Update: Calochortus tiburonensis Discovery Article

Calochortus tiburonensis

In my earlier post about Calochortus tiburonensis, the Tiburon mariposa lily, I mentioned that it’d be fun to track down a journal article I had a citation for that described this species’s discovery on Ring Mountain in Marin County.

eBay came to my rescue, and I was able to acquire and scan the (unfortunately brief) article from volume 42, number 1 of Pacific Horticulture.

It’s still amazing to think that this large, vibrant, weird-looking flower wasn’t noticed on a hillside surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in the world (and close to several world-class universities) wasn’t discovered until 1971. It’s unnerving to think how close to extinction this species came.

Feel free to click here to download the article: The Discovery of Calochortus tiburonensis – Robert C. West.

Update: Calochortus tiburonensis Discovery Article

Laetiporus gilbertsonii – Sulphur Shelf -or- Chicken of the Woods

Laetiporus gilbersonii (sulphur shelf)
Laetiporus gilbertsonii - Sulphur Shelf -or- Chicken of the Woods

Laetiporus gilbertsonii is another of my favorite mushrooms. It was the first wild mushroom that I’ve trusted enough to eat, and it’s the wild mushroom I use as an ambassador for foraging and wild mushroom consumption. To me at least, this mushroom tastes like fried chicken breast, with occasional bursts of fresh lemon. The texture is firmer than normal cooked white mushrooms. It’s absolutely fantastic, and probably the best thing I’ve ever eaten. No joke.

L. gilbertsonii is the west-coast non-conifer sulphur shelf. In older field guides, including the wonderful Mushrooms Demystified, it’s described under L. sulphureus. It wasn’t until recently that the different species of this genus were definitively split up and described using a combination of PCR techniques, mating incompatibility tests, subtle morphological differences, and host tree confirmation by mycologists Harold H. Burdsall, Jr. & Mark T. Banik. The correct splitting up of morphologically similar (even “confounding” in the words of Burdsall and Banik) groups based on these criteria is wonderful, real science. This type of work is more subtle than discovering something flashy and morphologically distinct, like the discovery of Calochortus tiburonensis I described earlier, but it’s no less impressive for its subtlety.

I first learned about this mushroom via a hilarious series of blog entries from the now defunct “zine/blog” The Sneeze. For a few years in a row, Steve documented the growth, consumption, and theft of what he called a “tree brain” from a landscape tree in front of his house. After reading Steve’s description of eating Chicken of the Woods for the first time, I decided that one of my bucket-list life goals would be to track down, identify, and eat this beautiful fungus. I quote from “Steve, Don’t Eat It! The Tree Brain“:

The hunks got more intensely orange as they cooked down and soon it was go time. As I promised my wife, the plan was to chew it and spit it out. BUT IT WAS SO GODDAMN DELICIOUS IT HAD TO BE SWALLOWED. IT WAS THE BEST MUSHROOM I’VE EVER HAD.

Luckily for me, it’s not an uncommon species, and I’ve found it several times in and around my home in Sacramento.

That said, there are definitely tricks to eating this species that one should mind. As a caveat, these tips are intended to cover L. gilbertsonii; I do not have firsthand experience eating L. conifericola, L. sulphureus, or other non-gilbertsonii members of the genus.

Laetiporus gilbersonii
Guerilla cooking some L. gilbertsonii I found during some fieldwork. Note my long-suffering hot plate.
Laetiporus gilbersonii
L. gilbertsonii turns a beautiful orange when cooked.

1. Did you find this mushroom on a Eucalyptus? If so, you should almost certainly avoid eating it. Some people reportedly can eat this species from Eucalyptus to no ill effect, but I personally experienced gastrointestinal upset after eating two small test portions of L. gilbertsonii from a Eucalyptus host on two occasions. It’s a shame too, since this fungus seems to do really well on Eucalyptus, and Murphy’s Law dictates that the best-looking specimens will be found only on that cursed tree!

Laetiporus gilbersonii
Murphy's Law - This is a beautiful specimen that was growing on Eucalyptus. Avoid.

2. Did you find it on a tree in a polluted environment? If so, I’d pass on eating it. I couldn’t resist trying a small test sample of L. gilbersonii that I had found on a huge old valley oak on the side of a very busy road. The mushroom tasted really off, and I’m attributing the bad taste to environmental pollutants.

