoms were present in the “witches” of Salem, and it has been argued that rye tainted by the fungus produced the symptoms leading to the witch trials. Even further, ergot has been implicated as a factor contributing to repressed immune systems and a higher mortality rate during the times of the plagues in Europe.<br /><br />Another famous example of human history being affected by outbreaks of fungus is the potato blight in Ireland that forced many inhabitants to leave their country of origin. A large part of the human population of Ireland depended on potatoes as the staple food, but when the blight appeared, caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans, an estimated 20-25% of the population was lost to starvation or emigration.<br /><br />Early in human history, people learned of the beneficial uses of particular kinds of fungi, such as the ability of yeasts to convert sugars into ethanol. Knowledge of other benefits from cultivating fungi came later – the use of certain molds to flavor cheese and the discovery that some molds produced chemicals that are toxic to certain pathogenic strains of bacteria. The ecological discovery that the penicillin mold (Penicillium sp.) produced a chemical that inhibited growth of bacteria contributed to the study and development of antibiotic medications.<br /><br />Also, humans learned that certain fungi such as truffles and morels were very delectable and succulent, and thus desirable as exotic foods. The desirability and variety of edible mushrooms and fungi has only increased over time. Consumers now have access to mushrooms that were hand-picked from the forests, as well as to a larger selection of cultivated fungi that were grown on woody substrates. Many of these culinary morsels were not available several years ago. <br /><br />David Hawksworth, a renowned mycologist, conservatively estimated that the global diversity of fungi would include about 1.5 million species (Hawksworth, 1991). This estimate was based on a 6:1 ratio of fungi to vascular plants in temperate climates, and an estimate of 270,000 vascular plants occurring worldwide. Due to the wide confidence margins used in formulating the 1990 estimate, coupled with the knowledge that fungal diversity in the tropics is greater than that in temperate regions, Dr. Hawksworth (2001) noted that his original estimate was perhaps too low and should be revised in the near future.<br /><br />Within the total number of globally-known species of mushrooms and related fungi, the following groups contain these numbers of species: Agaricales (fleshy fungi with the traditional mushroom shape, i.e. cap and stem) - 80,000, Gasteromycetes, (puffballs, stink horns) - 10,000, Aphyllophorales, (chanterelles, toothed fungi, and polypores) - 20,000, and the jelly fungi, which include the orders Tremellales, Auriculariales, and Dacrymycetales - 5,000. Thus, the total number of known species of mushrooms and allied fungi worldwide numbers about 115,000 (Hawksworth, 2001). <br /><br />Of this worldwide value of 115,000, 8,000 to 10,000 species occur in North America. With different climates and rainfall patterns, it should not come as a surprise that different areas of the country have different kinds of mushrooms and fungi.<br /><br />What is the difference between a mushroom and a fungus? All mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms. “Fungi” refers to a kingdom of living organisms that encompasses rusts, molds, and yeasts, as well as those entities that we call mushrooms. In most field guides, the term mushroom usually is applied to those fleshy fungi that either (1) have the traditional morphology of a mushroom, i.e., a cap with gills underneath and a stem, or (2) do not have this traditional appearance but are edible, i.e., puffballs and morels.<br /><br />Many of the species of mushrooms and other higher fungi (also known as macrofungi) collected in the eastern and southern regions of the United States are native to Arkansas. Thus, descriptions of eastern species found in popular national-level field guides (Lincoff, 1981; McKnight and McKnight, 1987; Phillips, 2005) can be helpful in identifying mushrooms found in our state. In addition, many of the mushrooms depicted in regional field guides for the South (Weber and Smith, 1985), the Southeastern United States (Bessette et al., 2007) and Texas (Metzler and Metzler, 1992) also be found in Arkansas. Following is a look at the different kinds of macrofungi that can be found in Arkansas, organized into three groups on the basis of how they obtain their nutrients.

About the Author

 Mr. Jay Justice has logged 30 years of experience in the study of the mushrooms and other fungi that occur in Arkansas. He has a B.S in Chemistry and an M.S. in Natural Sciences from the University of Arkansas. Mr. Justice is a member of the Mycological Society of America as well as a long time member and a past vice-president of the North American Mycological Association. He has served, or continues to serve, as a field mycologist at conferences sponsored by such mycological societies as the Asheville Mushroom Club, Texas Mycological Society, Gulf States Mycological Society, Missouri Mycological Society, and the Cumberland Mycological Society. He can be reached at justice@aristotle.net

Mr. Jay Justice 

 

References 

Jay Justide

Ectomycorrhizal Fungi

Decomposers are mushrooms and fungi found in pastures, lawns devoid of trees, around old decaying stumps, and along fallen logs and trees in the woods. They live off the vegetative matter available from decaying wood or dead plants such as grasses. Examples of these kinds of mushroom are puffballs, oyster mushrooms, honey mushrooms, the parasol mushroom and its poisonous look alike, Chlorophyllum molybdites, and members of the genus Agaricus

Chlorophyllum molybdites 

Chlorophyllum molybdites
Leucocoprinus birnbaumii

Leucocoprinus birnbaumii

Leucocoprinus cepaestipes 

Leucocoprinus cepaestipes
Mycena leaiana

Mycena leaiana

Tetrapyrgos nigripes 

Tetrapyrgos nigripes
Coprinellus disseminatus

Coprinellus disseminatus
 

Dacrymyces palmatus 

Dacrymyces palmatus
Tremella fuciformis

Tremella fuciformis 

False Turkey Tail (Stereum ostrea

False Turkey Tail (Stereum ostrea)
Xeromphalina campanella

Xeromphalina campanella 

 Sulfur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus)

Sulfur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus)
 Hexagon-pored polypore (Polyporus alveolaris)

Hexagon-pored polypore (Polyporus alveolaris

Panus rudis
 

Panus rudis
Schizophyllum commune

Schizophyllum commune 

Spongipellis pachyodon  

Spongipellis pachyodon

Decomposers

Decomposers are mushrooms and fungi found in pastures, lawns devoid of trees, around old decaying stumps, and along fallen logs and trees in the woods. They live off the vegetative matter available from decaying wood or dead plants such as grasses. Examples of these kinds of mushroom are puffballs, oyster mushrooms, honey mushrooms, the parasol mushroom and its poisonous look alike, Chlorophyllum molybdites, and members of the genus Agaricus

Chlorophyllum molybdites 

Chlorophyllum molybdites
Leucocoprinus birnbaumii

Leucocoprinus birnbaumii

Leucocoprinus cepaestipes 

Leucocoprinus cepaestipes
Mycena leaiana

Mycena leaiana

Tetrapyrgos nigripes 

Tetrapyrgos nigripes
Coprinellus disseminatus

Coprinellus disseminatus
 

Dacrymyces palmatus 

Dacrymyces palmatus
Tremella fuciformis

Tremella fuciformis 

False Turkey Tail (Stereum ostrea

False Turkey Tail (Stereum ostrea)
Xeromphalina campanella

Xeromphalina campanella 

 Sulfur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus)

Sulfur Shelf (Laetiporus sulphureus)
 Hexagon-pored polypore (Polyporus alveolaris)

