Michigan Macrofunga Project's Journal

April 13, 2020

Citizen Science Alert - Gyromitrin Mycotoxin

False morels (Gyromitra spp.) are often vilified for their passing similarity to the much more celebrated true morels (Morchella spp.) and the fact that some species are known to contain the mycotoxin gyromitrin. However, no study has systematically determined the presence of gyromitrin in North American ascomycetes. With your help, I am hoping to crowdsource Gyromitra specimens and related mushrooms from across the continent. These data will facilitate research into the evolutionary origin and phylogenetic distribution of this mycotoxin. Specifically, they will serve as the foundation for comparative genomics to characterize the gyromitrin biosynthesis gene cluster and test for horizontal gene transfer across Kingdom Fungi. A detailed understanding of gyromitrin distribution, both in terms of taxonomy and geography, will also aid in the formulation of best foraging practices for mushroom hunters.

While Gyromitra is best known for containing gyromitrin, we'd like to test mushrooms from sister families as well to try to piece together its evolutionary history. According to Ekanayaka et al. (2018), these families and their genera are:

Please preserve a representative specimen in a ziploc bag in your freezer as soon as possible to prevent excessive loss of gyromitrin. In addition, if you collected multiple specimens, please try to get a spore print and dry the remaining material. A spore print of a mushroom like a morel can be obtained in the same manner as a spore print of a gilled mushroom. Please use aluminum foil for the spore print substrate, if available. Include information on the date and location of collection, or the iNaturalist or Mushroom Observer accession number, with any collection.

A note on drying: gyromitrin can be poisonous via inhalation. While people collect, process, cook, and eat some Gyromitra species with no apparent harm, it makes sense (and I'd even encourage) for one to be cautious when handling these mushrooms, especially Gyromitra esculenta. Unless you are already in the practice of consuming Gyromitra, I'd recommend using a dehydrator that is not used for foodstuff. If that is not available, you can simply place them in a well-ventilated location out of direct sun so that they air dry. In all cases, mushrooms should always be dehydrated at low temperatures (~100 ˚F or less) to avoid "cooking" the tissues.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, I cannot access our research facilities and do not know when I will be ready to receive your specimens, but I do not want to miss out on spring 2020 mushrooms. If you notify me when you make a collection, I will add you to my list and let you know when I have access to our research facilities and am ready to receive your specimens. At that time, you will be able to send them to the following address:

Alden Dirks, 4050 Biological Sciences Building, 1105 N. University Ave, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Thank you very much for any help you can offer,

Alden Dirks

Posted on April 13, 2020 04:39 by aldendirks aldendirks | 9 comments | Leave a comment

April 03, 2020

Citizen Science Alert - Leotiomycetes Fungi

We are all eagerly anticipating the emergence of one of our favorite ascomycete fungi - morels (Morchella spp.). Some other ascomycetes that many mushrooms hunters are familiar with and that we can be found in the spring are the false morels (Gyromitra spp.), elfin saddles (Helvella spp.), and true truffles (Tuber spp.), not to mention lichenized fungi. However, did you know that the phylum Ascomycota is the most diverse group of fungi and there are actually many, many more ascomycetes that one can find in the woods? Except for a single genus (Neolecta spp.), the ascomycetes that produce macroscpic fruiting bodies (ascocarps) are entirely in the subphylum Pezizomycotina, which in turn is composed of over a dozen taxonomic classes.

One of these classes, the Leotiomycetes, is currently undergoing comprehensive phylogenetic revision by an international group of mycologists. You might be familiar with a few fungi in this class. Have you ever noticed those black tar spots on maple leaves? That is the Leotiomycetes fungus Rhytisma acerinum. Another lovely Leotiomycetes fungus that you may be acquainted with is the lemon discos, Bisporella citrina. Finally, I'd be remiss if I failed to to mention the eponymous genus of the class, the jelly babies, like Leotia lubrica. In short, you may not have been aware that you are actually already familiar with some Leotiomycetes fungi.

There are a whole lot more Leotiomycetes fungi and we need your help finding them. The goal is to DNA sequence 15 genes from as many Leotiomycetes fungi as possible to get as comprehensive DNA sequence coverage for the class to better understand its evolutionary history and taxonomy. To be clear, we do not need specimens of the more common species mentioned above (Rhytisma acerinum, Bisporella citrina, or Leotia lubrica), but representatives from any of the following groups would contribute greatly to this endeavor:

There's something for everybody in this list: cup fungi, plant pathogens, and many other unique shapes and ecologies. One of my favorite ways to go mushroom hunting is to have a specific target. It motives me and excites me. Even if I don't find the thing I am looking for, I end up spotting lots of other intersting fungi, plants, and critters that make the experience worthwhile. Please contact me, Alden Dirks, or Danny Haelewaters on iNaturalist if you find any of these fungi or if you are interested in learning more about this project.

