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Hygrophorus speciosus “Brilliant Wax-cap” Basidiomycota

Blue Mountain National Recreation Area, MT
May 16, 2016
Robert Niese

The wax-caps were once considered to all be members of the genus Hygrophorus, but have recently been divided into several new genera, all of which are still taxonomically debated. This particular species remains in the genus Hygrophorus due to its ectomicorrhizal growth habit. You can find it in drier, east-side forests where larch is abundant.

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Umbilicaria americana “American Rock Tripe”

March 26, 2016
Blodgett Canyon, Lolo National Forest, MT
Robert Niese

This species of rock tripe is likely our most abundant umbilicate foliose, rock-like lichen in the PNW. Look for their single umbilicus which attaches them to their substrate (which is where they get their genus name!). This species rarely has apothecia but is instead identified by its abundant, sooty, black rhizines, or rootlets, which help it gather water from its normally dry habitat. Members of Umbilicaria are considered edible, though North American foragers generally only resort to them as famine food. Their name, “rock tripe,” comes from an uncanny resemblance to tripe (stomach lining) upon being boiled, as is common in many Asian cuisines.

Niebla spp. “Fog Lichen”

Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Marin County, CA
December 29, 2015
Robert Niese

So far in my brief foray into lichenology, I have yet to encounter a fungus so hotly debated as the “Niebla” fog lichens (members of a complex of “Ramalina-like” maritime lichens). Rather than venture an opinion as to the identity of these species (or just one species?), I’ll just leave the name at the genus level (although even THAT is debatable). For those of you interested, various parties claim everything from 1 to 42 to 100s of species of Niebla occur on Pacific Coasts of North America. Most agree, however, that diversity is much lower north of Baja California and the Channel Islands, and that the PNW is only home to one (N. cephalota) or, at most, three species. Although some sources state that no species occur north of Humboldt County, CA…

Hypogymnia heterophylla “Seaside Bone Lichen”

Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Marin County, CA
December 29, 2015
Robert Niese

A true coastal species, H. heterophylla is regularly found along the Pacific from California’s North Coastal Redwood Forests through British Columbia. There are three species with a similar growth habit found west of the Cascades. H. heterophylla is characterized by having many dichotomous branches that occur at 45 degrees, forming a series of perpendicular branch patterns. Another species, H. imshaugii, rarely has a similar branching pattern but, when broken open, H. imshaugii has white interiors while H. heterophylla has black interiors. A third species, H. inactiva, also has a similar growth habit and dark interiors, but rarely exhibits perpendicular branches. While both H. imshaugii and H. inactiva are found east to Montana and Idaho, H. heterophylla is restricted to coastal forests only.

Usnea intermedia

Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Marin County, CA
December 29, 2015
Robert Niese

The redwood and oak forests of Marin County are home to a vast and striking diversity of fungi. I originally hadn’t planned on posting photographs from the region (because it’s definitely not the northwest), but they’re just too beautiful to pass up! While the genus Usnea is particularly diverse back home in the PNW, this species is not found north of California. Unfortunately, our region is home to only one strikingly fertile species of Usnea (U. quasirigida) with abundant apothecia like this individual. U. quasirigida can be found uncommonly in northern Washington and British Columbia.

Xeromphalina campanella “Bell Omphalina” Basidiomycota

Hub Lake Trail, Lolo National Forest, St. Regis, MT
August 16, 2015
Robert Niese

These adorable gregarious fungi are found on rotting coniferous logs in wet forests throughout North America (presumably). These specimens were only just starting to grow, but would likely end up covering the entire wet bottom half of this downed spruce log. Their caps, when fully mature, will measure no more than 2cm across and have a white spore print.

Bryoria fremontii “Wila/Black Tree Lichen”

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

This lichen was a staple food source for about 20 different native groups (mostly Salish) of people here in the eastern PNW. Wila (which is the Secwepemctsín or Shuswap word for this lichen) grows abundantly here in our Ponderosa Pinelands, coating old trees from crown to floor in dangling blackish hair. No other species in the PNW east of the Cascades achieves quite as much biomass as B. fremontii (up to 3000kg per hectare!). Interestingly, like several other species of edible lichen in our region (e.g. Letharia), some regions have populations with high levels of vulpinic acid which is toxic when ingested in large quantities. It can be nearly impossible to tell these two chemotypes apart visually, and yet the vast majority of the tribes that subsisted on these lichens had to make the distinction daily.

Vulpicida canadensis “Brown-eyed Sunshine Lichen”

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

These lichens are quite common east of the Cascades where they are regularly found on the low, bare branches of young conifers such as Pinus and Abies. It is not uncommon to see branches where almost all of the bark is obscured by lichen growth. In such instances, I regularly find eight or nine species within a few inches of each other. This particular specimen was found alongside BryoriaNodobryoria, Usnea, Letharia, two species of Cetraria, two (or three) species of Hypogymnia, as well as several crustose species I was unable to identify. That’s a lot of diversity for one tiny twig!

Tremella mesenterica “Witch’s Butter” Basidiomycota

Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, MT
October 24, 2015
Robert Niese

The Witch’s Butter complex of species (T. “mesenterica”) are our most common orange, jelly-like fungi in the Pacific Northwest. They are very similar in shape, size and color to Dacrymyces palmatus and microscopic examination is often necessary to distinguish the two normally. As a general rule of thumb however, Tremella mesenterica tends to grow on dead hardwoods, while Dacrymyces tends to grow on conifers. Tremella is an obligate parasite of the crust fungus Peniophora, which can also be a good indicator of species identity for this jelly fungus (the closely related T. aurantia is also an obligate parasite of a rot fungus, but it only grows on conifers). This particular specimen is growing in between the large, ridged bark of a downed Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa).