I’m writing this blog to because of the collision of a woman, Moreen Naidu, her family and a fungus – Schizophyllum commune [split-gill].
Moreen Naidu’s body has been aggressively colonized by Schizophyllum commune. And it is a battle she is not going to win. I encourage you to read Deidre Mussen’s story about Moreen and her family.
What is Schizophyllum commune?
Schizophyllum commune is a very common wood decay fungus that occurs all around the world. It is also very common around New Zealand and I have often reported it, in this blog, from Otari-Wilton’s Bush.
Back in 2012 I wrote about the importation of the six million railway sleepers for use in the New Zealand rail network of which 7000 (0.12%) were decaying. These sleepers had come from Peru and the decay was first thought to be caused by Schizophyllum commune. It is a common fungus on wood and frequently intercepted at the ports on imported pallets, packing cases and dunnage.
In itself Schizophyllum commune was not of concern at the time but testing showed the presence of at least two other species not known to occur in New Zealand.
Again in 2012 I wrote about the temperature requirements of fungi. Some fungi that do not grow at either low temperatures or at high temperatures above 45°C are known as mesophiles. Their optimum growth is usually between 25° and 37°C.
These contrast with thermophiles that can grow at high temperatures (45°C to 75°C) with an optimum between 55°C and 65°C and little growth below 40°C. True thermophiles are unable to grow at temperatures below 20°C.
Amongst the mesophiles there are species which border being thermophiles and can live in the higher temperatures of decomposing compost and hay bales. Schizophyllum commune is one of these and is routinely reported growing from decomposing, plastic wrapped hay bales. Below is a temperature graph for Schizophyllum commume with an optimum growing temperature in the mid 30s.
As a human pathogen
The first report of Schizophyllum commune as a human pathogen was in 1950. This does not mean that it was new pathogen but probably it simply hadn’t been recognised as such until then. Anuradha Chowdhary and her colleagues reviewed the 71 known cases in 2012. Of these 45 cases were infections of the air passages and lungs, 22 where of the sinuses, and 4 had other infection sites such as the brain. This suggests that the fungus gains entry to the human body from inhaled spores.
Cases of infection have been reported from Japan (33 cases), Iran (7), US (6), and 1-4 cases from 12 other countries including one each from New Zealand and Australia. The large number of cases in Japan probably represents a better awareness of the disease in that country rather than any other factor.
Why some people are susceptible to colonisation by the fungus is not known. Some of those affected are immunocompromised but this is not consistent.
Your health and safety
While it is not possible to avoid inhaling fungal spores, because they are everywhere, it is important to try an avoid inhaling clouds of spores liberated from actively decomposing organic matter. For instance the advice given by Workplace New Zealand for those working with soil, compost and potting mix [to avoid Legionnaire’s disease] is applicable to any material that is being actively decomposed by fungi. Workplace New Zealand’s advice is:
- Store bags of potting mix out of direct sunlight. When stored in the sunlight, the temperature inside the bags can range from 20-40˚C, making it ideal for Legionella bacteria to grow [as well as fungi].
- Water gardens and composts gently, using a low-pressure hose.
- Open bags of composted potting mix slowly, directing the opening away from your face.
- When potting plants, wet the soil to reduce dust.
- Wear gloves when handling soil, compost or potting mix.
- When working in greenhouses, potting sheds or indoors, make sure that the working area is well ventilated.
- Wash your hands carefully after handling soil.
- If these precautions aren’t practicable, think about wearing a disposable particulate respirator (not a nuisance dust mask). When worn properly, the double-strap type with nose clip (for secure face fit) should give good protection.
Chowdhary A, Randhawa HS, Gaur SN, Agarwal K, Kathuria S, Roy P, Klaassen CH, Meis JF 2012. Schizophyllum commune as an emerging fungal pathogen: a review and report of two cases. Mycoses 1-10, doi:10.1111/j.1439-0507.2012.02190.x
PS 17 May 2016
It is with sadness I note that Moreen died 14 May 2016.
When I worked as a mycologist at Forest Research, in Rotorua, a part of the campus, the Long Mile, was rented to a film crew. They were making a television version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and were filming in the Red Wood Grove, in the town belt, behind Forest Research.
When it finally screened, it was exciting to watch explorers’ first encounter with dinosaurs in Rotorua’s grove of North American redwoods with their understory of native ferns. However, biological and geographic credibility flew out the window as the explorers ran out of the redwoods on to the shore of a South Island lake surround by kahikatea! Another illusion destroyed.
I had also read that Doyle’s lost plateau in South America had features that corresponded to those in his home county of Sussex. Seeing the map of Zealandia sanctuary reminded me of that lost plateau.
I was invited to help with Zealandia’s bioblitz school holiday programme at the end of April. I haven’t collected in Zealandia before and wasn’t expecting to find much this time because of the very dry weather we had been experiencing. However with the help of the kids we found quite a few fungi.
Our first find was the wood-ear jelly [Auricularia cornea] on a dead branch. The fruit bodies are very shriveled due to the dry conditions but will revive when they are made wet rain.
This little parasol mushroom, about 5 cm across the cap, is somewhere around Leucoagaricus rubrotinctus.