Hexagon-pored polypore (Polyporus alveolaris

Panus rudis
 

Panus rudis
Schizophyllum commune

Schizophyllum commune 

Spongipellis pachyodon  

Spongipellis pachyodon

Parasitic Fungi

Forming another category of macrofungi is the parasitic fungi. There are at least three common types of parasitic fungi in Arkansas. One kind is the fungi that are ingested by the larvae of certain insects and spiders, which subsequently form fruiting bodies by erupting through the bodies of their hosts. These are members of the genus Cordyceps, which also Forming another category of macrofungi is the parasitic fungi. There are at least three common types of parasitic fungi in Arkansas. One kind is the fungi that are ingested by the larvae of certain insects and spiders, which subsequently form fruiting bodies by erupting through the bodies of their hosts. These are members of the genus Cordyceps, which also parasitize false truffles. Another kind of parasitizing fungus is the kind often seen on fleshy mushrooms in the genera Boletus, Amanita, Lactarius and Russula. These parasitic fungi belong to the genus Hypomyces. The lobster mushroom, which is considered to be a good edible mushroom, is in reality an example of a parasitized mushroom – the host being a member of the genera Russula or Lactarius, and the parasitizing fungus is Hypomyces lactifluorum.
Wood decayers form the third kind of parasitic fungi. They usually are found on dead trees, but some have the ability to attack living trees. The honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea), which can invade living trees through their root systems, is an example of this kind of parasitic mushroom.

Arkansas is fortunate to have a long fruiting season for mushrooms and fungi which allow us to collect them for almost 10 months of the year. Usually February is the worst month to attempt to find fleshy fungi, although sometimes oyster mushrooms and jelly fungi may appear on trees after a rain only to freeze in place a day later. The Fall season produces the largest diversity of mushrooms and fungi, and summertime is the runner-up for the best time to collect mushrooms, but these seasons feature different kinds of mushrooms and fungi. Fleshy pored mushrooms (boletes) and chanterelles appear during the summer, whereas honey mushrooms, hedgehog mushrooms, lion’s manes fungi and a plethora of other mushrooms fruit in the fall.parasitize false truffles.

Another kind of parasitizing fungus is the kind often seen on fleshy mushrooms in the genera Boletus, Amanita, Lactarius and Russula. These parasitic fungi belong to the genus Hypomyces. The lobster mushroom, which is considered to be a good edible mushroom, is in reality an example of a parasitized mushroom – the host being a member of the genera Russula or Lactarius, and the parasitizing fungus is Hypomyces lactifluorum.

Wood decayers form the third kind of parasitic fungi. They usually are found on dead trees, but some have the ability to attack living trees. The honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea), which can invade living trees through their root systems, is an example of this kind of parasitic mushroom. 

Cordyceps militaris
(on insect pupae) 

Cordyceps militaris
Cordyceps ophioglossoides

Cordyceps ophioglossoides 

Hypomyces hyalinus
(on Amanita) 

Hypomyces hyalinus
Lobster Mushroom

Lobster Mushroom 

Lobster mushrooms

Lobster mushrooms
Honey Mushroom

Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea)
 

Spring Fungi

In the spring, mushrooms and fleshy fungi do not immediately appear just because the trees break their dormancy and leaf out. One of the earliest fungi that appear in the spring is the Devil’s urn (Urnula craterium). In central Arkansas, this fungus can be seen growing out from the underside of medium sized branches that have become detached from hardwood trees and have fallen to the ground, beginning around the middle of March. As the soil temperature begins to warm in the months of April and May, other mushrooms such as members of the genera Russula, Gymnopus and Xerula will appear. Also, spring is the only time to find morels and false morels in Arkansas.

Morels, false morels and their allies, the cup fungi, are some of the earliest fleshy fungi to appear each year, often a few weeks after the Devil’s Urns have appeared. Both yellow and black morels are more prevalent in the northern counties of Arkansas. They have been collected in close proximity to eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides), ash (Fraxinus sp.), and sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) trees. In the Arkansas River valley ecoregion they can appear as early as mid March or as late as mid April. However, in some years they may not appear in a given area at all!

Our most common false morel is Gyromitra caroliniana, which can get rather large in size. Specimens over a foot tall and weighting several pounds are not uncommon. This mushroom usually appears a few weeks before the black and yellow morels appear. Other mushrooms that can be seen in early to mid spring are the winter oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus), the wood ear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae), and mica caps (Coprinellus micaceus).


