Auriscalpium vulgare Gray - Earpick Fungus

Phylum: Basidiomycota - Class: Agaricomycetes - Order: Russulales - Family: Auriscalpiaceae

Auriscalpium vulgare, Earpick Fungus, Cambridgeshire, England

Looking quite unlike any other fungus, Auriscalpium vulgare grows nearly always from rotting cones from pines and occasionally other kinds of conifers.

Despite its spiny fertile surface this strange little mushroom is unrelated to the other spine-bearing fungi such as Hydnum repandum and Hericium erinaceus. (Spines are no indicators of evolutionary relationship, it seems, as spined fungi occur is several fungi families.)

Auriscalpium vulgare, Earpick Fungus, Hampshire

Distribution

Infrequent and apparently localised in Britain and Ireland, Auriscalpium vulgare occurs also throughout much of Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Taxonomic history

This species was first described in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus, who placed it in the genus Hydnum (because it has a spiny fertile surface rather like other hedgehog fungi). The Earpick Fungus was given its present name in 1821 by the British mycologist Samuel Frederick Gray (1766 - 1828).

Synonyms of Auriscalpium vulgare include Hydnum auriscalpium L., Scutiger auriscalpium (L.) Paulet, Pleurodon auriscalpium (L.) P.Karst., Leptodon auriscalpium (L.) Quél., Hydnum atrotomentosum Schwalb, Auriscalpium auriscalpium (L.) Kuntze, Auriscalpium auriscalpium (L.) Banker, Hydnum fechtneri Velen., Pleurodon fechtneri (Velen.) Cejp, and Auriscalpium fechtneri (Velen.) Nikol.

The Earpick Fungus Auriscalpium vulgare, the type species of its genus, is the only known auriscalpium species in Britain and Ireland.

Auriscalpium vulgare, Earpick Fungus, Scotland

Etymology

Auriscalpium comes from the Latin noun auris, an ear, and the Latin verb scalpare, to scratch. Earpick is a pretty good English translation, therefore, The specific epithet vulgare means common (and as these are rare fungi that can only be interpreted as 'the most common of the handful of known species in this genus worldwide').

Identification guide

Cap of Auriscalpium vulgare

Cap

1 to 3cm across and usually kidney shaped; covered in fine bristles; pale brown and flexible when young, becoming tough and turning darker brown with age. 

 

Auriscalpium vulgare, fertile layer of spines

Spines

Densely packed, typically 0.5mm diameter and 2 to 3mm long; whitish at first (see picture below) becoming brown with age (as seen on the left).

Stem

Eccentric (often attached right at one edge of the cap), 1.5 to 2mm diameter and up to 6cm long, tough and covered with short fine bristles the same colour as the cap.

Spores of <em>Auriscalpium vulgare</em>

Spores

Broadly ellipsoidal or globose, 4.6-5.5 x 4-5µm; covered with tiny bumps; hyaline; amyloid.

Spore print

White.

Show larger image

Odour/taste

Not distinctive.

Habitat & Ecological role

On conifer cones, particularly of pines, and sometimes on conifer litter on the forest floor.

Season

August to November in Britain and Ireland.

Similar species

There are none in Britain and Ireland - or at least if there are they have yet to be discovered!

Auriscalpium vulgare, Earpick Fungus - spiny fertile surface

Culinary Notes

This insubstantial and tough fungus is generally regarded as inedible.

Reference Sources

Fascinated by Fungi, Pat O'Reilly 2016.

BMS List of English Names for Fungi

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.

Auriscalpium vulgare, Earpick Fungus growing from a pine cone

Acknowledgement

Some pictures on this page were kindly contributed by David Kelly.

Other web pages about this species

Michael Kuo (USA)

Leif Goodwin (UK)

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