FORAGING FOR DEAD MAN’S FINGERS   2 comments


It was a typical Sunday, both quiet and relaxed.  So, I decided to do what any right-minded person would decide to do on a quiet September Sunday, head off into the forest on a fungi foray.

Several days earlier as I had walked a party of people through primary rainforest my eyes kept being drawn to the presence of  fruiting fungal bodies on the path.  I started to take mental notes of where everything was with the intention of returning to take photographs.  Today provided me with the opportunity.  The one fungus I had seen that I really wanted an image of was the somewhat gruesomely named “Dead man’s fingers”.  The name is derived from its physical resemble to said item, poking out from the dead wood.

I didn’t manage to get out till a little later in the afternoon, by which time the light under the forest canopy was fading fast .  Still I had a good idea of the whereabouts of my intended subjects.  Now I have walked the trail almost every day for many years and this afternoon I walked it in reverse direction.  I felt confident I could remember where everything was, but looking at things from back to front was throwing my memory.  Then, at last the first fungus, then another and another.  But the one I wanted, I couldn’t find, the Dead Man’s Fingers.  Where had I seen them?  I tried to retrace the tour in my mind in an effort to recall where exactly the fingers were.  The light really was diminishing now and to add to the problems a light drizzle had started.  Finally, there they were, the fingers, reaching up from the corpse of a rotten log hidden beneath some low growing shrubs.  I got the photographs and returned before the sun had set.

Foraging For Dead Man’s Fingers

Fungi. Agaricales. Costa Rica. Veridion Adventures. Nature. Travel.

Agaricales mushrooms emerging from dead wood.

Fungi, along with bacteria, termites and beetle larvae are responsible for the rapid breakdown of organic material in a rainforest.  The warm damp conditions make the forest a perfect incubator for fungal growth.  You generally cannot see the main body of the fungus; it exists as a series of threads, called a mycelium, permeating throughout the substrate, whether it be the ground or dead and dying trees.  Many plants have a relationship with a fungus specific to that particular species. They grow in association with the roots in which case the mycelium now becomes known as a mycorrhiza.  Plants such as orchids cannot live without their specific mycorrhizal symbionts.

A question asked regularly by our guests is, “Why are there so few fungi?  It is not that they are lacking in number, it is just that here conditions are right all year round so they can throw up fruiting bodies, (familiar to most people as mushrooms and toadstools), throughout the year.  Back in the U.K. October was always my favorite month as there was a sudden short time explosion of mushrooms and toadstools, their ephemeral beauty providing some wonderful photographic experiences.

Fungi. Orange Cup Fungus. Cookeina speciosa. Costa Rica. Veridion Adventures. Nature. Travel. Photography.

Orange Cup Fungus, (Cookeina speciosa)

There is no mistaking the literally described Orange-cup Fungus, (Cookeina speciosa), for any other type of fungus.  It is fairly common, with the small obvious bright orange cups to be found throughout the year growing out from recently fallen dead branches and trees.

Fungi. Titan Fungus. Macrocybe titans. Costa Rica. Veridion Adventures. Nature. Travel. Photography.

Titan Fungus, (Macrocybe titans). The largest gill mushroom on the planet.

The fruiting bodies of the Titan Mushroom, (Macrocybe titans) are not a sight you are going to forget in a hurry.  They are typically found growing as a symbiont on top of Leaf-cutter Ant nests.  After a week or so, the mature mushroom cap can be up to almost 3 feet across.  Unfortunately their edibility is uncertain otherwise one cap may have provided accompaniment for a great many servings of bacon and eggs.

Fungi. Swiss Cheese Stinkhorn. Staheliomyces cinctus. Costa Rica. Veridion Adventures. Nature. Travel. Photography.

Swiss Cheese Stinkhorn, (Staheliomyces cinctus).

The Swiss Cheese Stinkhorn, (Staheliomyces cinctus), is found growing in soil rich with rotting vegetative material.  Once again it is unlikely to be mistaken for anything else.  The grey collar is in fact a glutinous mass containing the spores.  Like so many other species of stinkhorn, it gives off a stench resembling rotting carrion.  The smell attracts flies which then get their feet covered in the sticky grey gel, they fly off and consequently disperse the fungal spores.

Fungi. Dead Man's Finger. Xylaria sp. Costa Rica. Veridion Adventures. Nature. Travel. Photography.

Dead Man’s Finger, (Xylaria sp)

Finally, the reason for my foray into the woods today, The Dead Man’s Finger, (Xylaria sp).  As with a great many diverse groups of plants and animals, the reference material to identify exactly what you have found is not readily available or simply may not exist.  That is the case with my prize for the day.  I have no idea what species it is.  But for all that, it was fun going out, retracing my steps to find it and then photograph it.  Hopefully sometime in the future I will be able to put a name to it.

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2 responses to “FORAGING FOR DEAD MAN’S FINGERS

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  1. All I can say, is I am glad my two grandsons were not close to that pond Sunday night for all of those snakes! Make sure to mark that date on the calander for Kim, so that Ben and Sam are never around at the time, would you? Again great writing and amazing info.

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  2. Phil
    Loved your info on fungi and I know Grace will love the photos. I have never seen dead mans finger before and I could say I never want to see it again but I keep finding myself taking another look, very extraordinary and rather creepy. Look forward to your diary, it’s such good reading. Di

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