Helvella macropus (Pers.) P. Karst. - Felt Saddle

Phylum: Ascomycota - Class: Pezizomycetes - Order: Pezizales - Family: Helvellaceae

Helvella macropus, Felt Saddle

Helvella macropus is one of several 'saddle fungi' that appear in forests, particularly beside footpaths; however, it is distinguished when young by not being saddle shaped! These fairly common ascomycetes look like shallow cups perched on stems, and so from a distance they are often mistaken for small agaric fungi. Like their close relatives the morels, saddle fungi may have the capacity to form mycorrhizal relationships with woodland trees, but it is also clear that they can live as saprobes, feeding on woody debris.

Distribution

A rather uncommon find - probably exacerbated by its drab and inconspicuous colouring - Helvella macropus is nevertheless widespread across Britain and Ireland and occurs also throughout much of mainland Europe. The Felt Saddle fungus is recorded also from many parts of North America.

Taxonomic history

When Christiaan Hendrik Persoon described this ascomycete in 1789, he gave it the binomial scientific name Peziza macropus. Some 80 years later, in 1870, Finnish mycologist Petter Adolf Karsten (1834 - 1917) redescribed this species under its currently-accepted scientific name Helvella macropus.

Synonyms of Helvella macropus include Peziza stipitata Huds., Octospora bulbosa Hedw., Peziza macropus Pers., Peziza bulbosa (Hedw.) Nees, Macroscyphus macropus (Pers.) Gray, Macropodia macropus (Pers.) Fuckel, Lachnea bulbosa (Hedw.) W. Phillips, Lachnea macropus (Pers.) W. Phillips, Cyathipodia bulbosa (Hedw.) Boud., Cyathipodia macropus (Pers.) Dennis, and Helvella bulbosa (Hedw.) Kreise.

Etymology

Helvella is an ancient term for an aromatic herb. The specific epithet macropus means with a large foot (a long stem, in this instance).

Identification guide

Helvella crispa cap and stem

Fruitbody

A concave cap 1 to 4cm across, regular when young but usually becoming a laterally compressed cup (and occasionally folding towards more of a saddle shape), is perched upon a slender, cylindrical grey stem 1.5 to 5mm diameter and 1.5 to 5cm long.

Fertile (upper) cap surface

The smoothish and shiny upper fertile, asci-bearing surface (see left) is grey or grey-brown, sometimes with a greenish tint.

Helvella crispa cap and stem

Infertile (lower) cap surface

The lower (infertile) surface is somewhat paler that the upper surface, and it is covered in tufts of tiny pale hairs that give it a granular appearance (see left).

Ascus of Helvella macropus

Asci

Asci are typically 300 x 15μm. Each ascus contains eight spores.

Paraphyses

Typically 7μm wide, cylindrical, unbranching, with subclavate tips.

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Spores of Helvella macropus

Spores

Subfusiform; usually smooth but occasionally with a slightly roughened surface, 18-24 x 10-12.5μm; hyaline; usually with one large central guttule or oil drop and a smaller oil drop at each end.

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Spore print

White.

Odour/taste

Faint pleasant odour; no distinctive taste.

Habitat & Ecological role

Singly or in small groups in mixed woodland, usually with broadleaf trees but occasionally under conifers.

Season

Summer and autumn in Britain and Ireland.

Similar species

Helvella lacunosa has darkish a grey-brown or black cap but it is readily differentiated from Helvella macropus by its saddle shaped cap and massive and deeply grooved stem.

Helvella elastica is of similar size; it has a beige cap that is saddle shaped, and its stem is white.

Culinary Notes

All Helvella fungi - of which at least 26 species have been recorded in Britain - should be considered as being inedible and possibly poisonous (and there is even some suggestion that they may be carcinogenic). These ascomycetous fungi are closely related to the potentially lethal False Morel, Gyromitra esculenta.

Reference Sources

Pat O'Reilly (2016) Fascinated by Fungi; First Nature

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

Breitenbach, J. & Kränzlin, F. (1984). Fungi of Switzerland. Volume 1: Ascomycetes. Verlag Mykologia: Luzern, Switzerland.

Medardi, G. (2006). Ascomiceti d'Italia. Centro Studi Micologici: Trento.

British Mycological Society (2010). 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.

Other web pages about this species

Roger Phillips (UK) under synonym Macroscyphus macropus

Michael Kuo (USA)

Marek Snowarski (Poland)

Acknowledgements

The main picture at the top of this page is shown with the kind permission of David Harries.

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