Ascocoryne sarcoides (Jacq.) J.W. Groves & D.E. Wilson - Purple Jellydisc

Phylum: Ascomycota - Class: Leotiomycetes - Order: Leotiales - Family: Helotiaceae (insertae sedis)

Ascocoryne sarcoides, Purple Jellydisc, Hamphire UK

Found mainly on the trunks and branches of dead Beech trees, this colourful wood-rotting fungus can form large and conspicuous clusters.

Because of its jelly-like nature, Ascocoryne sarcoides is often confused with some of the heterobasidiomycete species (the true 'jelly fungi') in the genus Tremella. For example Tremella foliacea is sometimes brain-like in structure, rather than leaf-like as its scientific name suggests; it is usually reddish brown.

Distribution

Very common and widespread throughout Britain and Ireland, Ascocoryne sarcoides is also found throughout Europe wherever the are broadleaf woodlands or parklands where fallen timber is allowed to rot away naturally.

This ascomycete occurs in many other parts of the world including North America.

Ascocoryne sarcoides, Purple Jellydisc, West Wales, UK

Taxonomic history

This species was first described in 1781 by the Dutch naturalist Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin (1727 - 1817) who named it Lichen sarcoides. The currently accepted scientific name Ascocoryne sarcoides dates from 1967, when Canadian mycologist James Walton Groves (1906 - 1970) and D E Wilson proposed the new genus Ascocoryne with the perfect (sexual) form of the Purple Jellydisc as the type species.

Synonyms of Ascocoryne sarcoides include Bulgaria sarcoides (Jacq.) Fr., Helvella sarcoides (Jacq.) Dicks., Lichen sarcoides Jacq., Tremella sarcoides (Jacq.) With., Acrospermum dubium Pers., Tremella dubia (Pers.) Pers., Tremella sarcoides (Jacq.) Pers., Coryne dubia (Pers.) Gray, Coryne sarcoides (Jacq.) Tul. & C. Tul., Ombrophila sarcoides (Jacq.) W. Phillips, Scleroderris majuscula Cooke & Massee, and Pirobasidium sarcoides (Jacq.) Höhn.

Ascocoryne sarcoides, Purple Jellydisc, Wales

Etymology

Ascocoryne, the genus name, is made up of Asco- the prefix indicating that this fungus belongs to the phylum Ascomycota (fungi whose sexual spores are produced inside asci), and coryne which comes from from the Greek corönë meaning 'knotted rod'. The specific epithet sarcoides means fleshy or flesh-like.

Identification guide

Close-up of Ascocoryne sarcoides, Purple Jellydisc

Fruitbody

Various shades of pinkish purple; spherical at first, either sessile or with a very short stem, later becoming centrally depressed and then irregularly cushion shaped; forming brain-like compound groups; gelatinous; individual fruitbodies 0.5 to 1.5cm across; clusters often 5 to 10cm across.

This jelly-like fungus goes through both asexual (conidial) and sexual spore-producing stages. The individual 'blobs' are larger at the ascus stage, but without microscopic study I still find it almost impossible to predict whether the tiny conidiospores or the much larger ascospores are being produced.

Conidia of Ascocoryne sarcoides

Conidia

3-4 x 1-2µm, smooth, slightly allantoid, hyaline.

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Ascus and paraphyses,of Ascocoryne sarcoides

Asci

160 x 10µm, with eight spores in each ascus.

Paraphyses

Narrow, clavate.

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Ascospores of Ascocoryne sarcoides

 

Spores

Ellipsoidal, smooth, 10-19 x 3-5µm; hyaline; each spore contains one or two oil drops.

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Spore print

White.

Odour/taste

Not distinctive.

Habitat & Ecological role

Saprobic, on rotting trunks and stumps of broadleaf trees, particularly Beech.

Season

Fruiting in late summer, autumn and early winter.

Similar species

Ascocoryne cylichnium is similar but its fruitbodies remain cup shaped rather than merging into a brain-like form; it can be identified with certainly only by microscopic study of the spores, which are much larger than those of Ascocoryne sarcoides.

Ascocoryne sarcoides, Purple Jellydisc, Simon Harding, England

Culinary Notes

Despite the word jelly in its common name, this insubstantial fungus is generally regarded as inedible.

Reference Sources

Fascinated by Fungi, Pat O'Reilly 2016.

Groves J W, Wilson D E (1967). The nomenclatural status of Coryne. Taxon 16 (1): 35–41

Dennis, R.W.G. (1981). British Ascomycetes; Lubrecht & Cramer; ISBN: 3768205525.

Dictionary of the Fungi; Paul M. Kirk, Paul F. Cannon, David W. Minter and J. A. Stalpers; CABI, 2008

Taxonomic history and synonym information on these pages is drawn from many sources but in particular from the British Mycological Society's GB Checklist of Fungi and (for basidiomycetes) on Kew's Checklist of the British & Irish Basidiomycota.

Acknowledgement

This page includes pictures kindly contributed by Simon Harding, David Kelly and Richard Shotbolt.

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