Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Fabulous Fungi-Scarlet Elf Cup and Devil's Urn

I have been trying to learn fungi, lately, and it has been a interesting and fun challenge. The few I have found recently have great names like Scarlet Elf Cup, Sarcoscypha coccinea. As you can see from the picture above, it is bright red and cup-like in shape. It is also minute, a little larger than a dime. They are commonly found around maple trees, which are plentiful at Southeastway Park. They are only found in the spring, so now is the time to look! The genus Sarcoscypha means "fleshy cup". The second part of the scientific name, coccinea means "scarlet".
I had stumbled upon another Sarcoscypha when I visited Clifton Gorge a while back. I had seen it once before at Eagle Creek Park, near Lilly Lake. I had hit a dead end on the identification and had asked the help of a knowledgeable and humorous fungi guru, Tom Volk. If you want to learn a lot about fungi and have some fun doing so, I would recommend his website. I found out from Tom that the one below was either Sarcoscypha dudleyi or Sarcoscypha austriaca, but the only way to tell them apart is by the spores. So Sarcoscypha sp. it will be! This one differed from the Scarlet Elf Cup by the size of the fungus; it was about two and a half to three inches in size.

Another great "cup" fungus, that is out this time of year is the Black Tulip or Devil's Urn, Urnula craterium. I prefer the second name, it just sounds more ominous. Below is a look down into the depths of the Devil's Urn. (I feel like I need to add a wicked laugh for the full effect.) If you blow very gently on the inside of the urn, the spores (called ascospores) will puff out, looking like smoke.

And below is a cool side view. This mushroom is saprobic, feeding on decaying wood. These were found on a stick buried under some leaves. They prefer very moist soil and cottonwood, oak or aspen wood.

And to add to the excitement of my find, one of the urns was full of tiny spiders. So fitting for a Devil's Urn! The little guys had just hatched out and can be seen in the dark area inside the cup.

If you find a Devil's Urn, Tom Volk is collecting them and would appreciate you sending him the dried specimens. More details are at his website.


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