DixPix Photographs

     

TROPICAL CENTRAL AMERICA

 
     
  MESOAMERICAN FUNGI  

 

The FUNGI now have their own kingdom in biological nomenclature, and it is certainly one of the most diverse and interesting.  Alas, while a few species are distinctive, many mushrooms, polypores and other forms need microscopic examination of their spores and spore-forming structures to be classified.  They are even farther removed from being identifiable by a non-mycologist from a photograph.  In Latin America, fungi is rendered as Hongos, while mushrooms are more specifically Callampas.  On your menu, however, they will appear as Champiñones.

Many species of mushroom tap into the roots of one or more species of plants to establish a mutually beneficial relationship referred to as Mycorrhizal.  While lots of species found in Central America are purely tropical, others are more typical of temperate climates, but have followed their mycorrhizal partners southward into the pine or oak forests of drier of higher areas, or are found in the alpine zones in Mesoamerica. 

The New York Botanical Gardens in conjunction with the Field Museum have a valuable website for Costa Rican fungi at www.nybg.org/bsci/res/hall/.

 

Let's start with a striking pink mystery from a cloud forest in northern Nicaragua.  This has the form of a shaggy mane, but the bristling shawl would likely get it kicked out of the Coprinus genus, even if the color didn't. Click to see big picture (477x480 pixels; 91 KB)
Another weirdo from the same general area.  At least this orange loop-fungus I can put a name to, meet Laternea pusilla.  Likely confined to Central America. Click to see big picture (640x425 pixels; 109 KB)
Amanita muscara, the infamous Fly Agaric, has followed pine plantations from its northern home all the way to Patagonia.  It is somewhere between poisonous and hallucinogenic, but both effects can be extremely variable-- best left to the maggots and the mystics. Click to see big picture (640x456 pixels; 142 KB)
Although mature Fly Agarics can be very large, the rounded young have become almost symbolic of the mushroom genre.  There are also yellow varieties or subspecies.  The Latin American term Matamoscas, refers to its use in killing flies, as does its English name. Click to see big picture (633x480 pixels; 130 KB)
Amanita gemmata, the Gemmed Amanita, gets at least as far south as southern Mexico.  No talk of hallucinogenics here, this species is just deadly poisonous. Click to see big picture (605x480 pixels; 100 KB)
This is the one most often referred to as the Magic MushroomPsilocybe cubensis is appreciated for its hallucinogenic properties in the western hemisphere and in southeastern Asia.
Another look at the Magic Mushroom at a thermal springs area in the Darien Province of eastern Panama.  Widespread and easy to cultivate, this is the most common of the psychedelic mushrooms.
The Russula genus is infamous for being difficult to identify to species level.  Russula xerampelina, however, advertises itself by a strong odor of ripe seafood.  This and the color gives it the name of Shrimp Russula or Crab Brittlegill.  It is good eating if you can get by the smell.  Europe, North and Central America. Click to see big picture (640x368 pixels; 108 KB)
Marasmius haematocephalus, the colorful, wood inhabiting Rosy Marasmius, which is reported both from the Neotropics and from the southwest Pacific. (same species?).
Very small but very bright, these mini-mushrooms from the Filo Tallo Ridge in the Darien of Panama are part of the Marasmius berteroi complex.
Here is a strange one.  It is known as Horsehair Marasmius, even in Latin (Marasmius crinis-equi).  Black threads are laced with micro-mushrooms.  This is a plant pathogene and likely a species complex.  Photo from Barro Colorado Island, Panama.
Also from Barro Colorado Island, this appears to be Xeromphalina kauffmanii, which is listed here by the Smithsonian Institute.  It is reported from Panama and North America.
Leucocoprinus fragilissimus is a very delicate little mushroom, here seen in the uplands of Costa Rica.  With a name longer than its thin stem, it does not look like a world traveler, but apparently it is virtually pantropical. Click to see big picture (567x480 pixels; 92 KB)
Leucocoprinus cespaestipes in the Darien of Panama.  This species has been widely reported, but who knows if it is all the same species.
Coprinus nivea is known as the Snowy Inkcap, and it occurs with cattle dung pretty well everywhere.  Here it is near a warm springs in the Darien Province of Panama.
Laccaria laccata is widespread into Central America, especially under pine.  Known as the Waxy Laccaria, the tops are edible. Click to see big picture (640x474 pixels; 110 KB)
Its more colorful cousin, Laccaria amethystina is found in the paramos of the Central American mountains, although better known from North America and Europe. Click to see big picture (640x431 pixels; 139 KB)
More purple, this time in the gills and granular cap of Cortinarius violaceus.  The most classical of the 'Purple Corts', this species is found in the mountain oak forests of Mesoamerica.  It adds color to the forests through much of the northern hemisphere. Click to see big picture (640x468 pixels; 149 KB)
The Pale Brittlestem (Psathyrella candoleana) is found in pastures in many parts of the world.  It is a variable species, often with a yellow caste.
Oudemansiella platensis is an edible mushroom and said to be cultivated in Brazil.  It grown on hardwood logs though much of the Neotropics.  A similar species (O. canarii) is a delicacy in the Orient. 
This is a classical tropical swarm mushroom on dead wood.  Coprinellus disseminatus is widespread in both temperate and tropical parts of the world, going by names such as Fairy Inkcap.  That name refers to the gills, which turn black with age. Click to see big picture (568x480 pixels; 110 KB)
Macrocybe titans is the largest mushroom in North America and one of the largest gilled fungi worldwide.  It ranges from Florida to Central America, with this one erupting in the Sarapiqui Valley of Costa Rica.
An here is another presumed Macrocybe titans, taken in the Darian of Panama by Michel Puech.  Our largest mushroom is a rare, variable and mysterious species.

