Monday, 5 December 2016

Strange case of the buried brain …

Scarlet Berry Truffle (Paurocotylis pila)

It is always nice to find something new even if at the time of finding it you didn't realise it was going to turn out to be a new county record; which is exactly what happened recently whilst hunting for Sussex fungi with good friend Colin Knight.

In its native range of New Zealand, the brain-like P. pila grows under Podocarpus and has evolved to imitate the plant's fruit. Its spores are dispersed by large birds, which eat the fallen fruits and are cunningly fooled into also eating the fungus. Taxus baccata, the tree species under which the fungus was discovered, and Podocarpus fruits are rather similar in appearance and are both bird-dispersed. It is therefore quite possible that P. pila has found a parallel ecological niche halfway around the world. Apparently there are many Antipodean fungi that have co-evolved with large birds to be truffle-like and imitate fruits but there is already evidence that these same species are evolving 'back' to be non-truffle-like following the extinction of many of these species, such as Dinornis the Giant Moa.

P. pila is a scarce find in Britain with currently only 35 records listed on the British Mycological Society’s Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI), with most of these coming from northern England and Scotland. The above images show a selection of the specimens we located emerging from the bare soil. In addition, Nick Aplin of the Sussex Fungus Group has kindly supplied a photomicrograph of the large spherical spores.

My thanks to Colin for finding it in the first place and to Nick for much of the information above and for providing the definitive identification.


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