Laetiporus gilbertsonii (sulphur shelf)
Two strikes against eating this one: It's not mature enough, and it was growing on the side of a very high-traffic road where it was exposed to pollutants.

3. Is it mature enough, but not too old? In my experience, immature chicken-of-the-woods does not taste good. Wait until it has developed distinct pores, lobes and shelves, and hopefully has obtained some nice reds and oranges.

Laetiporus gilbersonii (sulphur shelf)
This is past its prime, but still edible and tasty (if a little woody).
This is way too old to eat. Avoid.

4. Are you going to have wine or beer with it? As a general rule, unless you really know what you’re doing, one shouldn’t drink when consuming wild mushrooms (and never with certain species – especially Coprinusspecies since certain mushrooms block the enzymatic pathways involved in breaking down ethanol.

5. Have you eaten it before without ill-effect? Finally, some folks react badly to mushrooms that are widely considered to be safely edible. I suspect that there might be a psychosomatic root for this, but it’s always a good idea to eat only a small test portion of new-to-you mushroom species. (This rule can be hard to follow if the test portion is especially delicious, but it’s a very good rule.)

Laetiporus gilbertsonii
This is a prime edible specimen. It was growing on an oak in a pristine environment, and it’s mature but not too old. It was delicious!

See also:

Laetiporus gilbertsonii – Sulphur Shelf -or- Chicken of the Woods

Lasiurus cinereus – Hoary Bat

Lasiurus cinereus (hoary bat)

I’m privileged to work with bats. It’s always a thrill to approach a mist net and see if I’ve been lucky enough to have caught a bat, but it’s especially exciting to realize that there’s a hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus) stuck in the net.

Hoary bats are the second-largest bat we encounter in California. only Eumops perotis, the western mastiff bat, is larger. I’ll write about Eumops perotis in a future blog entry.

Hoary bats belong to the genus Lasiurus, which means “hairy-tailed.” They have beautifully-furred wings and uropatagiums, with silver-coloration that gives a frosted or “hoary” appearance. This group’s thick coats are necessary since they tend to be solitary foliage-roosters. In other words, they don’t huddle together for warmth in close crevices or under exfoliating bark like other bat groups.

Lasiurus cinereus (hoary bat)
Angry hoary bat mouths are very impressive!

These bats are strong flyers and voracious insectivores. They’re rather intimidating to work with, with huge mouths filled with sharp teeth. They’re not a “beginner bat” when one is learning to work with bats due to their powerful bites and strong wings. In my experience, they do calm down quickly after being disentangled from mist nets if they’re handled gently and appropriately. I took the video below of a hoary bat that we had just retrieved from a mist net. The bat has not yet calmed down, and its angry vocalizations are most impressive.

This angry hoary bat was just freed from a mist net. It's very upset, but will calm down with gentle handling.

I’ve had the privilege to work on radio-telemetry studies of this species. After radio-tagging and releasing lactating female hoary bats, we release them (as quickly as possible!) to return to their pups. Then, the next day, we track to their maternity roosts where they sleep during the day with their nonvolant (non-flying) pups.

Radiotagged Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus)
Hoary bat with radio transmitter glued to its back. The radio transmitter will fall off naturally when the bat molts in a few weeks.

Here, I'm holding a much calmer hoary bat that we've tagged with a radio transmitter. Later in this video, the bat flies out of my hands into the night. But, first, she pees on me.

Unlike other most bat groups, Lasiuruan bats have four nipples, visible in the image below. This allows them to nurse multiple pups. I suspect that the survival rate of Lasiuran pups is lower than the survival rate of pups from other bat groups because they are foliage roosters. Not only are the pups exposed to the wind shaking tree branches, but they’re also vulnerable to predation by corvids & raccoons.

Lactating Female Hoary Bat (Lasiurus cinereus)
Hoary bat nipples. This female is lactating, and the nursing pups have worn the fur off around her nipples.
Hoary Bat Maternity Roost
The same radio-tagged hoary bat shown above. We've tracked her to her roost, where she's snuggled with her two (large) pups. These pups were volant within a day or two of this photograph.