Another common style are the Bracket Fungi also called Shelf fungi, usually living on wood, alive or dead.  Most of these are Polypores, with spores released from pores rather than gills on the lower surface.

Click to see big picture (305x480 pixels; 84 KB)
Polypores and other Bracket Fungi come in amazing variety.  Some are soft and others hard, the latter being referred to as Conks.  This photo shows a variety of conks, and on top a soft bracket of the 'oyster mushroom' type.  Click to see big picture (608x480 pixels; 131 KB)
A particularly colorful conk in northeastern Panama.  This is Pycnoporus sanguineus, which brightens forests through much of the Neotropics.  Conks growing on living trees are one of the major forest diseases and causes of wood rot. Click to see big picture (599x480 pixels; 138 KB)
Trametes Cubensis with a fine, orange pore surface, at the Wildsumaco Reserve in Ecuador.  Here a chusquea plant has grown right through the solid conk.
Rigidoporus polyporus at Ecuador's Jatun Sacha Reserve.  This is a thin species, here collecting detritus and small epiphytes on their tops.
The Red Belt Conk, Fomitopsis pinicola, is one of the most common in North America, and is found at least as far down as southern Mexico.  It forms on a wide variety of tree species, but mainly on dead wood. Click to see big picture (640x395 pixels; 89 KB)
Ganoderma applanatum is known as the Artist's Conk, due to being able to write or draw by applying pressure to the white pore surface.  The genus is mainly tropical, but this species is found widely through both North and Central America, not to mention Europe and Asia. Click to see big picture (640x394 pixels; 94 KB)
A stalked and varnished conk from the Sarapaqui Valley in Costa Rica.  This looks a whole lot like Ganoderma lucidum, famous for medicinal feats under the name of Reishi in the orient.  That species is recorded from Costa Rica, but the purple cast is a bit unusual. Click to see big picture (466x480 pixels; 82 KB)
Many polypores are banded bracket fungi. This group from the Indio Maize reserve in Nicaragua shows that they can be quite attractive and artistic. Click to see big picture (640x431 pixels; 103 KB)
The widespread Turkey Tail, Trametes versicolor, is the classic banded polypore, found through much of the northern hemisphere.  As the latin name would suggest, there are an infinite variety of colorings.  It usually clusters, and is too thin and soft to be considered a conk.  Click to see big picture (640x422 pixels; 152 KB)
Near the Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, a white conk spreads almost all of the way around a small tree. Click to see big picture (629x480 pixels; 97 KB)
But this one has a surprise underneath, it is what is known as a Mazegill or more properly Maze Polypore  In fact, here on the drier Pacific Coast, it is likely the Oak Maze Polypore, Daedalea quercina. Click to see big picture (575x480 pixels; 122 KB)
Tramates elegans is an unusual conk, starting off with pores and winding up with grooves as seen here at Jatun Sacha Reserve in Ecuador.
Getting away from the classical conk, many polypores have a soft body.  Here is an attractive example from the northwest coast of Panama, which appears to be Trametes cubensis again, a variable species.. Click to see big picture (611x480 pixels; 120 KB)
A very colorful soft bracket from Isla Solarte on the same coast.  I should have taken it off to look at the pore surface, but this is a park. Click to see big picture (554x480 pixels; 127 KB)
However, it was very likely Laetiporus sulphureus, the wide ranging Sulfur Shelf polypore, found on a large variety of dead tree species in Central America as elsewhere.  The pores are very fine in a sulfur-yellow surface.  It is so delectable that it is known as the Chicken of the Woods. Click to see big picture (640x480 pixels; 109 KB)
