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A Menacing Look – Teeth-bearing Fungi

Observing different characteristics of mushrooms can spark the imagination. What nature provides can be stranger than most science fiction. Their various shapes and colors seem to defy the laws of nature and reality.

Not all fungi are traditional toadstools with gills underneath but instead have a more menacing appearance. One example is the evolution of teeth-bearing undersides of some species of fungi. But not to worry, these species don’t bite!

This post will highlight some of the popular edibles sold in local markets around the world to some of the rarer, New Zealand endemic teeth-bearing fungi.

I’ve come across various species here in Te Anau and the Kepler Track. The first time I spotted a webcap that didn’t have gills underneath was in Abel Tasman. Upon a ridge and under fallen beech branches and golden palm fronds, white Hydnum crocidens caught my attention. Lifting up the branches to get a better look, I was taken aback by the hundred or so tiny icicle-like teeth that dangled like stalactites.

hedgehog mushroom
Hydnum repandum / Hedgehog mushroom

Genus Hydnum

Hydnum is derived from (h)udnon/ύδνον, an Ancient Greek word for truffle.

My fascination with the Genus Hydnum began when I first encountered the H. crocidens species and went down a rabbit hole only to discover that not only was the mushroom unique, but it is also a choice edible in some parts of the world. Especially the Hydnum repandum, commonly known as the ‘wood hedgehog’ or ‘sweet tooth mushroom.’

Edibility

The mushrooms of the Hydnum group grow both on the ground and on wood with most Hydnum being safe to eat.

H. repandum is collected and sold in local markets throughout British Columbia, Canada, Mexico, and Europe. In Italy and France, they’re sold with chanterelles and are commonly sold under their French name “pied-de-mouton” (sheep’s foot).

The cap is yellow, to light orange to brown and gives off a pleasant odor paired with a spicy, peppery, oyster, or bitter taste (depending on age).

NORTH KOREA – CIRCA 1991: a stamp printed in North Korea shows Sweet Tooth, Hydnum Repandum, is an Edible Mushroom, circa 1991

North Korea values hedgehog mushrooms and had a stamp produced back in 1991 featuring the fungi.

N. Korea even professed their love for mushrooms in one of its 310 bizarre propaganda slogans.

“Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms by making mushroom cultivation scientific, intensive and industrialized!”

The country even sent S. Korea 2 tons ($1.4M) worth of pine mushrooms as a gift, but many feared that they were exposed to radiation given multiple sources suggesting their growth was in close proximity to a nuclear test site.

Each country has a relationship with its native species of mushrooms, yet there is still much to learn about endemic teeth-bearing fungi, especially so in the forests of New Zealand and Australasia.

RELATED: Fiordland Fungi of New Zealand

Hydnum crocidens

Hydnum crocidens is originally native to Australia and was first described by Mordecai Cubitt Cooke in 1890. The H. crocidens species has shown close relation to H. rufescens and other relatives.

During the first weeks of September (Spring) in Te Anau, I have lost count of the number of Hydnum crocidens growing in clusters along the Kepler Track and near the Waiau River. The species grows alongside the track in moss-covered stumps and soil near tea trees.

Hydnum crocidens
Hydnum crocidens

A darker, burnt red-colored variety of H. crocidens is more prevalent compared to the white ones – named H. crocidens var. badium. Found growing near mānuka.

Hydnum crocidens var. badium

Beenakia dacostae / Beenak Long Tooth

I hopped in the old campervan one day, determined to make my way out to a place marked as a filming spot for Lord of the Rings. It was an obscure and hidden spot on the side of a gravel road just past Rainbow Reach towards Manapouri. There was no signage. “It was on Google Maps, so it’s gotta be accurate,” I told myself.

Little did I know, the trails were not official and were not maintained. Clambering over fallen trees and side-stepping branches was quite a disorientating experience, but as I ventured further into the thick of it, I happened upon a rare species, a Beenakia dacostae. It would be the first fungi I would find to have a conservation status of near threatened (NT) and be on the IUCN Red List.

Beenakia dacostae
Beenakia dacostae

Beenakia dacostae or the “Beenak Long Tooth” is a rare species found on tree fern trunks and on forest litter in wet forests of SE Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. Often found in dry forest debris under rotting logs, it has small, decurrent, soft, light olive-brown “teeth” instead of gills that extend partway down the stem.

The species has a soft cream to ochre-colored cap, gets up to 25 mm, and is often conjoined. Beenakia has a white spore print and is microscopically related to coral fungus Ramaria sp.

Currently, there are seven known species of Beenakia.

Genus Sarcodon

Derived from ancient greek; sarco = flesh and odon = tooth

Along the Kepler Track up near Brod Bay, I would take the first incline up the mostly flat path that bordered Lake Te Anau. Upon the side of the track, partly hidden under foliage, a dark shape stood out.

As I was drawn into the shadowy figure to inspect further, the species struck me as something opposite of what I would have expected.

I was used to spotting white Hydnum spp. down on the edges of the track where water from rain runoff flows downhill. Yet, I would later find out that I had found a Sarcodon species accompanied by two tiny, barely noticeable white fungi. A David vs. Goliath scene that gave the Sarcodon an even more imposing appearance as it hung over the duo, teeth out.