 

The Devil’s Urn (Urnula craterium

The Devil’s Urn
Yellow Morel

Yellow Morel 

Gyromitra caroliniana 

Gyromitra caroliniana
Winter Oyster Mushroom

Winter Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Photo: Susan and Van Metzler
 

Wood Ear Fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae

Wood Ear Fungus
Mica Caps

Mica Caps (Coprinellus micaceus

Summer Fungi

May, June, and July are the months to hunt for chanterelles. The common black chanterelle (Craterellus cornucopioides) usually appears before the yellow and red chanterelles. In central Arkansas, it can be found in May. Woods containing black-jack oaks (Quercus marilandica) are a good place to look for this chanterelle. In June and July, the two yellow chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius and C. lateritius) and our common red chanterelle, (Cantharellus cinnabarinus) can be found growing in woods that contain oak trees.

Some other mushrooms found during the summer months include many different species in the genus Amanita, such as the lovely but deadly poisonous destroying angel (Amanita bisporigera) and the beautiful and showy “American Caesar’s" Mushroom (A. jacksonii). Also present are members of the group called boletes, some of which are edible while others cause gastrointestinal upsets, species in the sister genera Lactarius (which exude a substance reminiscent of milk) and Russula, waxy caps (highly colored members of the genus Hygrocybe), and the summer oyster mushroom (Pleurotus pulmonarius).
 

Common Black Chanterelle (Craterellus cornucopioides)
 

Common Black Chanterelle
Cantharellus cibarius

Cantharellus cibarius 

Cantharellus lateritius 

Cantharellus lateritius
Common Red Chanterelle

Common Red Chanterelle (Cantharellus cinnabarinus

Destroying Angel (Amanita bisporigera)
 

Destroying Angel
 American Caesar’s Mushroom

 American Caesar’s Mushroom (Amanita jacksonii)

Russula compacta 

Russula compacta
Lactarius hygrophoroides

Lactarius hygrophoroides 

Hygrocybe sp. 

Hygrocybe sp.

Fall Fungi

October through December is the traditional time for the fall mushrooms, presenting an explosion of diversity if the rainfall is adequate. The fall smorgasbord of fungi include three species of lion’s mane fungus (Hericium sp.), Hedgehog mushrooms (Hydnum sp.), honey mushrooms, (Armillaria mellea), as well as clusters of Mycenas on fallen logs. Species of Amanita and Lactarius, different from the species that fruited in summer, and members of the genera Laccaria, Tricholoma, Gymnopilus, Pholiota, Hygrophorus and Cortinarius also appear during this time.

Future web pages posted at this site will contain more detailed information about many of these genera of fungi, as well as other genera that are mentioned in this article. Interested readers are encouraged to check this site from time to time for new articles about the Macrofungi of Arkansas. 

Lion's Mane Fungus (Hericium erinaceus

Lion's Mane Fungus
Hedgehog mushrooms

 Hedgehog mushrooms (Hydnum sp.)

Mycena sp. 

Mycena sp.

Transitional Fungi

Those fungi that appear in late summer, but disappear before the fall arrives with its cooler temperatures, are known as transitional fungi. Such mushrooms and other fungi usually appear in late August into September, depending on the availability of rain and the temperature of the soil. Examples of this group include the showy canary-yellow bolete (Boletus curtisii), pink bottoms (Agaricus campestris and allies), and the parasol mushroom, (Macrolepiota procera), as well as large-sized (caps up to 20 centimeters in diameter; stems approaching 180 centimeters in length) specimens belonging to the genus Amanita such as A. polypyramis, A. daucipes, and A. ravenelii. Also, Meripilus sumstenei, the cauliflower mushroom, (Sparassis spathulata = S. herbstii) and large bouquets of the ringless honey mushroom (Armillaria tabescens) often can be found growing on stumps of cut hardwood trees, or at the base of old dead hardwood trees, during this time.  

Boletus curtisii
Photo: David Lewis 

Boletus curtisii
Agaricus sp.

Agaricus sp. 

Amanita sp. 

Amanita sp.
Meripilus sumstenei

Meripilus sumstenei

Armillaria tabescens

Armillaria tabescens
The Cauliflower Mushroom

The Cauliflower Mushroom (Sparassis spathulata = S. herbstii)  

 
 
 
 
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