September 24th, 2010


Urban Nature 9/19; 50 More Urban Species #36: Oak-feeding treehopper

Oak-feeding tree hopper Archasia spp.

Closely related to leafhoppers and planthoppers are the treehoppers. Like the other groups, treehoppers are more common in the tropics than in temperate zones. Treehoppers tend to be harder-shelled, with many species mimicking thorns. In Boston and the rest of the Northeast, most of them feed on the juices of oak trees. This treehopper is probably either A. auriculata or A. belfragia.

50 More Urban Species #37: Carbon Balls

Carbon balls Daldinia concentrica

What looks like a clump of old rot on a piece of dead wood is, in this case, a vibrant and relatively long-lived life form. An oddball among fungal fruiting bodies, carbon balls are perennial, persisting for years with new fertile layers growing over the old. The closely related mushroom dead man's fingers has a similar growth pattern. In cross-section, the layers of growth are visible as concentric rings, which is where the fungus gets its species name. The hard, coal-like structure conserves water, and allows the fungus to produce spores even under very dry conditions when most other fungi stay dormant. For reasons which are unclear but probably adaptive, carbon balls emit spores nocturnally. These small growths (less than 2 inches in diameter at most) can produce up to ten million spores per night.

Carbon balls are in the broad group of fungi that include cup fungi and morels, as opposed to the other main group that produce umbrella-shaped mushrooms and bracket fungi. Each group digests a different component of wood, and can therefore live in the same substrate without necessarily competing. In the photo above, a bracket fungus (possibly violet tooth polypore) shares dead wood with the carbon balls.

Urban Nature Pictures 9/20

This is one of the Amanitas growing in mulch , from this photograph. I was confused, since Amanitas are all mycorrhizal, growing in symbiosis with tree roots. Most of the time you see mushrooms in mulch, they are produced by a fungus that is consuming the mulch. I consulted the experts, one of whom wanted to know if the mushroom had a volva (the remains of the veil that encapsulated the mushroom when it was young) on the base. I dug it out and took this picture. It has a volva, and also has rhizomorphs: threads of rootlike mycelium coming from the base. Amanita rubescens, or a close relative, was the consensus.