Growing on a well rotted standing trunk was a leather bracket of Cyclomyces tabacinus.
These little mushroom, up to about 4 com across the cap, where pinkish brown and slimy, with white gills that did not reach the stem. I want to say a Limacella?A group of small mushrooms, .05 – 1 cm diameter, growing on a standing dead tree. They were fawn in colour with purplish gills.
Zealandia started life as land that had been cleared and burnt for farmland, then became Wellingtons water catchment areas with the building of Karori Reservoir. The catchment area was replanted in a mixture of trees including exotic Pinus radiata. A number of well rotted pines now litter the floor of the regenerating bush. This plum woodknight [Tricholomopsis rutilans] was growing from a rotten pine stump. It is almost always fond on rotting pine wood.This is a typical mushroom [Agaricus sp.] with its fibrous to scaly cap, prominent ring on the stem, and its dark brown gills. Growing close to the Agaricus were clusters of black birdsnests [Cyathus novaezelandiae] These are fruit bodies of dead man’s fingers (Xylaria sp.] on a standing dead tree. This little, about 1 cm diameter, yellow fruit body was in deep wood dust / frass inside a very rotten log. It is a parasol and possibly a Leucocoprinus sp. Growing in the litter were a group of Cloudy funnelcap [Clitocybe nebularis]. The large fruit bodies were about 6-7 cm in diameter. Another parasol [Lepiota sp.] An artist’s porebracket [Ganoderma applanatum]growing from the trunk of a living red beech [Nothofagus fusca]. Southern beech is not native to the Wellingtom peninsula and this tree would have been an experimental planting by the catchment board. Note the pinkish brown spores all over the horizonatl surfaces both below and above the bracket. A little gilled conch with dark brown spores [Melanotus sp.]. There were lots of these growing from very wet rotten branches used to line the edge of an open drain.
‘Little pig, little pig, let me come in.’ To which the pig answered:
‘No, no, by the hair of my chiny chin chin.’ The wolf then answered to that:
‘Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in.’
An Italian love of piglets
Antonio Carluccio says of Boletus edulis: The stem is bulky, even when the mushroom is small, which is why it has the name porcino, meaning ‘piglet’. The desire to eat porcino by foodies is much the same as the wolf’s desire to eat the little pigs.
Antonio goes on to say that funghi in Italy really means porcino, the king of all the edible mushrooms. … The ones two seek out are:
Boletus reticulatus: appearing from early May to June, then again from August to September, its name comes from rete, meaning ‘net’ because of the typical net-like pattern on the stem.
Boletus pinicola: in my opinion the best of the all porcini because of its dark chocolate-brown colour, it’s extremely meaty cap and solid stem. It appears from the end of summer through to autumn, in coniferous woods growing on common and red pines.
Boletus aureus: often confused with pinicola, this is equally delicious. It is the most common in the South, the best coming from Calabria, Sardinia and Campania, where the climate is warm and oak trees are abundant. The more intense red-brown colour of its cap differentiates if from other types of boletus.Listen to Antonio talk about edible mushrooms here.
Confused by all the names so far?
Ian Hall and his colleagues wrote in 1998 that:
Some fungal taxonomist divide B. edulis into a number of sub-speciesn or separate species using the following names – B. aureus, B. aestivalis, B. edulis, B. pinicola, and B. reticulatus.
They say that B. edulis can be found under oak, birch, and elm trees around Christchurch in the South Island.
So what about the molecular data?
My Colleague Jerry Cooper has collected B. edulis from under oaks [Quercus robur, Quercus ilex], European beech [Fagus sylvatica], silver birch [Betula pendula], and Atlas cedar [Cedrus atlantica] in Christchurch. He compared them to collection of named collections of B. edulis, B. pinetorum, B. persoonii, B. betulicola, B. reticulatus from overseas. The analysis suggest that there is no correlation between the name given to the collections and the tree species with which it is associated and the New Zealand collections are scattered amongst all of the other overseas collections. So we either have lots of species or there is only one species with many names.
So why are you telling me this?
Well! Conor Burke-Govey sent me some pictures of a bolete he collected in the Wellington town belt in mid-April under the email title Did I find Boletus edulis in Wellington? I think he did. It also looks very much like the single fruitbody I collected in the Wellington Botanic Garden in mid-April 2014 under pines. Conor gave me a specimen to send to Jerry for comparison with the collections – I’ll let you know the outcome.
Antonio and Priscilla Carluccio 1999. The Carluccio’s collection: mushrooms and truffles. Quadrille, London. Page 58.
Hall I, Buchanan PK, Yun W, Cole ALJ 1998. Edible and poisonous mushrooms: an introduction. New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research, Lincoln.
Wellington has been very dry in the weeks leading up to the Foray and despite the heavy down pour last night there is not a lot around.
