The fungus Russula meleagris is always found in a mutually beneficial association with a tropical legume tree species, Gilbertiodendron dewevrei, and has a smell that has been described as resembling that of a public toilet!
About this species
The genus Russula is one of the largest within the order Russulales. It was described in 1797 by the South African scientist Christian Hendrik Persoon – the ‘Prince of Mycologists’. Despite his African roots, Persoon worked mainly on the temperate species of this genus. There have been many new species of Russula described from Africa in the last 25 years, and many others will probably be found.
Russula meleagris was described in 1988 by Buyck and has been depicted on a stamp in Burundi. The species name ‘meleagris’ means guinea fowl and refers to the light-dark pattern on the cap which resembles the plumage of a guinea fowl.
The symbiotic relationship with its host plant
Russula meleagris is a species of ectomycorrhizal fungus, meaning it must associate with the roots of it host plants in order to develop and survive. Ectomycorrhizal fungi forge symbiotic relationships with plants (often trees) by forming a sheath around root tips of their hosts. The fungus takes organic compounds from the plant and in return provides water and nutrients from the soil for the plant. Other benefits to the plant may include improved defence from herbivores and resistance to toxins and pathogens.
Ectomycorrhizal relationships are common in most temperate and some tropical forests. All members of one group of tropical legumes, the Berlinia clade (such as Isoberlinia doka, Gilbertiodendron dewevrei and Berlinia razzifera), are thought to form ectomycorrhizal relationships with fungi.
Geography & Distribution
Russula meleagris is found in Benin, Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The cap (pileus) measures 5–10 cm diameter. The outer skin (pellis) is cracked or fissured and grey/black or brown in colour. No latex is produced. The flesh is brittle, crumbly and white, and turns orange when scarred.
The smell of Russula meleagris has been described as resembling that of a public toilet. Its taste is described as both sweet and bitter.
Associations with Gilbertiodendron dewevrei
Russula meleagris forms a symbiotic relationship with the legume species Gilbertiodendron dewevrei. However, ectomycorrhizal associations with other tree genera cannot be excluded. High host specificity is uncommon, and many tropical ectomycorrhizal fungi are able to colonise several plant species.
Russula meleagris is collected for food in Benin. Many species of Russula are edible, and some have considerable regional economical value. All these edible mushroom species must associate with a plant host to survive (they are obligatory ectomycorrhizae) and therefore cannot be cultivated on artificial media.
This species at Kew
Preserved specimens of many species of Russula are maintained in the Kew Mycology Herbarium and, although not accessible to the general public, are available for study by researchers worldwide.
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