Tuesday, August 05, 2008

One of World’s Rarest Fungi Discovered in Japan

Chorioactis geaster found in Nara, Japan --

One of the world’s rarest fungi, an exotic star-shaped mushroom known to exist at only three locations on Earth, has been discovered in the mountains of Nara prefecture.

The Devil’s Cigar (a.k.a. “Texas Star”) — known to botanists as Chorioactis geaster — had been observed only in central Texas and at two remote locations in Japan prior to the recent discovery in Nara. The peculiar fungus is described as a dark brown cigar-shaped capsule that transforms into a tan-colored star when it splits open to release its spores. It is also one of only a few known fungi that produce an audible hiss when releasing spores.

First reported in 1893 in Austin, Texas, the curious mushroom appears in a limited area of central Texas each year, and until now, the rare sightings in Japan have occurred in forests in Miyazaki and Kochi prefectures. The fungus is included on the red list of threatened plants published by Japan’s Environment Ministry.

The recent Nara discovery was made by Masakuni Kimura, curator of a natural history museum in the town of Kawakami (Nara prefecture). Kimura first encountered Devil’s Cigars in October 2006 while surveying a forest near Kawakami, where he found 12 of them growing from a dead oak tree next to a mountain stream at an elevation of 470 meters (about 1,550 ft). Nearly a year later, in September 2007, he discovered four more of the mushrooms when he returned to the site with Shuichi Kurogi, curator of the Miyazaki Prefectural Museum of Nature and History. Their findings were presented at a recent meeting of the Mycological Society of Japan.

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