Posted on April 03, 2020 15:22 by aldendirks aldendirks | 7 comments | Leave a comment

July 09, 2019

Michigan's Most Misidentified Mushroom

In my opinion, turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) is the most misapplied fungus name on iNaturalist. At one point, it was almost as commonly observed as Polyporus squamosus, the top observed species in Michigan. As I identified these observations (i.e., called the majority of things Trametes sp., Polyporales, or Agaricomycetes), I was convinced that a quick reference – or at least strong words of caution - were needed to bring enlightenment to this fowl situation.

Trametes constitutes a genus of thin, polyporoid fungi, typically with concentric zones of color and fuzziness. While everything gets labelled as T. versicolor, there are actually 18 species in North America, and an estimated 50 species globally (Justo and Hibbett, 2011)! In northeastern North America, MushroomExpert.Com (Kuo, 2017) discusses six common Trametes species:

  • Trametes elegans
  • Trametes hirsuta
  • Trametes ochracea
  • Trametes pubescens
  • Trametes versicolor
  • Trametes villosa

Justo and Hibbett (2011) include four species in the T. versicolor group (supposedly ones that are closely related and also easily misidentified as one another): three that are showcased by Michael Kuo, T. ochracea, T. pubescens, and T. versicolor, as well as a fourth that he does not mention, T. ectypa. All require closer attention to detail for a positive identification than is typically reserved for polypores, specifically characteristics such as pores per mm and cap fuzziness. It is made all the more challenging when — true to its name — T. versicolor is so versatile in its coloration.

Beyond Trametes, a whole suite of genera appear similar to turkey tail without close inspection, which unfortunately is the norm for polypore observations on iNaturalist rather than the exception. These include species in the crust genus Stereum (in the order Russulales!) as well as other polypore genera such as Cerrena, Coriolopsis, and Daedaleopsis. If you need more convincing that T. versicolor identification is not cut and dried, do a quick Google search for Coriolopsis - from the top, these look a whole lot like T. versicolor!

When you are looking to identify a turkey tail mushroom, for starters check out the Trametes versicolor key at MushroomExeprt.Com. Next time you spot a specimen in this truly common but wholly taxonomically misapplied group, take a few more moments to appreciate and photograph those small details, especially the pore surface.


Justo, A., & Hibbett, D. S. (2011). Phylogenetic classification of Trametes (Basidiomycota, Polyporales) based on a five-marker dataset. Taxon, 60(6), 1567–1583. https://doi.org/10.1002/tax.606003

Kuo, M. (2017, November). Trametes versicolor. Retrieved from the MushroomExpert.Com Web site: http://www.mushroomexpert.com/trametes_versicolor.html

Posted on July 09, 2019 04:59 by aldendirks aldendirks | 2 comments | Leave a comment

July 04, 2019

Michigan Can't Get Enough of Pheasant's Back Mushroom!

Today we celebrate United State's 243th birthday as well as @koinpro 's 67 observations of Polyporus squamosus. @koinpro has the most observations of P. squamosus... in the world! This melony mushroom is also Michigan's most popular fungus on iNaturalist with 324 confirmed observations. P. squamosus is considered an edible fungus, although I have never prepared it in a way that was satisfying. Regardless, it is a pleasant site in the spring because it marks the beginning of mushroom season and the fact that morels could be afoot.

Do you eat this mushroom and have a good recipe to share? What do you like about it?

Posted on July 04, 2019 18:52 by aldendirks aldendirks | 1 comment | Leave a comment

Physalacria inflata – An Uncommon Sighting by @megachile

Going through his backlogs, @megachila recently posted an observation of a strange mushroom that looked like little inflated (and some collapsed) balloons on stems. After requesting the attention of heavyweight mycologists, it was identified as Physalacria inflata. This species confounded taxonomists for centuries, according to the Forest Floor Narrative blog. DNA evidence has put it solidly in Physalacriaceae, a family that includes typical gilled mushrooms such as the honey mushrooms (Armillaria spp.). This appears to be the first observation of P. inflata from Michigan on iNaturalist, and it has only been observed three times in the state on Mushroom Observer. Great job @megachile!

Posted on July 04, 2019 16:28 by aldendirks aldendirks | 0 comments | Leave a comment