Blue is the rarest color in nature. So, why is this crust — hidden under branches and leaf debris — such a brilliant blue? For whom or what is it blue? In other words, what is the adaptive function of such a unique color in Byssocorticium atrovirens? All eight recognized species of Byssocorticium are blue, so whatever the explanation is, the coloration has been preserved over long periods of evolutionary time. Byssocorticium is ripe for research — one could compare blue Byssocorticium species with their closely related non-blue cousins to answer the questions above.
The genus Byssocorticium is a member of the poorly understood order called Atheliales, which consists entirely of crust fungi (Rosenthal et al. 2017). The genus name derives from the byssoid, or cotton-like, texture of the basidiocarp. Telltale signs that you have a Byssocorticium species include the blue coloration, the byssoid texture, as well hyphae that branch at right angles. However, according to Kotiranta et al. (2009), Byssocorticium may be a polyphyletic group — an artificial lumping of crusts belonging to different genera. Similarly, Byssocorticium atrovirens may be very widespread, but more likely most blue specimens are labelled as Byssocorticium atrovirens when they actually constitute many different species. This specimen, for example, has finger-like hyphidia, a characteristic reported for Tretomyces lutescens — a yellow species that was once placed in the genus Byssocorticium — suggesting an affinity with Tretomyces. This hypothesis is also supported by this specimen's yellow blotches.
Byssocorticium atrovirens forms ectomcyrrhizae and may be an important component of forest ecosystems.
Ecology: The described specimen was growing on the underside of deciduous leaf debris.
Basidiocarp: Effused, byssoid, hymenial surface even, blue with yellowish patches.
Hyphal system: Monomitic, blue-green, subicular hyphae with simple septa, 2.5–3.5 µm wide (n = 10), branching at right angles, with a coarse texture not dissolving in KOH.
Basidia: Terminal, clavate, length (17.2) 17.7–20.6 (21.3) µm, width (3.7) 4.0–5.2 (5.4) µm, mean 19.1 ✕ 4.6 µm (n = 10), with four sterigmata, length (1.1) 1.9–3.3 (5.4) µm, mean 2.6 µm (n = 10), occasionally with a basal clamp, often filled with guttules.
Basidiospores: Smooth, thick-walled, hyaline, inamyloid, indextrinoid, cyanophilous cell wall, subglobose to broadly ellipsoid in form, pyriform in shape with a tapered apiculus, length (3.5) 3.8–4.4 (5.1) µm, width (3.2) 3.4–4.0 (4.4) µm, mean 4.1 ✕ 3.7 µm, Q (1.0) 1.0–1.2 (1.4) (n = 30), usually with a single large guttule occupying 60–80% of the spore cytoplasm.
Sterile Structures: Cystidia absent, hyphidia finger-like, as in Tretomyces lutescens.
Sequences: ITS rDNA (NAMP MF75321).
Notes: All measurements were taken using a smash mount of dried tissue in 5% KOH stained with phloxine. Amyloidy was determined in Melzer's reagent. Cyanophily was determined in cotton blue.
iNat17333142; collected on 06 October 2018 at 5304 Reeve Rd., Dane County, Wisconsin, USA, 43.14577103°N 89.81137848°W; legit. Stephen Russell, det. Alden Dirks, ref. Jülich (1980) and Bernicchia & Gorjón (2010); Kriebel Herbarium PUL00042321.
Bernicchia, A. & S.P. Gorjón. (2010). Corticiaceae s.l. Fungi Europaei n˚12. Ed. Massimo Candusso, Italia.
Jülich, W. (1980). The Resupinate Non-poroid Aphyllophorales of the Temperate Northern Hemisphere. North-Holland Publishing Company.
Kotiranta, H., Larsson, K.-H., Saarenoksa, R., & Kulju, M. (2011). Tretomyces gen. novum, Byssocorticium caeruleum sp. nova, and new combinations in Dendrothele and Pseudomerulius (Basidiomycota). Finnish Zoological and Botanical Publishing Board, 48(1), 37–48.
Rosenthal, L. M., Larsson, K.-H., Branco, S., Chung, J. A., Glassman, S. I., Liao, H.-L., … Bruns, T. D. (2017). Survey of corticioid fungi in North American pinaceous forests reveals hyperdiversity, underpopulated sequence databases, and species that are potentially ectomycorrhizal. Mycologia, 109(1), 115–127.
So byssoid and blue! This species also acquires yellow patches, perhaps as it ages.
The mascroscopic color of Byssocorticium atrovirens derives from the blue-green hyphae. DI water without stain.
The hyphae are long and branching at right angles with a rough, course texture. In this photo, a glob of gunk can be seen on a hypha in the center. 5% KOH stained with phloxine.
The spores are small and subglobose with a pointy apiculus that gives them the appearance of a pear. Note the large oil droplet (guttule) in most spores. 5% KOH stained with phloxine.
The basidiospores of Byssocorticium atrovirens are cyanophilic, meaning they stain dark blue in cotton blue mounting medium. Cotton blue.
The basidia have four sterigmata (although these appear to have two) and are often filled with guttules. 5% KOH stained with phloxine.
This is the beginning of a finger-like hyphidia. While the subicular hyphae completely lack clamps, the subhymenial hyphae have occasional clamps, distinguishing this species from Byssocorticium efibulatum. 5% KOH stained with phloxine.
Another look at the distinct finger-like a hyphidia, a characteristic also reported for a different genus in the family, Tretomyces. 5% KOH stained with phloxine.