Powdercap strangler: Rare fungi found in UK garden

Powdercap strangler (Squamanita paradoxa) Two-part toadstool: The greyish strangler is clothed by the orange "stockings" of the earthy powdercap

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It is proof that unusual wildlife can turn up anywhere.

A north Worcestershire garden is playing host to a very rare fungus - the bizarre powdercap strangler (Squamanita paradoxa).

The fungus is confined to a handful of sites in the UK, and is equally rare in continental Europe.

Nine of the strange mushrooms were discovered by Worcestershire mycologist John Bingham on a mossy garden lawn in a garden in November 2011.

In the few places where it has been seen, it doesn't produce its toadstool-shaped fruiting bodies every year. And it is so rare that it is unknown even to many experienced mycologists.

Body-snatcher

It is called the powdercap strangler because it is a parasitic fungus. It is actually an outgrowth, or gall on another fungus - the earthy powdercap (Cystoderma amiathinum). This common orange mushroom grows on old grassland.

Just how the strangler infects its host is not clear, but it appears to induce a parasitic gall which body-snatches the powdercap and uses its stem to support itself.

The result is a two-part toadstool; a fungus body comprising two colours in which the greyish cap of the strangler is clothed below by the orange "stockings" of the powdercap.

FUNGAL FACTS

  • The fungus with the largest and heaviest fruiting body is Fomitiporia ellipsoidea, which was first recorded by scientists in 2008 in Fujian Province, China
  • The fastest living thing on the planet is the hat-thrower fungus, which grows on horse dung and can "throw" its tiny spores (the fungal version of seeds) up to 2m from the dung pile; the explosive fungus propels spores from 0-20mph in two millionths of a second

Parasitism is rare in the fungal world; only about 30 European species are known to be parasitic.

Researchers working on the relationship between powdercap and its strangler suggest that they may be closely related and that the relationship could even be symbiotic - with the two fungi interacting, rather than the strangler acting as a parasite.

About a dozen or so sites are known for Squamanita, from Cornwall to Scotland, though several records have come from Wales and the Welsh Marches.

The Worcestershire finding is particularly unusual and exciting for scientists. The stranglers here are growing in a garden lawn which has not been fertilised for 50 years and now supports more than 70 species of fungi.

This includes 14 species of waxcaps - colourful fungi that are indicators of the quality of species-rich turf.

Hear more about the discovery of the powdercap strangler on Saving Species, on Radio 4 on Tuesday December 6 at 1100 GMT and Thursday December 8 at 2100 GMT

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