Previously described as Hydnum thwaitesii by Miles Berkley and Christopher Edmund Broome from collections made in Sri Lanka back in 1873. In 1964, Dutch mycologist Rudolph Arnold Maas Geesteramus changed the genus to Sarcodon, stating “to judge from the hyphal structure and the spore characters, this is a true Sarcodon.”

sarcodon carbonarius
sarcodon carbonarius
Parasitized Sarcodon carbonarius

In 1958, Gordon Herriot Cunningham, the “Father” of New Zealand’s mycology, as well as having a colorful early life as a boxer, gold prospector, motorcyclist, farmer, lumberjack, horticulturist and Gallipoli veteran, classified the Hydnum carbonarium, a synonym for S. thwaitesii.

“Thwaitesii” is used to honor the English botanist and entomologist George Henry Kendrick Thwaites.

In 2004, Landcare Research named the rooms hosting the New Zealand Fungal Herbarium at its Auckland site the GH Cunningham Mycology Suite in his honor.

Species of Sarcodon are prevalent in New Zealand and found in both the north and south islands. Yet, there is mention of divergence from the Sarcodon thwaitesii species in the southernmost part of the South Island, and I suspect this one is that (unnamed var.).

Edibility

Regarding taste, the fungus can be bitter but is said to be less apparent in younger specimens. In China, it is a popular edible mushroom and it is used for lowering cholesterol levels, muscle relaxation, and blood circulation.

There is even a recipe for a health beverage that uses 250g of dried Sarcodon aspratus as the main ingredient paired with Licorice root (20g), ginkgo (200g), persimmon leaf (50g), elm tree (50g), and water (25L) – put in a pressure kettle and heat for 4 hours at 180deg Celcius.

Toothed Jelly Fungus / Pseudohydnum gelatinosum

To find some of the stranger species one must go off the beaten path, so stepping over branches and twigs I trudge through mossy overgrowth and keep my head down.

I found a fallen branch and expected to find more Heterotextus miltinis (Golden Jelly Bells), but instead discovered dark grey tongue-like textured gelatinous tops with soft translucent white gelled teeth underneath. They looked like little tongues sticking out at me.

Pseudohydnum gelatinosum (common names include toothed jelly fungus, false hedgehog mushroom, cat’s tongue, and white jelly mushroom) is an edible mushroom. Although bland, it can be candied or marinated.

However, this rubbery tooth fungus is not a close relative of either the Wood Hedgehog or the Bearded Tooth and is instead a member of the Tremellales order.

There is an ecological purpose to the gel-like interior as they act as water reservoirs, allowing the fungus to drop spores even during times of drought. The fungi can shrivel up in dry conditions, enter a dormant stage, and come back to life when water is available.

A widely distributed species, it is found in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, North America, Central America, and South America.

Black tooth/ Genus Phellodon

Phellodon is derived from phell-, meaning “cork”, and –don, meaning “tooth”.

During the winter months in Abel Tasman National Park on the Tinline Trail I would first encounter a Phellodon. A bouquet of black and brown-topped caps with tiny white teeth underneath stood out from the moss.

Phellodon sinclairii is a native tooth fungus found in beech forests of New Zealand. In 1867, Miles Joseph Berkeley first described the species as Hydnum. Gordon Herriot Cunningham transferred the species to the genus Phellodon in 1958.

Phellodon is typically a tough inedible fungus that often has twigs and conifer needles embedded in its caps. Insects also seem to find this fungus hard to get their teeth into. No knowledge of recipes are out there for this type of tooth fungus, yet dried specimens are said to have the odor of fenugreek.

Although these aren’t all the tooth-like fungi that are prevalent throughout New Zealand, these are the ones I have come across and I look forward to discovering more, as is the joy of going out into nature – there’s always something new and exciting to find.

Especially in the realm of fungi here in New Zealand where there’s an expected 22,000 species. To date, approximately 7,500 species have been recorded in New Zealand, accounting for about a third of our total fungal biota. As more species are discovered they will be added to this blog.

READ: The Alienness of White Basket Fungus

References:

“Fungi.” New Zealand Plant Conservation Network, www.nzpcn.org.nz/flora/fungi/.

Jang Nam Soo. Method For Manufacturing The Health Beverage Utilizing Extraction of Sarcodon Aspratus. Republic of Korea Examined Patent Application, Second Publication; SINCE 970930 Granted Patent KR20080009473. 30 Jan 2008.

Kang, Tae-jun. “What’s behind North Korea’s Pine Mushroom Gift to South?” – The Diplomat, For The Diplomat, 28 Sept. 2018, thediplomat.com/2018/09/whats-behind-north-koreas-pine-mushroom-gift-to-south/.

Monitor, Magazine. “Decoding North Korea’s Fish and Muschroom Slogans.” BBC News, BBC, 13 Feb. 2015, www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-31446387.

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Joseph Pallantehttps://nzfungi.com
An avid traveller, Joe enjoys spending time exploring the New Zealand countryside. In his spare time, he travels around in his campervan, writes about nature, and takes photos of fungi.

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