At the Jatun Sacha Reserve in Ecuador, Trametes djamor shows off its orange gills.  The top side is white.
As with the mushrooms, most of the soft polypore bracket fungi will have to remain unidentified.  This is a typical cluster near the Dota area of Costa Rica. Click to see big picture (572x480 pixels; 115 KB)
Lentinus swartzi is reported from Panama and from Brazil (same species?).  This one is near a warm springs in the Darien Province of Panama.
From the Jaguar Reserve in Nicaragua, this is Lentinus bertieri, a furry, gilled mushroom that grows on wood in the Neotropics. Click to see big picture (482x480 pixels; 104 KB)
One of the best known of the ground-dwelling polypores is Phaeolus schweinitzii, referred to as the Dyer's Polypore because a variety of dye colors can be extracted.  On the underside, it proves to be a maze polypore.  The species follows pines into at least south Mexico. Click to see big picture (571x480 pixels; 125 KB)
Another unusual ground polypore that follows conifers into Mesoamerica is Hydnellum aurantiacum.  It is known as Orange Tooth, because the pore surface is comprised of small teeth.  Even the corky flesh of this Tooth Polypore is orange. Click to see big picture (640x407 pixels; 109 KB)
Those who appreciate the culinary side of the fungi kingdom will be glad to know that Cantharellus cibarius, best known as Chantrelles, flourish in the mountains of Central America.  Note that this genus is distinguished by having ribs, rather that gills on its pore surface. Click to see big picture (640x480 pixels; 101 KB)
Auricularia fuscosuccinea is one of the edible jelly Wood Ears, here in eastern Panama.  Some consider this just a Neotropical version of A. aricula-judae, which is very widespread.
From the Bajo Mono area of Panama, here is a ribbed soft bracket, looking a bit like an ear, and termed Auricularia delicata. Click to see big picture (640x401 pixels; 125 KB)
A somewhat similar pore surface is seen on these mini-trumpet fungi on a log on Cerro Kennedy in the Santa Marta Mountains of northeastern Colombia.  This one turns out to be the Pendulous-disc Polypore or Porodisculus pendulus.
These eruptions from a tropical forest in eastern Costa Rica, are of a style known as Dead Man's Fingers.  Judging by the black stems, they are likely Xylaria polymorpha. Click to see big picture (586x480 pixels; 123 KB)
Carbon Antlers Fungi sprout from a tree on Barro Colorado Island in Panama.  Xylaria hypoxylon is also known as the Stag Horn Fungus, and seems to be extremely wide spread on planet Earth.
It's a fungus, found near the Pipeline Road in Panama's Canal Zone, but I have no idea what it is.
Phallus indusiatus is a pantropical fungus that goes by many names, not all of them suitable for polite company.  Veiled Lady, Skirt Fungus and  Long-net Stinkhorn are some English labels, while in Spanish they tend to overlook the net and call it Hongo de Bambu (bamboo fungus).  Edible.
Returning to Costa Rica, this is a tropical Stinkhorn, Staheliomyces cinctus, the only member of its genus.  The black belt exudes foul smelling slime that attracts certain insects that disseminate the spores.  It is native to Central America and adjacent South America.  Click to see big picture (532x480 pixels; 127 KB)
Helvella lacunosa, the Fluted Black Elfin Saddle is an unusual fungus which may be found from Canada to southern Mexico and beyond.  It is also widespread in Europe, and despite the appearance is edible. Click to see big picture (553x480 pixels; 113 KB)
