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Cyttaria darwinii (Darwin's fungus)

Darwin's fungus is a parasitic, golf ball-like fungus that was named in honour of Charles Darwin, who collected it in Tierra del Fuego during his voyage on HMS Beagle in 1832.
Darwin's fungus on a tree trunk

Cyttaria darwinii (Photo: David Minter)

Species information

Common name: 

Darwin’s fungus. There are also many indigenous names for the fungus, such as llao-llao, pan del indio, dihueñe del ñirre and dapa.

Conservation status: 

Not yet assessed by the IUCN, but it is one of several Cyttaria species which are currently proposed for evaluation of their conservation status.

Habitat: 

Grows as a parasite of southern beech (Nothofagus spp.), forming numerous, often clustered fruitbodies on conspicuous cankers, gall-like swellings which frequently encircle the host branches and trunks.

Key Uses: 

Food.

Known hazards: 

None identified. Cyttaria species are non-toxic and have a nutritional value similar to that of many other edible fungi.

Taxonomy

Kingdom: 
Fungi
Phylum: 
Ascomycota
Subphylum: 
Pezizomycotina
Order: 
Cyttariales
Family: 
Cyttariaceae
Genus: Cyttaria

About this species

Darwin’s fungus belongs to a genus of highly evolved parasitic fungi that grow exclusively on species of Nothofagus (southern beech). Thus, all Cyttaria species naturally occur in the southern hemisphere. Darwin’s fungus occurs only in South America, and is not known from Nothofagus in New Zealand or Australia. It was collected by Charles Darwin in Tierra del Fuego during the voyage of HMS Beagle in 1832, and was named in his honour when the species was scientifically described by Rev. Miles J. Berkeley in 1842.

Fruitbodies (actually stromata encompassing numerous fertile areas) develop from spring to early summer on galls, usually conspicuous swellings of the host trunk and branches which may reach at least 30 cm across. Fruitbodies can be produced in large quantities, falling to the ground at maturity, usually after discharge of the spores. The galls that the species induces are perennial, but the fungus does not cause wood decay and, though sometimes killing heavily infected branches, appears to have no serious effects on the long-term health of the host tree. Whether this is a true parasite has not been established, and a possible mutualism (whereby there is also some benefit to the tree from the presence of the fungus) has been suggested.

The fruitbodies are a food source to other animals, and are frequently colonised by the larvae of fungus gnats (Mycetophilidae).

Genus: 
Cyttaria

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