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The Honey Mushroom,Armillaria mellea.

The Honey Mushroom, Armillaria mellea.
The honey mushroom is a very variable species and through research in the 1970’s it was found that the mushroom is actually made up of 5 species in Europe and a further 10 in N.America,with more species throughout the World. In appearance, all of the species are very similar except in one regard. The honey mushroom (Armillaria mellea) has a ring (annulus) on the stalk whereas Armillaria tabescens has no ring.
A.mellea is very common in Eastern North America whereas A.tabescens is more common in the south eastern United States.

The honey mushroom is extremely destructive as it is parasitic on trees,although some species are much less virulent than others. It spreads beneath the ground by means of hyphae that intertwine and form “roots” that are called rhizomorphs that look somewhat like black boot laces. The rhyzomorphs can also be found beneath the bark of an infected tree and grow at a rate of about one metre per year, so they are able to extend their reach very quickly. Once the rhyzomorphs encircle the tree, and cut off the flow of nutrients to the tree, the tree will die.

 
 

Immature Honey Mushroom,Armillaria mellea.
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Growing at the base of a tree.
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Honey Mushroom, Armillaria mellea.
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Significant characteristics.
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Another very interesting fact about the honey fungus is that it is bioluminescent. It has the ability to glow in the dark. In the case of the honey mushroom, if you see this phenomenon what you are actually seeing is not the fruiting body itself glowing but rather the vegetative part of the organism, the mycelium. This ability to glow in the dark is commonly known as “Foxfire”.  It is now known that there are 71 species of fungi in the World that have this ability. Curiously, in some species it is the fruiting body itself that glows rather than the mycelium.It is thought that fungi developed this ability so as to attract insects to aid in the dispersal of spores.

The "Honey" is also well known by another name,although you probably will not find reference to it any field guide. It became known as "The Humongous Fungus" after it was found in Michigan in 1992, to cover a very large area,some 37 acres.It was also calculated that it weighed some 100 tons and was about 1,500 years old. This specimen was A.bulbosa,now known as A.gallica.

It's reputation "grew",no pun intended,later that same year when an even larger specimen was found in the state of Washington. This species of honey,A.ostoyae,covered an area of 1,480 acres.

The current record holder is alive and well and living in the state of Oregon. This humongous fungus (A.ostoyae) covers an area of 3.4 square miles and was discovered in August of 2000. It is estimated that this fungus is at least 2,400 years old(assuming a growth rate of one metre per year). Since it is 60 times bigger than the Michigan fungus it's calculated weight is about 6,000 tons! This gives the honey mushroom the dubious distinction of being the oldest and largest living organism on earth. 



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