Friday 22 February 2013

Shaggy Mane

Image: inyucho
Coprinus comatus
My favourite name for this mushroom is Lawyer's Wig, but this cranial accoutrement has a use-by date. Perhaps you thought all lawyer's wigs were past their use-by date... apparently not.

Image: Frankenstoen
The Shaggy Mane, also known as the Shaggy Ink Cap, is a mushroom native to Europe and North America. It's also found in Australia and New Zealand, where it may have been introduced by human activity.

Image: .Bambo.
The Shaggy Mane's shaggy mane
Their names Shaggy Mane and Lawyer's Wig come from the strangely hairy appearance of the cap. Beneath it is a stem which can reach anywhere between 10 and 30 cm (4 to 12 in) tall.

Image: Steve Guttman NYC
Can't shake the feeling that this is someone's nightmare come true
Shaggy Manes emerge after rain; sometimes just one, lonesome soul, other times a whole clump of them.

Image: scorzonera
Goodlawns ruined by mushroom, yesterday
They can grow in the strangest places. When it rains, their tissues absorb water such that they can expand with enough force to break through asphalt. I'd like to see your wig do that! Also they're edible and apparently delicious, at least for a while. So don't eat your hat, eat your wig instead.

Image: Tomasz Lewicki
Compare left to right. It has begun...
And yet, even as they grow to their full height, the Shaggy Mane begins to destroy itself...

Image: Marko_K
Death by gills
The problem is the gills on the underside of the cap. These start out white before they turn pink and then black. At this point, the spores within the gills are fully mature and ready to be released into the air, to sail on the breeze like motes of dust, and to try their tiny luck at becoming a whole new mushroom.

But to do this, the cap must DIE!

Image: ednl
A wave of destruction eats away at the cap from bottom to top.

Image: Dave_A_2007
As it does so, the bell acquires a bell shape so that the gills are opened out to allow space for the spores to drift away.

Image: Le No
Soon enough, there is nothing left but one of those annoying bar stools. This one is worse than most, not only because it's way too tall...

Image: jenny downing
It's also wet. That wave of destruction is called deliquescence, a beautiful word which means "to melt away". If only the Wicked Witch of the West had the wherewithal in her final, agonising moments... her death could have been that much more couture.

Image: Collin Key
Witness thy melted future
Oddly enough, it's water that does for both the Wicked Witch and the mushroom in the end. About two hours before the spores are ready to be released, the cap and gills produce an enzyme called chitinase. It's hydrolytic, which means that the addition of water molecules causes it to smash stuff up.

In this case, it breaks down chitin. And chitin is what the cell walls of fungi are made of. So the cap and gills are utterly destroyed, leaving behind a black ink that can be used for writing or as a dye. Just add water and a lawyer has everything he needs!

Image: menokeller
All that's left is a long stalk and a tiny remnant of the cap which rots away in more usual fashion. They are weird towers of dripping doom, monuments to self-annihilation and destruction, dark nights and black dogs, soured dreams and gloomy thoughts unbidden.

Also lawyers.


TexWisGirl said...

cute! but maybe not so cute...

Crunchy said...

I always see the "bar stool" stage of these guys. Nice to know what I'm missing!

Joseph JG said...

@TexWisGirl: Indeed! Such is the journey from birth to death.

@Crunchy: That's really cool! I'm glad I could show you them in their youth and vigour.