...and a thank you to Randal Mindell of UBC Botanical Garden, who wrote today's entry:
If anyone is wondering what the term gregarious means in a mycological context, Daniel's photographs today do a fairly good job of illustrating it. Macrotyphula juncea is a relatively widespread, yet under-reported fungus, documented across both hemispheres at diverse longitudinal gradients. According to David Aurora's Mushrooms Demystified, it is typically found on decaying leaf litter. Here in the garden, we found it atop maple leaves in late October.
This genus falls within the fungal phylum Basidiomycota, better known as the mushrooms. While Macrotyphula juncea does not look like a typical mushroom, what you are seeing in the corresponding photographs are above-ground "fruiting bodies" that bear the same characteristic spore-bearing structures (basidia) as all members of the phylum. The solitary, thread-like fruiting bodies of this species are less than a millimeter in diameter and are observed in our massive population to approach 10 centimeters in height. While their surfaces appear remarkably smooth to the naked eye, under the microscope, you can see that it is entirely covered by spore-bearing basidia.
Can you eat it? In David Aurora's infamous Mushrooms Demystified, the edibility of Macrotyphula juncea is described by the author as "utterly irrelevant--a couple hundred would be needed for a mouthful!".