Common Interior Alaska Cryptogams: Fungi, Lichenicolous Fungi, Lichenized Fungi, Slime Molds, Mosses, and Liverworts

Common Interior Alaska Cryptogams: Fungi, Lichenicolous Fungi, Lichenized Fungi, Slime Molds, Mosses, and Liverworts

by Gary A. Laursen, Rodney D. Seppelt


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Common Interior Alaska Cryptogams: Fungi, Lichenicolous Fungi, Lichenized Fungi, Slime Molds, Mosses, and Liverworts by Gary A. Laursen, Rodney D. Seppelt

With Common Interior Alaska Cryptogams, Gary A. Laursen and Rodney Seppelt offer the first field guide to cryptogams of the Denali National Park and Preserve. Useful to both lay and professional investigators, this fully illustrated compendium covers mushroom fungi, lichenized fungi, lichenicolous fungi, slime molds, mosses, and liverworts. This field guide to commonly seen cryptogams will provide a basis for understanding their vast diversity of taxa, speciation, edibility, relative abundance, and utility, as well as the ecological roles played by these organisms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781602230583
Publisher: University of Alaska Press
Publication date: 09/15/2009
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 1,202,244
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Gary A. Laursen is a senior research professor with the Institute of Arctic Biology and adjunct associate professor of mycology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Rodney D. Seppelt is principal research scientist with the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) and curator of the AAD Herbarium.

Read an Excerpt

Common Interior Alaska Cryptogams

Fungi, Lichenicolous Fungi, Lichenized Fungi, Slime Molds, Mosses, and Liverworts
By Gary A. Laursen Rodney D. Seppelt

University of Alaska Press

Copyright © 2009 University of Alaska Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60223-058-3

Chapter One

Interior Landscapes

The Setting

Significant Interior Alaska landscapes are included in one of our nation's largest parks. On February 26, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation that created Mount McKinley National Park, renamed Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980 (Fig. 9). In 1922, the park was enlarged to the east and in 1932, to the west. Denali State Park, an area of 324,240 acres, was created in 1970. Lands within the National Park were designated as "wilderness." The addition of "preserve" lands to the existing "park" lands, in 1980, tripled the size of what then became Denali National Park & Preserve, hereafter referred to as DNP&P, to its present 6,028,091 acres (Figs. 11 and 12). Mount McKinley (Fig. 10), called Traleika (Athabascan for "high mountain") and later Denali (Athabascan for "great one"), was in later years referred to as Densmore's Mountain after prospector Frank Densmore, who frequented the area. The name "McKinley" is derived from the name of Ohio governor William McKinley (1843-1901), who became our nation's twenty-fifth president. It is a subarctic mountain where the sun sets on June 21 at 11:30 p.m. and rises again at 12:45 a.m. On December 21, the sun rises at 9:30 a.m., but sets at 3:00 p.m. In 1913, Walter Harper became the first to climb Mount McKinley. The mountain is within the taiga ("land of little sticks") biome and is known for its upper boreal forest components of white and black spruce and alpine and subarctic tundra ("land of no trees"), with precipitous landscapes, solifluction (Fig. 13), and meandering rivers and streams. The setting is a geomorphologist's opened textbook for all to witness.

DNP&P is dominated by lofty, snow-covered mountain peaks constituting, in part, the Alaska Range (Fig. 14), a section of the Alaska Aleutian Physiographic Province of the Pacific Mountain System. Portions of the northern foothills of the Alaska Range are in the central and eastern sections of DNP&P, while the western section occupies the Tanana-Kuskokwim Lowlands of the Western Alaska Province. Elevations range from 122 m (400 ft) to 6,194 m (20,320 ft) at the top of Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America and the western terminus of the Alaska Range. Six major glaciers 40 to 72 km (25 to 45 miles) long run away from the mountain, leaving glaciated U-shaped valleys as they melt and from which silt-laden waters flow year-round. The northwestern section, a relatively flat area of lowlands covered by white spruce forests, contrasts strikingly with the mountainous areas. About half of the Alaska interior consists of mountains and ridges above 1,219 m (4,000 ft) elevation. Above 2,134 m (7,000 ft), snow and glaciers remain continuously in these subarctic mountains where elevations of 1,829 to 2,134 m (6,000 ft to 7,000 ft) are common. Average heights increase as one approaches Mount McKinley, with many peaks exceeding 3,048 m (10,000 ft). North of the Alaska Range, the landscape encompasses areas of rolling tundra. These rise into hills and a system of less-than-rugged mountains called the Outer Range. The landscape then sweeps into low-lying boggy muskeg and omnipresent boreal spruce forests dissected by braided, meandering to incised streams, creeks, and brooks (Fig. 15). With few roads, but hosting myriad trails and footpaths, the land is bisected by a single 146 km (91 miles) well-maintained gravel road running east to west to the south of the Outer Range and running out into the gold-rich Kantishna Hills. Here is where a great deal of the work on cryptogams in the Alaska interior has been focused.


