During the Allied bombing of Berlin, 1 March 1943, the Botanical Museum was struck by a high explosive bomb and by a number of phosphorus canisters. The initial explosion killed one staff member and wounded two others. The resulting fire completely destroyed the herbarium. Amongst the specimens destroyed was a small paper envelope contain a fungus collected in New Zealand sometime before 1896. But more about that later.
I have previously blogged about ‘pouch, secotioid or sequestrate’ fungi. This time I want to talk about the three species grouped in the genus Weraroa – the scarlet, spindle and globose pouches and how their Latin names have changed over time.
The scarlet pouch was described in 1844 as Secotium erythrocephalum. Secotium was a large genus containing many fungi with different kinds of spores but united because of their pouch form. As the 20th century rolled on this large genus based on form became increasingly unacceptable and mycologists began to cut it up. The pouches with brown, rough-walled spores largely ended up in Thaxtergaster while those with black, smooth walled spores went to Weraroa in 1958. Thus Secotium erythrocephalum became Weraroa erthtocephala. There it remained until the molecular studies of the 21st century showed that its relationship was with the mushroom formed species in Leratiomyces and so became Leratiomyces erythrocephalus in 2008.
The globose pouch’s story is similar but started later with it being described as Secotium nova-zelandiae in 1924. It too was moved to Weraroa as Weraroa novae-zelandiae in 1958. The recent molecular study in 2011 has shown that it belongs in the mushroom genus Psilocybes. Here it gets slightly complicated because there was already a species called Psilocybe novae-zelandiae described in 1979. So a new name had to be chosen and Weraroa novae-zelandiae became Psilocybe weraroa.
The spindle pouch was described in 1890 as Secotium virescens. It was mistakenly described again in 1924 as Secotium superbum. The mistake was realised and Secotium superbum became a synonym of Secotium virescens in 1942. Then as with the other two species it became Weraroa virescens in 1958. However, the molecular work has not suggested that this species be put into an existing mushroom genus as has happened with the other two species. But it cannot stay in Weraroa as the type species of the genus is Weraroa novae-zelandiae which is now a synonym of Psilocybe [I know roll your eyes but persevere]. It must be put into an existing genus or a new one described.
This is where the bombing of the Berlin herbarium comes in. The little New Zealand fungus destroyed in the fire was Clavogaster novozelandiae described in 1896. It is believed that this fungus is the same as Secotium virescens. However ‘virecens’ is the older name (1890) so has priority over ‘novozelandiae’ so it becomes Clavogaster virecens. Well at least for the time being.
So although we have lost the form genus Weraroa it is still commemorated in the species name Psilocybe weraroa.