Today, perhaps due to my creeping pessimism concerning America’s political situation, I’ve chosen to recount a fungal tragedy here for you all: the life and times of one of macromycology’s misfits, Rhodotus palmatus, the “wrinkled peach” mushroom or the rosy veincap.
For a summary of R. palmatus, read http://www.mushroomexpert.com/rhodotus_palmatus.html
This unmistakably fungus can be identified by its highly reticulated (webbed) cap and bright orange/pink coloration. Rhodotus palmatus, since first observed by mycologists at large, has been thrown hither and thither across our taxonomies.
At one point, we thought it was a cousin of the Amanitas, and, then, we thought, it might be a relative of the prized oyster mushrooms. We continued to search for its true place in the fungal family until, just recently, molecular phylogenetics allowed us to recognize the rosy veincap’s shared evolutionary history with genera like Xerula, Armillaria, and Flammulina.
Alongside our search for R. palmatus’ history, we also searched for its reason-for-being. Was it edible? No one knows; some say it’s incredibly bitter, while others speak of its sickly sweetness. Did it have practical uses for human? A Spanish study seems to indicate the wrinkled peach has moderate anti-bacterial properties and slight anti-fungal properties. Did it fill a special role in its northerly habitat? It decomposes elms, basswoods, and horse chestnuts found in forest flood planes that receive very little sunlight. In this regard, R. palmatus seeemed to be unremarkable in every aspect, save its appearance. But, is this only for a want of more research?
Well, where’s the tragedy in this fungus’ life? Global warming! Since the 1980’s, the greenhouse gas content of our atmosphere has spiked, and the population of R. palmatus has fallen accordingly. This fungus is now extinct or nearly extinct in several European countries. In Hungary, it’s now illegal to pick for fearing of further driving this species into non-existence.
If things don’t change in the way our civilizations deal with climate change, this mushroom will be one of the many to fade from the Earth… Perhaps, “tragedy” isn’t the right word as this mushroom didn’t bring this upon itself. Perhaps, it’s more apt to call the disappearance of Rhodotus palmatus “murder.”
Photo courtesy of Dan Molter, taken in Athens, Ohio, North America
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