Craterellus cornucopioides is always one of those exciting finds! This basidiomycete also known as the black trumpet grows from calcareous soils dominated by broad leaf deciduous trees. When I heard that it tends to emerge around beech and oak trees I assumed it was mycorrhizal, sending rare soil nutrients to its host plant in return for plant sugars. But its feeding ecology is actually saprotrophic, degrading organic matter from these trees.
Craterellus cornucopioides is closely related the chanterelles, which is why this species has been placed in the family Cantharellaceae. Like many of its brightly colored delicious cousins, Craterellus cornucopioidesis a choice edible. They actually develop an even stronger flavor when dried and take on notes of truffle. Yum!
Being a saprotroph, these species have evolved quite a suite of powerful degradative enzymes to take advantage of all of the different shaped carbon compounds that make their way to the forest floor. In 2008, a study by Goud et al. looked at the enzyme profiles of 50 species of fungi, and in doing so, realized the generalist strategy the black trumpet has evolved over time. Five ecologically important fungal enzymes were analyzed in this study, including protease, amylase, phytase, carboxyl esterase, and lipase. Among all of these species, Craterellus cornucopioidesmaintains a well-rounded enzymatic collection it uses to break down organic compounds. Additionally compared to all the other species analyzed, it is in the top three for producing the enzyme phytase.
With its formidable assortment of enzymes, this beautiful species has a wide niche, as it can break down and utilize a huge diversity of organic compounds. This reason explains its success, and massive distribution, as this species is found throughout North America, Europe and parts of Asia.
Besides being an awesome species, there is also another reason I chose to write about Craterellus cornucopioides. In France and Italy, the translated common name of this fungus is the trumpet of the dead, and their fruiting was once thought to indicate that the deceased are playing the black trumpet from their final resting place. Unfortunately, my soon to be wife’s grandmother passed two weeks ago, and today we are spreading her ashes on the family owned land that I frequent to forage for mushrooms in Warsaw NY. Grandma deGuehery embodied every nurturing and compassionate grandma quality I can think of, and welcomed me into the family with open arms. Sooner or later we will all reach this final fate, and the molecules that make up our bodies will return to the Earth. Life, death, decomposition, and re-organization. That is the natural order here on Earth.