Leratiomyces ceres = Stropharia aurantiaca [scarlet roundhead]. A perennial find at Otari. Read more about Leratiomyces ceres.Agaricus sp. [a mushroom] – Growing next to boardwalk, at the north end of the Visitor’s Centre, at the base of a rimu. We first recorded this at Otari during the 2013 Foray. Nidula candida [white birdsnest]. A common find on woodchip mulch around the gardens. Galerina sp [a helmet]. A small brown spored mushroom growing on the woodchip mulched path in the fernery. Note the distinctive ring on the stem. Postia sp. [a woody bracket]. See comments on Postia in last weeks blog. Auricularia cornea [wood ear jelly]. A common wood decay fungus. Read more about the wood ear jelly. Favolaschia calocera [orange poreconch]. A common wood decay fungus at this time of the year. Hypholoma fasciculare [a woodtuft]. Another wood decay fungus which is also often found on woodchip. Here it was on a log edging the path in the fernery. Agrocybe parasitica [tree swordbelt]. A common heart rot fungus of living tawa. This particular tree produces two or three flushes of mushrooms each year. To see Agrocybe parasitica as unopen caps look at last weeks blog. Also seen in the fernery were:
- Volvariella gloiocephala (= V. speciosa) [common scabbard] – Read more about Volvariella gloiocephala.
- Trametes versicolor [Turkey-tail porebracket] – Read more about Trametes versicolor.
- Parasola leiocephala [Brown-umbrella inkcap] – Have a look at of the genera cut out of Coprinus i.e. Parosola, Coprinopsis, and Coprinellus.
In preparation for the Fungal Foray at Otari Wilton’s Bush next weekend Rachel and I went and had a look to see what was fruiting. It has been a dry summer and autumn in Wellington so I wasn’t expecting to see much, so was surprised at what we did find.
Scarlet roundhead [Leratiomyces ceres = Stropharia aurantiaca]. A wood decay fungus growing on mulch in the gardens below the Cockayne lawn.The common scabbarb [Volvariella gloiocephalus]. This was also growing in the wood chip mulch in the gardens below the Cockayne lawn.
These two mushrooms were growing in the leaf litter in the Fernery under puriri [Vitex lucens] and wheki-ponga [Dicksonia fibrosa]. I’ll get back to you on this.Tree swordbelt [Agrocybe parasitica]. This cluster of your mushrooms was in a cleft at the base of a tawa [Beilschmiedia tawa]. This particular tawa, in the Fernery, produces a crop of mushrooms every year. Tree swordbelt [Agrocybe parasitica]. A mature cluster on a tawa but but the dry northerly wind has desiccated them. This tawa was on the Circular walk just below the Wilton Bowling Club. Garlic shanklet [Mycetinis curraniae]. We normally find this small mushroom growing on the bark of a living totara [Podocarpus totara] just by the information centre. However these were growing on kanaka [Kunzea ericoides] on on the Circular walk just below the Wilton Bowling Club. The last fungus is the icicle tooth [Hericium coralloides]. The phot was sent to me yesterday by Rewi Elliot who is the manager at Otari – Wilton’s Bush. It is a wood decay fungus and was collected by a visitor to the reserve. Rewi did not know what tree species it had been growing on.
The El Niño/ drought continues in Wellington so there isn’t much in the way of larger fungi to see. The family went to Red Rocks (Wellington South coast) on Boxing Day (26 December 2015). The only fungi here are the lichenised ones.It’s all Greek
The boulders at the high tide mark had a patchwork of orange lichen [Xanthoria ligulata]. This species can be found on rocks all round coastal New Zealand and can obviously tolerate being inundated by salt water during storms.The name Xanthoria comes from the Greek word xanthos or yellow and refers to their yellow to orange colour [from Marie Taylor, 2002: Meanings and origins of botanical names of New Zealand plants].
Why are they red?
A walk to Red Rocks is one of those things that Wellingtonians have been doing for generations. Why are the rocks red? From the Wellington City Council website “This unusual rock formation was created when an outcrop of ancient volcanic pillow lava was embedded in younger greywacke, along with red and green siltstone. The Red Rocks Scientific Reserve was created in 1972 after growing public concern about quarrying in the area.”
LichenmobileI saw this car in the car park at Ruakura in Hamilton. It has an impressive number of lichens (a fungus + an alga) growing on the paintwork and plastic surfaces. I am not an expert in lichens but these are probably s species of Parmelia.
The Encyclopedia of New Zealand has a section on lichens on abandoned cars! It says:
“Lichens can thrive on many different surfaces. The surfaces they naturally grow on are rock, soil, plants, other lichens, and sometimes the fur or shells of animals. Lichens also colonise man-made surfaces such as glass, metal, asphalt roads and plastic. This car has been abandoned on farmland near Kaikōura for a number of years, and is now covered in lichens.”The Hamilton car is the interesting because it is still being driven and the lichens need to be able to cope with an ever changing environment i.e. stationary to a 100km per hour on the open road.
The beginning of the end
Lichens are pioneer species which are the first to colonise a barren sites. They are the beginning of a succession of species that will create and build a new soil. These new soils will eventually support a more diverse range of plants, fungi and animals. In other words these lichens are begin the biological process of breaking the car down and returning it to the earth. All very Zen and Gaia if you are into that kind of thing.
Here are some more car further along the colonisation pathway:More pictures of abandoned cars in New Zealand.