Per the Western Bat Working Group, hoary bats strongly prefer to eat moths, but are known to eat other insect orders as well. There’s some thought that hoary bats may themselves be carnivorous on other, smaller bats such as Parastrellus hesperus, but there is not (that I’m aware of) anything more than anecdotal evidence for this. From what I’ve heard from bat researchers, playing hoary bat calls is known to cause other bat species to disperse from an area.

Speaking of hoary bat calls, they’re rather low-frequency, usually between 20 and 25 kHz. They have a characteristic “U” shape that is similar to their small cousins, the western red bats (which call at ~ 40-45 kHz).

Recorded hoary bat call, showing characteristic "U" shape and 20-25 kHz range.
Recorded hoary bat call, showing characteristic “U” shape and 20-25 kHz range.

As a side note, if anyone is interested in seeing this fantastic bat in person, come out to the Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust / Middle Mountain Foundation’s bat hike! My mentor, David Wyatt, offers these events several times per year. They’re a lot of fun, and we are usually able to catch, display, and release a representative assortment of California bat species.

See also:

Hoarybat (Homo sapiens) and hoary bat (Lasiurus cinereus)
The author holding his first hoary bat.
Lasiurus cinereus – Hoary Bat

Calochortus tiburonensis – Tiburon Mariposa Lily

Tiburon Mariposa Lily (Calochortus tiburonensis)
Calochortus tiburonensis flower interior

My all-time favorite Calochortus is, debatably, the “ugliest” member of this bizarre and wonderful genus.

Calochortus tiburonensis (Tiburon mariposa lily)
Calochortus tiburonensis flower exterior.

Calochortus tiburonensis, the Tiburon mariposa lily, grows only on the serpentine hillslopes of Ring Mountain in Marin County, California. It’s a crazy looking flower, with hairy pale yellow-green petals that have stipes and flecks of purple-brown.

Calflora.org provides a March-June blooming period, but in 2012, 2013, and 2014 I’ve only found them blooming in mid-May on the sunny eastern slopes in the most obviously serpentine soils.

C. tiburonensis habitat on the serpentine slopes of Ring Mountain.

What really blows my hair back about this flower is that it wasn’t discovered until 1971. Many discoveries/descriptions of new species involve splitting up what was once a monophyletic species on the basis of DNA work or subtle morphology. A prime example of this is Omphalotus olivascens, described in my last blog entry. which was split out from the morphologically-similar Omphalotus illudens / Clitocybe illudens / Monadelphus subilludens in 1976. (Bigelow, Miller, Jr. Thiers, Mycotaxon Vol II, No. 3, pp 363-372). cf Laetiporus phylogenics.

C. tiburonensis growing alongside slender goldfields (Lasthenia californica) and blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) in the rocky serpentine hillside of Ring Mountain.

Not to denigrate the fine science behind subtle species differentiation by any means, but the discovery of C. tiburonensis in 1971 was the discovery of something *really new*. Calochortus is a very charismatic genus, filled with plants with some of the most colorful, showy, and in this author’s opinion, objectively beautiful inflorescences in botany. To discover a new Calochortus is remarkable indeed, especially since tiburnensis looks nothing like any other Calochortus species found in California.

The Kew Botannical Database page for this species cites some really mouthwatering academic articles for this species, including one article I really want to read: “The Discovery of Calochortus Tiburonensis” by RC West from 1981. If anyone has access to the Pac. Hort. journal, I’d love a PDF copy of this article!

The presence of C. tiburonensis (and other endemic botannical rarities) helped save Ring Mountain from development. As a result, it serves as an island of preserved biodiversity in a sea of some of the most valuable real estate in the world. Ring Mountain sticks out from its surroundings, and is one of my favorite nature destinations in California.

Bad iPhone panorama of the Ring Mountain serpentine habitat looking east into the San Francisco Bay.

See also:

Calochortus tiburonensis – Tiburon Mariposa Lily

Omphalotus olivascens – The Western Jack O’Lantern Mushroom

]Omphalotus olivascens - Western Jack O'Lantern Mushroom
Omphalotus olivascens growing from the base of an interior live oak (Quercus wislizeni).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been finding lots of Omphalotus olivascens, the “Western Jack O’Lantern Mushroom,” fruiting on interior live oak (Quercus wislizeni) in Placer County. This is a saprobic species that feeds on rotting or decaying hardwoods, especially oaks.

