Early on, I wrote about the beautiful Mycena leaiana, a species that fruits in abundance in my neck of the woods. Although there are countless genera I haven’t mentioned, as soon as I read about Mycena interrupta, and saw photographs of the small turquoise mushroom, I knew I had to feature it in a Fungi Friday.
Even though this fragile mushroom, standing only seven millimeters tall can be toppled by a moderate breeze, it produces powerful enzymes that break down both the cellulose and lignin contained in fallen woody debris. This represents how dainty species making a living from the forest floor should not simply be judged by their fruiting bodies. These are simply the structures involved in reproduction. Analogous to the tip of the iceberg, the majority of the species mass is within its woody substrate. Unlike the fruiting body, the unseen hyphae are strong, bioactive threads that contain the potential to chemically break down long polymer chains within wood.
The species itself is pretty rare, growing in southern beech forests in Chile, Australia, New Caledonia, and New Zealand. Interestingly, this species distribution represents a time in Earth’s history before the modern continental breakup. This species evolved in a region when South America, Australia and Antarctica where connected, a relic of the supercontinent called Gondwana.
I love it when a simple mushroom not only can help explain how ecosystems functions, but how their distribution can paint a vivid picture of our planets past. 600 million years ago, when this supercontinent was formed, Mycena interrupta evolved and began breaking down woody debris. It has been recycling nutrients, making scant resources available to other biota ever since. After learning about it, this small delicate mushroom is on my bucket list for species I need to encounter in my lifetime.