Thursday, May 7, 2009

Bizarro Fungus

When my friend Andrew Altieri pointed out this bizarro structure in the cedar trees at Hundred Acre Cove in Barrington, RI, we had trouble even identifying it to the plant or animal kingdom. Prof. Doug Morse, at Brown, who has helped me identify strange maritima creatures in the past, helped us place it - in the Fungi kingdom...We should have guessed it. Fungi is a happy home for many weirdos that have never fit neatly into plant or animal designations.

Our mystery organism is a cedar apple rust, Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae, a fungus that spends part of its life cycle in red cedars, and the other half in apple or crab apple trees, to which it does much more damage. This time of year, during the spring rains, the rust's woody galls on cedar branches begin producing these bright orange telial horns which contain the spores that will infect young apple leaves later this growing season. You can see more info on the cedar apple rust, found at least as far as Texas, here and download a fact sheet here.

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