Saturday, 2 January 2016

At Last a Name

Recently, I have been taking an interest in microfungi, a group which includes rusts, mildews and soots, but also things that look like miniature versions of the fungi we are all familiar with. It is a world that requires hand lenses in the field and microscopes at home, as identification usually comes down to studying the spores (more interesting than might be imagined). Often the view down the microscope is breathtakingly beautiful, but can be frustrating too. Winter isn't the best time to go looking for specimens to collect for study, but there are some to be found and with them can sometimes come bonus species, such as this epiphyllous alga:

 An Alga (Phycopeltis arundinacea) From the surface of a Laurel Leaf, Collected
 from the Leaf Litter. X400 (unstained)

Phycopeltis arundinacea colony, from a Laurel Leaf. Stained with Methylene
Blue. X200.  

Phycopeltis arundinacea. The Whole colony, X100, Stained with Methylene Blue.
The whole colony is 1.10mm across its widest point.

Spores of Phragmidium violaceum X200. This is the rust that causes the small
purple spots that are common on Bramble leaves.

Phragmidium Violaceum spores X400. 

Ever wondered what a Gorse spine looks like in cross section? It looks like this.

The reason for sectioning the Gorse spine was to try and get a section through
one of the tiny black fungi speckling its surface. One can be seen here, looking 
like an open mouthed urn, with a cluster of spores just outside it. This was at a
magnification of X400, indicating just how minute fungal spores can be. I have
not been able to identify this one yet.

Probably the vast majority of microfungi are still beyond me, but the more obvious and distinctive ones can be tackled successfully, particularly as many of them are host specific. Back in 2013, when I was actively square bashing Cobalt Crust fungus, when searching the deepest recesses of Sallow thickets, I often came across what looked like a coarse, black stubble, on dead twigs and branches of the Sallows. Through the hand lens, I was intrigued to see that the tiny fungi which made up the stubble were shaped like minute chisels or perhaps more like Neolithic polished flint axe heads, sticking up from the surface of the bark or wood at various angles.
Since then I have tried to identify them, but without success and even when I bought the Bible of Microfungi: 'Microfungi on Land Plants' by Martin and Pamela Ellis, I was disappointed when I was unable to find it under Salix (willow Spp). Googling 'Microfungi of Salix' got me nowhere either, until yesterday. As I poked around in Dare Valley country park, I came across this fungus again and collected a specimen to examine under the microscope and when I got home I tried an web search again, but this time, armed with a little more knowledge of types of microfungi, I searched on 'Ascomycetes on Salix' and bingo, there were loads of pictures of it.

At last, I had its name: Glyphium elatum, so was able to go back to the book and look it up. According to the Ellis's, they have only ever seen it once, on Honeysuckle in the Channel Islands, though they mentioned that it also occurs on other woody species. They regard it as rare, but around here, it is fairly common on Sallow and I seem to recall seeing it on dead Wych Elm too. Either way, I now have a new square bashing project.

An experimental stereo pair of Glyphium elatum, I made by stitching together
two photos, taken down each eyepiece of my stereo microscope (X20). Fix your
eyes on the central join and cross them until the two halves merge into a 
central 3D image. It takes a little practice, but worth it, even if my effort isn't
as good as I'd hoped. You will probably need to click on the photo to open it first.
Phil; if you would rather I didn't post any more of these, just say so and I'll only be moderately hurt and offended.


  1. Mark, I think it's great and so different from the norm. Keep going please.

  2. The micro-world is probably not everyone's cup of tea, so I thought I'd check. By the way, far, far better stereo (3D images of G. elatum are to be found here It's where I got the idea to try it myself. I've still a lot to learn, as you can see.

  3. For some reason the address I pasted in to the above reply, disappeared when I published it, so here's another attempt.

  4. Very interesting mark and a thumbs up from me too mate and would be nice too know which elf cup we got in the valley .

  5. The next time I come across one, I'll take it home and see what I can do. In the meantime, I suspect that it is S. austriaca, as all the ones I've examined had curled hairs. I haven't looked at the spores.

  6. Cheers mark it would be nice too know which one.

  7. Yes it would, but I'll have to get some Melzer's reagent, to test the spores. It isn't easy to get hold of (impossible in the states, because it contains Chloral Hydrate, which is a controlled substance there). I have found some on Ebay, but it is almost thirteen quid for a 30 ml eyedropper bottle full!