The Alaska interior lies within two major climatic zones. A continental climate exists to the north of the Alaska Range, whereas a transitional climate (ranging from coastal maritime to continental) is exhibited to the south. The north is characterized by 381 mm (15 in) of precipitation annually, with 1,905 mm (75 in) of snow and greater fluctuation in temperature (hotter in summer and much colder in winter) than the area to the south. About half of the summer days are cloudy, and Mount McKinley is not visible, or only partially visible. Clearer skies persist with cooler temperatures in fall, winter, and spring. Summer temperatures generally range from 1.7? to 18.9?C (35? to 66?F), but may occasionally reach 32?C (90?F). Winter temperatures range from -21.7? to 2.8?C (-7? to 27?F) and may drop to -47?C (-52?F). Winter temperatures at higher elevations are generally more severe. The Alaska Range is a barrier to north-south air movements and precipitation from the maritime influences to the south, thus creating a transitional climate. Areas on the south side of the range receive precipitation amounts at least twice those measured on the north side. There are more cloudy days on the south side throughout the year, largely as a result of storms that develop in the Gulf of Alaska and are pushed up against the range. Temperatures on the south side of the range exhibit less variation and tend to be warmer in winter and cooler in summer. Mean temperature ranges near park headquarters at the east entrance to the park are -20.6? to11.0?C (-5.2? to 12.0?F) in January and 6.5? to 21?C (43.8? to 69.8?F) in July.

The average annual precipitation at DNP&P headquarters is slightly more than 36 cm (14 in); snowfall there is 192 cm (75.7 in). At higher elevations in the Alaska Range, precipitation exceeds 203 cm (80 in) and snowfall exceeds 1,015 cm (400 in). Normal snowpack throughout the region averages between 51 and 102 cm (20 and 40 in).


Interior Alaska is dominated by Mount McKinley and a series of two and sometimes three parallel, rugged, and glaciated mountain ridges known as the Alaska Range. High mountains (Mount McKinley at 6,194 m (20,320 ft), Mount Foraker at 5,304 m (17,400 ft), and Mount Hunter at 4,442 m (14,573 ft) within the range are perpetually snow-clad generally above 2,134 m (7,000 ft), where numerous glaciers originate. Northern foothills of the Alaska Range consist of a series of east-westerly oriented ridges, starting with the Kantishna Hills and running eastward. Summit altitudes generally range from 610 to 1,372 m (2,000 to 4,500 ft). Ridges are separated by broad glacial valleys that range from 3 to 16 km (2 to 10 miles) in width. Southern foothills are generally quite steep and are cut through by large south-flowing glaciers. To the south of the Alaska Range, and west of the Talkeetna Mountains, broad Susitna River lowlands reach out in a north/south direction, where elevations are less than 152 m (500 ft).

Fungi: Mushrooms and Other Cryptogams

In the vast subarctic landscape that is interior Alaska, more than 250 species of vascular plants share their habitat with an extraordinary abundance of cryptogams.

Most people who visit have a general idea of what fungi are, that they occur in many different habitats, and that great care should be taken in any attempt to collect and prepare them for the table.

REMEMBER! Collections of any plant or animal material within Denali National Park & Preserve are prohibited by law and can only be made in the company of research applications and issued permits!

The most familiar examples of cryptogams are the fungi, which include the Basidiomycetes (club fungi) that include agaricoid (gilled mushrooms), boletinoid, polyporoid, toothed, coraloid, cantharelloid, thelephoroid, gasteroid (puffballs and bird's nests), rusts, jellies, and Ascomycetes (sac fungi), the cup fungi, and earth tongues. There are also the less familiar cryptogam groups that include the lichenicolous fungi, lichenized fungi or lichens, and more distantly related groups such as slime molds (Perichaena minor) (Fig. 16a-q). Also included in the cryptogams are the mosses and liverworts, photosynthesizing plants that are very different from the fungi. Few people, however, know very much about fungi or other cryptogams. Those who study fungi are referred to as mycologists, whether amateur or professional, while those studying the mosses and liverworts are bryologists.

