Mother Nature never ceases to amaze the human race; whether it’s with a strange species of luminescent fish, a giant redwood tree, or a mushroom that appears to be straight from an alien world. The Hydnellum peckii, or Bleeding Tooth Fungus, as it’s commonly known, is no exception to the amazement rule. This fungus was first documented and named in 1913 by Howard James Banker, an American Mycologist (a scientific discipline concerned with the study of fungi.) As the Associate Editor of the journal Mycologia, Banker was an avid student of the toothed-types of fungi. He frequently could be found doing field research across the country and was credited with several other discoveries in addition to this find.
The Bleeding Tooth fungus is mainly found in the Pacific northwest of North America; mostly spotted in coniferous forests. There have been other sightings in Europe, Korea, and the Middle East, but in all cases those have been quite rare. Often times, the fungus growth will be embedded with other plants or debris from the forest floor, making it quite difficult to spot by fungi researchers. It is almost always found in close quarters to pine trees, as it has a symbiotic relationship with the trees roots. This type of relationship happens between fungi and plant roots in about 2% of all plant species. This relationship is quite complex and it’s known as Ectomycorrhiza.
Bleeding Tooth Fungus – Identification & Characteristics
The fungus caps range from an inch up to four inches across when fully developed. They are semi-round but often oval or multi-lobed shaped. They are bumpy textured and the cap can be a pinkish-red or white, but almost always fades to white at the edges in the spring, and will eventually become brown in the fall. What gives the Bleeding Tooth fungus it’s common name and it’s reputation as being unique are the red liquid droplets which exude from the cap. While young and moist, the tough flesh of the cap “bleeds” a bright red sap-like fluid. This red sap emerges from the fungus because of high root pressure, something known as guttation. As the fungus ages, this pressure eases and the Bleeding Tooth fungus stops bleeding and eventually turns brown. Guttation in fungi is not so well understood by science as it is in vascular plants. Basically the fungi bleeds or sweats beads of moisture; in this case it is red colored.
The spines of the fungus are on the underside of the cap. They are very small and serve to support the cap, and as the fungus ages, they will become denser and stronger. The stem of the Bleeding Tooth fungus is variable in size, sometimes less than an inch in height, other times up to 4 inches. There is a portion of the stem below the ground that isn’t seen.
The shape and size of the fungus are merely numbers in the larger picture; it’s the bleeding cap that captures all the headlines. Here, we also find variability as the blood-like juice doesn’t always flow. It’s directly connected to the age of the fungus. The bloody fluid has the role of transporting spores and also protecting the spines of the fungus. As the ageing process occurs, the fungus quits producing it, and the mushroom shrivels up and eventually turns a brown pinkish color. It also shrivels up and gets smaller as time goes on. Coincidentally with the reducing in fluid produced, the Bleeding tooth fungus will also stop “bleeding”. The only reason that it bleeds in the first place is because of high pressure in the root, which basically forces the gooey substance out of the top. When the plant gets older, the pressure drops and eventually the blood will quit coming out. When the bleeding cycle ends, the mushroom will look like a normal mushroom.
The Bleeding tooth fungus can reproduce in two ways, sexually and asexually. There are several ways that they can reproduce asexually; fragmentation, budding, or spore production, and sexually by mycelia either homothallic or heterothallic. The common of the two though is asexual reproduction. This particular mushroom produces fruiting bodies called sporocaps, a multicellular structure in which spores or spore-producing structures are formed. They disperse away from the fungus and create more mycelium, which then produces more of the fungi. Since the Bleeding Tooth fungus can reproduce asexually and sexually that means that it is a perfect fungi.
Use and Toxicity
Hydnellum Peckii is said to have a very bitter taste or some may describe it as being extremely peppery. It isn’t known to be poisonous but the horrible taste makes it non comestible and puts off predators. It’s used primarily to make dyes, especially dyes for food. Chefs use the dye from the fungus to get the colors beige, blue or green. It’s also used in the medical field. Atromentin, a naturally occurring chemical compound is found in Bleeding Tooth fungus. It’s an antibacterial, and is also used to help fight leukemia.
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