I often post new things I discover in the one acre wooded area behind my house. And I am constantly amazed by what presents itself in the small place I have explored so many times before. When I think back to the first impression I had on these woods–that they lacked diversity, I now realize that what was really lacking was my ability to see what was there all along.
But the other day I found something that may truly be new to the area. I must have been 30 yards away when I spotted the small patch of bright red on my yard debris pile, that seemed out of place in the middle of February. The only things in nature that are that color this time of year are the holly berries, but they are usually a couple feet off the ground and much smaller.
The patch turned out to be a small grouping of cup fungi. The fungi are from the genus Sarcoscypha. A visual examination narrows down the species to either coccinea, austriaca or possibly dudleyi. A precise scientific name could only be determined by microscopic observation. For the purposes of this post, I will call the fungi scarlet cups.
Scarlet cup fruiting bodies (apothacia) can most often be seen in late Winter or early Spring. They tend to grow on dead branches among the leaf litter on a damp shaded north facing surface (although the ones I found were on a south facing substrate).
I did a thorough search of the area, and found no other cups growing. A brightly colored fungus as this would be very hard to miss even if you were not looking for it. I even overturned some leaves to see if they may have been hiding.
It is said that these fungi make an audible “puffing” sound when they discharge their spores.
Scarlet cups are a favorite food of slugs and rodents, so if you want to photograph them in pristine condition, you have to have a bit of luck on your side. As you can see, I did not.
The thing that puzzles me about these fungi, as I have been puzzled by other fungi in the past, is why they grow where they do?
I understand a small amount about the environmental requirements of fungi. Scarlet cup pollen, like other pollens need to find the right substrate on which to grow, and they have specific requirements as far as light, moisture, temperature and so on. But why is it that for certain fungi, they can only be found in a very small area within a large forest? Are their needs so specific that it is almost impossible for them to find a place that is conducive to their needs?
For now, this is a question that I will continue to wonder about.
As far as the scarlet cups are concerned, I must be content to enjoy the small patch that I discovered, until the mice nibble them away completely – and hope that their pollen may, in time, find a suitable location in which to grow.