Fungi (singular: fungus) are unique organisms, so much so that they have been assigned by taxonomists (i.e., scientists who name and classify organisms) into their own kingdom-the Fungi (Myceteae). Their sudden appearance (which requires rains or moisture), vivid colors, lack of chlorophyll (the photosynthetic pigment of higher plants, requiring the fungi to find a suitable carbon source as nutrition for survival), unusual odors, delicate flavors (of the edible kinds), varied life-forms (shape or habit), and distinctive textures (fleshy, dry to moist, tacky to sticky, gelatinous, slimy to outrageously gooey) all add to their mystery and attraction. Many people are fascinated by the mystique surrounding the edibility, toxic poisoning, and hallucinogenic properties of fungi.

Fungi are absolutely necessary for the dynamic balance that characterizes the natural world. About fifty percent of Interior Alaska fungi are decomposers (saprophytes). Decomposition can be slow in the Alaska interior and in more northern latitudes, where growing and decomposing seasons are significantly shortened by a cooler climate, but it does happen and the evidence is everywhere.

As well as more easily seen fungi, this field guide includes those other groups of cryptogamic organisms, the lichenized fungi (an intimate symbiotic association of fungus with either green algae or cyanobacteria forming the lichen), and the lichenicolous fungi (fungi that are parasitic or saprophytic on lichens). We have also included the slime molds, once included in the fungi Myceteae but now classified in an entirely separate group, the Protista. We also include the cryptogamic mosses and liverworts, complex but nevertheless fascinating groups that belong to early diverging lineages in the kingdom Plantae.

Fungal Ecology

Found almost everywhere, fungi occupy myriad habitats, from terrestrial to aquatic (fresh, brackish, marine, glacial water, and permafrost). They occur on a wide variety of substrates including, but not limited to, bone; hair; old leaves; logs; assorted woody fiber, chips, and paper; cloth and leather fabrics; mosses; soil; plant roots; the lenses of cameras; and even in jet fuel! However, fungi must have moisture to live in any environment. Some fungi need sunlight, not to make food as green plants containing chlorophyll do, but to stimulate their fruiting response. They produce carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) gas by respiration, much as humans do.

Most fungi live on dead organic matter (often referred to as detritus or humus) and, therefore, are termed saprobes, decomposers, or saprophytes. As such, they are involved in a process (decomposition) that ensures the release of nutrients back into the environment. Other fungi thrive on living plants, animals, and also other fungi, and are called parasites (mycoparasites, lichenicolous, rust, smut, jelly, agaric, and polypore fungi). Still others live in intimate, mutually beneficial associations with microscopic and most often single-celled green and blue-green algae (the cyanobacteria) and in this symbiosis (living together) they are called lichenized fungi, or simply lichens. Others play a different, but equally significant, role in nature. Without them the Alaska interior would be devoid of all of its trees and shrubs, most of its beautiful flowering plants, many of its grasslike forms, and even some of its mosses. Trees, shrubs, and most flowering plants-especially orchids, the seeds of which die if they cannot immediately establish contact with an appropriate fungus at germination-entering into a symbiotic relationship that involves their own roots (Latin: "rhiza") and the underground microscopic threads (hyphae) of a fungus (Greek: "myco"). These symbioses are called mycorrhizae (fungus-roots) and demonstrate many kinds of mycorrhizal relationships (Fig. 17a-e).

Many insects also depend upon fungi for their livelihood and the completion of their own life cycles. Insects often get to fungi well before we do and deposit their eggs directly onto the spore-bearing surfaces and tissues (hymenium) of a fruiting body. If you pick a mushroom up and cut it in half, you may see little tunnels, often stained, running through the tissues. You may even observe squirming maggots (fly and gnat larvae) feeding on the fungal flesh. If you pick up a gilled mushroom and tap it lightly over the palm of your hand, often this will reveal hoards of tiny gray insects called springtails (Collembola) that graze for spores on the gill-like plates of the mushroom. If you pick a corky, leathery to woody bracket fungus from an old log and break or cut it open, you are likely to find a number of tiny beetles. And even mammals get in on the fungal smorgasbord. Caribou and moose may selectively pick and eat fungi right out in front of you. Voles delight in their savory flavors and nutrition. Squirrels air dry mushrooms in the crotches of branches and then place them into old nests high in the crown of spruce trees, often in a mass of branches (a witches' broom) still living or perhaps dead, but once infected with a rust fungus (Chrysomyxa arctostaphylli). Witches' brooms are caused by hormones produced by the rust fungus and others, including Taprhina spp. You might see these masses of branching limbs as large orange-colored balls high in the crowns of white spruce (Picea glauca) and black spruce (Picea mariana) trees. The cycles in the forest (Fig. 17f) involve three mammals, mycophagy (eating of fungi), and numerous species of fungi that demonstrate all four principal roles, which are again played by them through time.

