Greetings to all our Village plant enthusiasts. This week we’ll be looking at something a little different, a unique species of Bracket.
Pycnoporus sanguineus is not your typical plant – in fact, this bracket mushroom actually belongs to an entirely different kingdom – one that many either love or hate and is neither plant nor animal, but lies somewhere in between (scientists observe that mushrooms are more closely related to insects than plants – freaky right?) Yes, for those of you “in-the-know”, P. sanguineus is in fact part of the Fungi kingdom.
Many refer to fungi in a very general sense as mushrooms. But what exactly are mushrooms then, how do we differentiate between different forms of mushroom, and to top it all, is it even correct to refer to all fungi as mushrooms? Well no, and yes – confused? While it isn’t generally incorrect to refer to fungi as mushrooms, the term is more applicable to fungi whose growth-form (physiognomy) consists of a distinct stem (stipe) with a cap (pileus) and gills (lamellae) under the cap. A good example of this are the various species of edible capped mushrooms (usually agarics) found in your local Pick ‘n Pay or Checkers. Fungi are heterotrophs (obtain food from other organisms – not unlike animals) yet have cells with cell walls (as do plants) consisting of chiton (the exoskeletons of insects) and may be classed in 1 of 2 groups – macrofungi or microfungi (microscopic i.e. invisible to the naked eye). Macrofungi differ greatly in morphology, size, colour and edibility and these characteristics are the basis of differentiating between various forms; although it is always best to consult a reputable field or pocket guide before deciding whether or not a mushroom should be handled or consumed.
Pictured above is the bracket fungus P. sanguineus, always found occurring on decomposing wood from trees such as pine. This particular specimen was found on an old and partially decayed Weeping Willow along our Spruit trail. It is widespread and inedible, although non-toxic. It is of small-medium diameter, bright orange, and is observed “fruiting” from November – April.
Throughout history, mankind have found fungi to be of great appeal. Much mystery and mythology surrounds fungi. They have found a place in children’s fairy-tales, been used to stimulate unearthly visions and often vivid hallucinations, have found their way into traditional medicines and are the basis of modern antibiotics (such as penicillin). They have been used in the production of an array of adult beverages and have been used the world over in a huge plethora of culinary masterpieces. Fungi can either be beneficial as already mentioned or be the source of acute poisoning in humans and livestock.
One particularly alien species Ophiocordyceps camponoti-rufipedis, is known to abduct carpenter ants Camponotus rufipes by rooting itself in their brain-stem, driving them into sunlight and sprouting from their heads whilst simultaneously killing the host in the process – talk about bizarre! (Don’t worry – their distribution is limited to certain tropical forests). For the most part fungi play an important ecological, cultural and spiritual role the world over.
You’ve heard of the Food pyramid in school yes? Well fungi form the basis of this pyramid as decomposers. As implied, their primary ecological role is to decompose and restore to the earth, in basic form, all plant and sometimes animal matter; thereby facilitating the growth of new life forms. Careful examination of almost all known terrestrial biomes and ecosystems will reveal the presence of fungi of one or another form.
Click here for more information on plants in the Clarens Village Nature Reserve
Click here for more information on the Clarens Village Nature Reserve
Head ranger: Clarens Village Nature Reserve