Omphalotus olivascens - Western Jack O'Lantern Mushroom
Detail of O. olivascens gills, showing subtle olive/violet tones.

This mushroom species is really charismatic, and is one of my favorites. To start, its gills bioluminesce. The bioluminescent effect is subtle, and I’ve only photographed it once. I had to expose this mushroom for 30 seconds at f/3.5 and ISO 3200 in order to show the glowing green bioluminescence.

Bioluminescent Western Jack-O'-Lantern Mushroom
Bioluminescing O. olivascens.

The bioluminescence of this species and its neighbor east of the Rocky Mountains, O. illudens, is undeniably cool. Michael Kuo’s frustrated descriptions of trying to get O. illudens to glow are very amusing and well worth reading. I haven’t been able to see the green glow with my naked eyes yet, but it wasn’t too hard to photograph.

Omphalotus olivascens spore prints
This fungus creates a pale-yellow sporeprint. I sporeprint directly on glass slides to facilitate microscopy.

Mykoweb states that the spores are “6.5-8 x 6-6.5 µm, globose to ovoid, smooth, nonamyloid. Spore print cream to pale yellow.” I’m still nailing down my microscopy technique, but the spores I measured were mostly globose and averaged 6.1 µm.

Omphalotus olivascens spores
Afocal photograph of O. olivascens spores with an iPhone. Measurement via Piximetre software.

This toxic species is sometimes mistaken for edible Chanterelles (Cantharellus sp.), but they’re easily differentiated by their true gills and olive tones. Despite its toxicity, O. olivascens has a fantastic use. It’s a remarkable dyeing mushroom, capable of producing a variety of tones, from gold to purple, depending on the dyeing methodology used.

All Photos-31
O. olivascens drying in my food dehydrator, to be used in wool-dying experiments.

I first learned of the dyeing-properties of mushrooms via Alissa Allen of Mycopigments, and Dustin’s writing and photographs of dyeing with Omphalotus on her blog are wonderful. I’m just starting to learn how to dye and work with fibers, and will write more later. I’ve been using The Rainbow Beneath My Feet: A Mushroom Dyer’s Field Guide, and working with the fine folks at the Mushroom Dyer’s Trading Post to learn more about fungal-based dyes.

Omphalotus olivascens – The Western Jack O’Lantern Mushroom

Scoliopus bigelovii – Fetid Adder’s Tongue

Fetid Adder's Tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii)
Scoliopus bigelovii

Yesterday, we traveled from Sacramento to Mill Valley to visit the Muir Woods National Monument. While the old growth coastal redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are certainly majestic, the plant we were most interested in visiting is much smaller. Specifically, we were intent on finding and photographing “Fetid Adder’s Tongue” (Scoliopus bigelovii).

Fetid Adder's Tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii)
S. bigelovii growing beneath the coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) canopy. Check out those beautiful mottled leaves!

What a wonderful common name this gorgeous little lily has! I can’t think of many weirder, grosser, or just plain nastier common names for plants. Despite its name, the flowers on this plant are bizarre, delicate, and beautiful, with stunning purple-brown stripes on the petals. The leaves have beautiful deep-jade mottles. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t identify any foul smells from the flower, even though the Jepson Herbarium states that they’re “ill-scented when fresh.”

Fetid Adder's Tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii)
S. bigelovii flower detail.

There’s another member of the Scoliopus genus, S. hallii, found in Oregon that is named, appropriately-enough, the Oregon fetid adder’s tongue. The flowers seem to be smaller, and they’re much yellower. It’d be fun to visit them to compare them in person some day.

Illustration from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, v. 123 (1897-1920).

It was amazing how many people walked by me on the main Muir Woods trail without being in the least bit curious about this wonderful little flower. The rangers were cool — they enjoyed chatting about some of the early-season flowers in the park and were mildly amused that we’d driven to see a small flower instead of the huge trees. My wife commented that she’s becoming “a nature snob,” who likes smaller, subtler trails and adventures instead of super-crowded places like Muir Woods. Maybe we’d have better luck visiting on a weekday, and it’ll certainly be nice when our girls are a little older and we can tackle the more challenging hikes again.

Scoliopus bigelovii – Fetid Adder’s Tongue