Xylaria carpophila (Pers.) Fr. - Beechmast Candlesnuff

Phylum: Ascomycota - Class: Sordariomycetes - Order: Xylariales - Family: Xylariaceae

Xylaria carpophila,  Beechmast Candlesnuff

Xylaria carpophila, commonly called the Beechmast Candlesnuff, is instantly recognisable because it grows only from the hard outer cases of Beech seeds, which are known as beechmast. These tough but insubstantial little fungi are not generally considered to be edible.

Distribution

Fairly common in Britain and Ireland, but only where Beech trees grows, Xylaria carpophila is found in many central and northern countries of mainland Europe. This species is also recorded in parts of North America.

Taxonomic history

The scientific name Sphaeria carpophila was given to this ascomycetous fungus in 1796 by Christiaan Hendrik Persoon, but its currently accepted name Xylaria carpophila dates from 1849, when the great Swedish mycologist Elias Magnus Fries transferred Beechmast Candlesnuff to the genus Xylaria.

Synonyms of Xylaria carpophila include Sphaeria carpophila Pers., Hypoxylon carpophilum (Pers.) Link, Xylaria luxurians (Rehm) Lloyd, Xylosphaera carpophila (Pers.) Dumort., and Xylosphaera luxurians (Rehm) Dennis. 

Etymology

The genus name Xylaria comes from the Greek noun Xýlon meaning wood - from the same source as the word xylem, which is the wood of a tree that transports water and nutrients from the roots up to the branches, twigs and leaves.

The specific epithet carpophila comes from carpo- meaning a fruit (in this instance the fruit or seed pod of a Beech tree), and -phila meaning loving or fond of. This beechmast-loving fungus is indeed aptly named; it is found nowhere else but on rotting beechmast.

Identification guide

Close-up of Xylaria carpophila

Description

Thread-like, 2 to 5cm long and 0.5 to 1mm in diameter, sometimes branching.. Initially black near the sterile base and whitish with conidia (asexual spores) towards the tips, the whole of the fruitbody eventually blackens as the ascospores ripen within asci that develop within flask-like perithecia embedded in the surface. (The tiny bumps with minute holes on the outer surface of the upper section of fruitbodies coincide with the locations of perithecia.)

 

Spores

Bean shaped, smooth, 10-13 x 4-5.5µm.

Spore print

Black.

Asci

Typically 120 x 6µm, with eight spores (in a single row) per ascus.

Odour/taste

Not distinctive.

Habitat & Ecological role

Saprobic, in Europe on fallen beechmast (the cases enclosing the seeds of trees of the genus Fagus); however, in North America this species has been recorded on the decaying fruits of hornbeam, dogwood and several other hardwood tree fruits.

Season

Throughout the year, but producing ascospores in autumn and early winter, at which times the whole fruitbody turns black.

Similar species

Xylaria hypoxylon is similar but much generally larger; it grows on rotting wood.

Reference Sources

Fascinated by Fungi, Pat O'Reilly 2016.

Molecular and morphological evidence for the delimitation of Xylaria hypoxylon Derek Peršoh1, Martina Melcher and Katrin Graf, Mycologia, March/April 2009 vol. 101 no. 2 pp256-268.

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.

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

Acknowledgements

This page includes pictures kindly contributed by David Kelly.

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