There are around six times more fungal species than there are plants. With this in mind, I have to remind myself not to get discouraged when I come across a family of fungi that I’ve never learned about. Fungi are an extremely successful kingdom that have radiated into the astounding diversity we see today in all of Earth’s ecosystems. Instead of being dispirited by simply not knowing much about the entirety of this kingdom, we should embrace the diversity of fungi on this planet and relish in the abundance of unique fungal forms and interactions. Just today I learned about the Pterulaceae, a family of fungi that is absent in my neck of the woods. One species caught my eye, and with a new trip to Central America on the horizon, I hope to find it. In today’s Fungi Friday, I’m featuring a unique fungus called Deflexula subsimplex, also known as the pendant coral.
This species was first described in Brazil but has a rather wide tropical and subtropical distribution growing on dead trees near the equator and throughout much of the Southern hemisphere. They closely resemble species from the genus Pterula, (that is also placed in the same family) but instead of upward pointed fruitbodies, the spore forming structures of Deflexulaspecies point downward like a pendent hanging from a necklace. Looks may be deceiving as these small hanging diploid structures appear to be fragile but are actually made up of dense bundles of thick-walled hyphae, which make them way sturdier than you would initially expect.
Besides its morphology and its phylogenetic placement, not much else about these fungi is known. There are some closely related species that are known to have associations with leafcutter ants, so it is possible that eusocial insects might play an ecological role in this particular wood saprotroph. But again, this is a simple postulation not backed by empirical experimentation. You really have to dig through databases to find information about certain species and peer reviewed articles that even mention this species are scant to say the least. This didn’t discourage me away from writing this article however, because I wanted to share with you this species that is new to me, that is placed within a family that is also new to me. I look forward to looking for this species during my Central American excursion in January. These fungi are not rare by any means, but since they don’t grow in regions near me, they are rare to me. This fungal kingdom always surprises me, and I predict that these organisms will always intrigue and astonish me for as long as I live.