Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Friday, October 07, 2011

Strange tiny Fungi

I have refrained from calling this Fungus "weird" as I have used that adjective too many times - I think.

Septobasidium clelandii on Tea Tree stem.
The first thing I noticed was not the dark "stems" of the fruiting body of the fungus, but rather, the black stained bark of the Tea Tree Branch. It reminded me immediately of the kind of "mold" one sees in the corner of a very old bathroom.
Black stains on the Tea Tree bush - and Fungal fruiting bodies
In this photo you can see a grey tip of the fruiting body - presumably the spores.
The fruiting bodies - the little black spikes - are about 12 mm long.
Septobasidium clelandii with spores showing
This fungus has an interesting lifestyle, somewhat reminding me of the lifestyle of the Cordyceps group of Fungi. According to the usual sources, these fungi are not related in any way to the Cordyceps (Basidiomycetes versus Ascomycetes). Both fungi parasitise the body of a larval insect - in this case a gall-forming Coccid bug called Callococcus leptospermi. That insect is a relative of the Scale insects, so I have sent the photos and notes to Dr Penny Gullan of the ANU in Canberra, a specialist in Scale insects (and their relatives).

As you can tell from the name, the insect favours Leptospermum shrubs. This was the case with my fungus/gall-forming insect. I confess to not being sure of the plant species, yet, as it was not in flower.I collected a small branch to show to my friend Joan Freere who is very experienced with Fungi. We found it in Bruce Fuhrer's book "Field Guide to Australian Fungi". That book told us that the fungus attacks a coccid bug, which forms galls on the host Leptospermum plant. Sure enough there were lumps wherever the fungi were appearing. I had not noticed them at first, until we read Fuhrer's book.
Tea Tree branch swelling where the fungus is.
The swellings are caused by a bug which has burrowed into the shrub

A good example of the gall forming (on the right of the stem)

Leaves of the Tea Tree (Leptospermum) host plant
close-up of the Leptospermum leaves.


catmint said...

Dear Denis, such an interesting post. I've got lots of Leptrospermum shrubs but I haven't noticed this funghi. And I'll say it for you - weird! cheers, cm

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Catmint.
Somebody had to say it.

Boobook said...

Hi Dennis
Fascinating. I've noticed these in Fuhrer's book but have never seen one. I wonder what its distribution is.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Boobook
There seems to be little published in the "popular press" about these Fungi.
Distribution maps seem not to have been produced.
But the Tea Trees are extremely wide-spread.
I suspect it is a case of "seldom noticed" rather than "rare".
At least you now know what to look for.

Anonymous said...

Very nice presentation Denis.

The genus is also available in Europe. Septobasidium is one of the rust fungi s.l.
Although these are among the plant pathogens, the biology of these rusts very interesting (changing hosts, etc.). Are relationships between fungi and insects, a whole series. A very good example is with us (introduced from America), the relationship between the beautiful cicada Graphocephala fennahi and the fungus Pycnostysanus azaleae.

Greeting Peter

Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Peter

I was hoping you would notice my posting, and offer some informed comments.
And you have done so.
Many thanks.
Interesting to know that the genus is so widespread. I assume that means they are very "old" (in evolutionary terms).


Denis Wilson said...

Peter, it is interesting that you refer to the Rust Fungi.
All Australian school children (of my age, anyway), learnt about the development of rust resistant wheat varieties, by William Farrer
From a quick Google search, Rust Fungi still have huge impacts on cereal and other crops.