January 11, 2022

Lone Star Cigars

Hello iNat,

Been meaning to try out the journal feature here, now that I've started targeting species of Fungi and Myxos the way I do birds and have more cohesive stories surrounding some of my posts. This past week I've been in central Texas visiting with family for Xmas, and on the way over I learned – thanks to iNat – about the Texas Star (Chorioactis geaster), a species of Asco that sits with Morels, Elfin Saddles, and Tuber truffles in the great order Pezizales. This is a fungus with two main selling points: Firstly, it erupts from the earth as an erect brown tube (hence its other common name, the Devil's Cigar), before dehiscing into a somewhat floral arrangement of 4-7 'petals'. Second, it is found away from TX only in certain parts of Japan, and distributions like these really ignite the urge I have to seek out the rare, range-restricted, and unresolved organisms of the world.

I asked around and learned that to find this fruit, one must first find the remains of Cedar Elms (Ulmus crassifolia), and search around near their bases. This worried me somewhat, for I've never had to rely upon my identification of a (deceased) deciduosity in winter for any reason, and rarely even identify the leaved trees beyond genus. All the same, I was told that where the Texan limestone surfaces ("limestone karst") they should be relatively abundant, and upon arriving at the Zilker Botanical Garden in Austin was pleased to identify the tree with little difficulty. The truth is that most still had a leaf or two clinging on into December, and once I'd gotten a feel for the look of their striate bark I went about hunting for stumps and snags to root around the bases of. A little less than an hour later, I crouched down under a 30 foot broken trunk and – lo and behold – was met by a dark, fusiform little creature with the samplings of some insect revealing a creamy white flesh beneath its chocolate exterior. I was elated, and spent the next few minutes taking photos and video of my first – and only of the day – Chorioactis geaster. My remaining time in the gardens was put to photographing my lifer Black-crested Titmice as they hopped about the Juniper trees that people here call Cedars.

However, while I was happy just to have seen such a fungus, I still felt compelled to search out the second stage of its development, and so a few days later I convinced the family trip to take a detour to Southeast Metropolitan Park, Travis county. Now that the novelty aspect had worn down, I was glad to skip an arduous search and to find Texas Stars littering the forest wherever conditions allowed, to the point where I would notice a copse of Elm stumps and approach it expecting the Stars and Cigars nestled among their bases. Most of the open fruits were a tad past their prime, but one 6-petaled individual couldn't have been more perfect and I gathered a number of compositions of it before leaving.

I have targeted bird species since I was 10 years old, but unlike any of those experiences this organism took far less luck or skill to find as it did simple research. Before I learned of its ecology I would never have known it existed; afterwards it became a staple of its ecosystem in my mind. This, in essence, is what I've become so excited about within Mycology (and Myxomycetology): When one looks at the smaller heterotrophs of the world, they are obligated to become familiar with the organisms and conditions that their little lives rely upon, which in turn makes one wonder about the interconnectedness of living things, one's place in nature, and other boring stuff. Anyways, I'm looking forward to adding more fungi to my life list.

Posted on January 11, 2022 06:29 by wongatrappin wongatrappin | 3 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

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