A cub fungus on the Panama coast.  This may be the widespread Orange Peel fungus, Aleuria aurantia, but there are imitators. Click to see big picture (621x480 pixels; 110 KB)
The common Gemmed Puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum, is found in Central America and indeed widely in the world, growing in lawns and forests.  It is edible when white inside.  Once the interior turns to spores, it deserves its alternate name of Devil's Snuffbox.  Latin Americans have even a stranger name for puffballs, Pedo de Lobo (wolf fart). Click to see big picture (562x480 pixels; 137 KB)
With a similar wide range, Lycoperdon pyriforme grows on dead wood.  It is often called the Pear Shaped Puffball in view of its less bulbous outline. Click to see big picture (640x411 pixels; 105 KB)
Tremella mesenterica goes by the delightful name of Witch's Butter.  It is widespread in both temperate and tropical climates, and sufficiently unique that the Genus has given its name to its Family, Order and Class.  It only looks this plump after a rain.  Edible but difficult to cook as it is mainly water-- perhaps the witches eat it raw. Click to see big picture (640x435 pixels; 110 KB)
Fuligo septica, the Dog Vomit Slime Mold is really a congregation of mobile, single cell individuals.  As such, it has now been kicked out of the Fungi Kingdom and landed in with the Amoebas.  It is world wide in distribution,  but seldom appreciated.  The Latin Americans use the equally derogatory term Moho Mucilaginoso. Click to see big picture (498x480 pixels; 113 KB)
Lichens are a symbiotic intergrowth of a fungus and either an algae or a cyanobacteria. The fungus provides structure and its partner photosynthesis, so that lichens can grow just about anywhere that there is sunlight. Click to see big picture (640x447 pixels; 166 KB)
Sponge lichens are common features of alpine bogs in Central America, although of limited photographic appeal.  This example from Cerro Muerte in Costa Rica is likely out of the Cladoniaceae, the Reindeer Moss Family. Click to see big picture (560x480 pixels; 142 KB)
Two examples of attractive lichen from Cerro Kennedy of the Santa Marta Range in northeastern Colombia.
The scientific name speaks of deer horns, but Cladonia cervicornis is more often called the Ladder or Pagoda Lichen.  It is mainly a product of cold and temperate climates in the northern hemisphere, but is also found high in some neotropical paramos, including here on the Cuchilla de San Lorenzo of Colombia's Santa Marta Mountains.
Lungworts, (Lobaria sp.), are rumored to be a three-way symbiosis.  In the tropics they seem more at home above timberline where trees don't block the light, or perhaps they are just more obvious there.  The genus has found wide use in folk medicines. Click to see big picture (350x480 pixels; 77 KB)
This brittle oddity from the Costa Rican highlands is sufficiently different that it can be given a name.  Dictyonema glabratum is locally known as Cora Pavonia, and varies from white to green, depending on the conditions.  Most lichens are a symbiosis between an Ascomycete fungus and an algae. Click to see big picture (555x480 pixels; 110 KB)
But Cora Pavonia, shown here from its hydrated phase in the Andes of Ecuador, is a rare Cyanolichen.  It combines a more sophisticated Basidiomycete fungus with a Cynobacteria. 

Galls, of course, are not fungi, just reactions of plants to insect or other invasions.  This style in Mexico is known as Pinguica, a name also used for manzanita berries.  It is said to have medicinal value.

Click to see big picture (497x480 pixels; 67 KB)
Also from southern Mexico, the most attractive galls that I have come across. Click to see big picture (542x480 pixels; 64 KB)