Mushroom Architecture

Part of what makes identifying fungi or other "botanical" organisms difficult for the casual observer is the overwhelming number of terms used by so many authors in field guides like this to describe both their macro- and micromorphological features. In our attempt to assist you in the pursuit of understanding these wondrous organisms more fully, we thought it best to assist the visual learner in most of us by providing schematic diagrams to depict many of the terms we use in describing the 209 organisms pictured here. You may find it very useful to glance through Figures 18-38 to gain perspective and an appreciation for the vast variation in macroscopic architectural morphology of fungal "parts."

A flowering plant consists of leaves, stem(s), and roots (collectively representing its vegetative parts) and various floral parts used for sexual reproduction. A similar situation applies to fungi. The vegetative or "assimilative" (water- and nutrient-gathering, or literally "eating") part is called the mycelium and consists of a mass of tiny cottonlike microscopic threads called hyphae that permeate or cover the substrate upon or within which the fungus grows (Fig. 18). These mycelial masses are composed of many interconnected hyphae that are not easily seen. We call the reproductive structure-the mushroom itself-a fructification (its use now discouraged because fruitbodies are not homologous structures), basidiocarp, basidiome, ascocarp, ascome, or simply the fruiting body that often demonstrates a cap (pileus), hymenium (gills, teeth, pores, etc.), a stipe (not a stem), and an often differentiating base (Fig. 19) if present.

For instance, Figure 20a-f depicts not only basic mushroom architecture but also a maturation sequence. Figure 21a-d takes us a bit further to learn about basidiomycete architecture and spore production, and Figure 22a-d demonstrates the events ascribed to ascomycete architecture and spore production. Figure 23a-f shows us only a fraction of the fungal spore morphologies seen in basidiospores, and Figure 24a-e similarly shares the fungal spore morphology seen in a few ascospores. Figure 25a-e provides fungal spore morphology in the form of spore ornamentation, features often used to discern and describe a fungus at the level of its genus and specific epithet (species). There are vast differences in fungal cap (pileus) morphology (Fig. 26a-w), basidiome pileus margin morphology (Fig. 27a-h), basidiome pileus surface morphology (Fig. 28a-l), basidiome pileus surface ornamentation morphology (Fig. 29a-v), and basidiome pileus (cap) structures, there are similar contrasting differences in stipe (stalk) morphologies as seen in stipe placement (Fig. 31a-d), shape and base (Fig. 32a-n), the volva (Fig. 33a-g), stipe surface ornamentation (Fig. 34a-l), its interior (Fig. 35a-f), and partial veil remnants (Fig. 36a-j). Even the morphology of the hymenium (hymenophore) show significant and taxonomically important features in sporeproducing surfaces (Fig. 37a-o), lamellar (gill) attachment (Fig. 38a-k), lamellar (gill) breadth and shape (Fig. 39a-j), and in lamellar (gill) edges (Fig. 40a-g), in addition to poroid (Figs. 16c and 37a-d), hydnoid (Fig. 16d), and smooth (Fig. 16g) hymenial types.


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Table of Contents

List of Figures



Interior Landscapes

The Setting



Fungi: Mushrooms and Other Cryptogams

Fungal Ecology

Mushroom Architecture

Mushroom Edibility and Poisoning

Where to Look for Fungi

Fungal Grouping (Taxonomy)

Tools of Trade

Fungal Groups: The Hymenomycetes (Having an Organized Hymenium)

Agaricoid (Gilled) Fungi

Boletinoid (Soft, Fleshy Poroid) Fungi

Polyporoid (Bracket- and Wood-Inhabiting) Fungi

Toothed (Spiny or Hedgehog) Fungi

Coraloid (Club) Fungi

Cantharelloid Fungi

Thelephoroid (Vase) Fungi

Fungal Groups: The Gasteromycetes (Having No Organized Hymenium)

Gasteroid (Stomach) Fungi: Puffballs

Gasteroid (Stomach) Fungi: Bird’s Nest

Gasteroid (Stomach) Fungi: Earthstars

Fungal Groups: Conifer Rust, Jelly, Cup, and Earth Tongue Fungi

Conifer Rust Fungi

Jelly Fungi

Cup Fungi

Earth Tongue Fungi

Lichenicolous Fungi: Parasitic and Saprophytic Fungi or Lichens


Lichenized Fungi: The Lichens

Ascolichens: Crustose

Ascolichens: Foliose

Ascolichens: Fruticose

Basidiolichens: Coral

Basidiolichens: Agaric

Plasmodial Slime Molds (Mycetozoans)


Bryophytes: The Mosses and Liverworts


Bryophyte Flora of North America

Descriptions of Common Moss Species

Descriptions of Common Liverwort Species



English Equivalents

Mushroom Field and Reference Guides


Appendix: Mycological Reagents: Makeup and Use


About the Authors

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