What You Should Know
Calostoma cinnabarinum is a species of gasteroid fungus in the family Sclerodermataceae, and is the type species of the genus Calostoma. This stalked puffball begins development within a gelatinous transparent exoperidium which is soon disrupted by the developing spore sac, exposing a red inner part of the exoperidium. Eventually, this too falls away revealing the mature endoperidium with five (usually) cinnabar red, raised ridges at the center of which an ostiole develops for spore dispersal. Widespread in the eastern USA south through Costa Rica to Colombia.
Despite its appearance and common name, C. cinnabarinum is not related to the true puffballs or species in the genus Podaxis. It is also unrelated to earthstars and stinkhorns. However, C. cinnabarinum has had a complex taxonomic history that at various times confused it with each of those groups, until the advent of molecular phylogenetics. Although eaten or used in folk medicine in some areas, it is typically considered inedible.
Other names: Stalked Puffball, Gelatinous Stalked-puffbal.
Calostoma cinnabarina Mushroom Identification
Mycorrhizal with oaks; growing alone or gregariously, often in moss beds or in low-lying, wet areas; spring through fall; eastern North America, Texas, and perhaps in the Southwest; also Central America and South America, and reported from Asia; more common at higher elevations within its range.
A spore case sitting atop a stem structure; at first covered with a thick, gelatinous covering that sloughs away, slides down the stem and then surrounds the stem base until drying up and disappearing. Spore case 11–25 mm wide; 11–25 mm high; subglobose; cinnabar red when young and fresh, fading to reddish-orange; apex developing a bright red, ridged peristome that looks a bit like a stitched scar; at first covered with gelatin but dry and finely dusted after the gelatin sloughs away; interior filled with whitish to yellowish spore dust. Stem structure 2–5 cm high; 1–2.5 cm wide; composed of tightly wound cords; soft; dull orangish.
Spores 10–19 x 6–10 µm; ellipsoid; finely punctate; walls about 0.5 µm thick; uniguttulate (occasionally biguttulate) and hyaline in KOH. Capillitial threads 4–6 µm wide; walls to 1 µm thick; hyaline in KOH; clamped.
Calostoma cinnabarin Look-Alikes
Calostoma lutescens (above) is taller and has a yellow spore case. C. ravenelii (below) lacks the red color and gelatinous coating of C. cinnabarinum.
At least in North America, Calostoma cinnabarinum is distinctive and easily recognizable. Two other species of Calostoma also occur in the eastern United States. C. lutescens has a thinner gelatinous layer and a predominately yellow middle layer, or mesoperidium, with the red color confined to the peristome. It also possesses a well-defined collar at the base of the spore case, a longer stipe, and globose, pitted spores. C. ravenelii is not gelatinous, but instead has warts adorning the spore case, and is smaller than C. cinnabarinum. It also has a reddish peristome but is otherwise clay-colored. Unlike C. lutescens, the spores of C. ravenelii cannot be distinguished from those of C. cinnabarinum except through the use of atomic force microscopy.
More representatives of the genus are present in Asia. At least nine species have been recorded from mainland India, some of which also overlap C. cinnabarinum's range in Indonesia, Taiwan, or Japan. Many of these species can be readily distinguished by macroscopic features. C. japonicum is pinkish-orange and lacks a gelatinous outer layer, while both C. jiangii and C. junghuhnii are brown. However, others require microscopic features of spore shape and ornamentation for identification. Unlike the uniformly elongated spores of C. cinnabarinum, C. guizhouense possesses both elliptical and globose spores. C. pengii differs primarily in the pattern of ornamentation on its spore surface.
Calostoma cinnabarina Uses
C. cinnabarinum has also been used in traditional medicine. A 1986 ethnomycological study of native traditions in Veracruz identified this use of huang noono, which locals roasted, then consumed as a powder with mineral water to treat gastrointestinal distress. Unlike these Mexican traditions, Hunan folk beliefs hold that the mushroom is poisonous on account of its bright color.
Calostoma cinnabarina Taxonomy and Etymology
Leonard Plukenet illustrated a "dusty fungus from Virginia, an elegant twisted work with a coral-red stipe" in his 1692 Phytographia that was later recognized as this species.
In 1809, Christiaan Persoon provided the first modern scientific description, as Scleroderma callostoma, and suggested that the species might be distinctive enough to warrant the creation of a new genus. Later that year, Nicaise Desvaux did just that, creating the genus Calostoma. To avoid a tautonymous name, he renamed the type species C. cinnabarinum.
In 1811, Louis Bosc did not mention the earlier works when describing it as Lycoperdon heterogeneum, although he also suggested it should be placed in its genus. Jean Poiret transferred Persoon's S. callostoma to Lycoperdon in 1817, while including Bosc's L. heterogeneum separately. In the same year, Nees von Esenbeck noted Bosc's belief that the species deserved its genus and created Mitremyces, without referencing Desvaux's prior assignment to Calostoma.
An 1825 paper by Edward Hitchcock referred to the species with the entirely novel binomial name Gyropodium coccineum; although Hitchcock claimed this name was established by Lewis Schweinitz, he admitted that no such description had been previously published, and the name and its claimed origin are considered doubtful.
Schweinitz assigned Bosc's Lycoperdon heterogeneum to Mitremyces under the name M. lutescens in 1822. He revisited the genus a decade later, describing M. cinnabarinum as a novel species, but incomplete descriptions and mislabelled specimens confused. August Corda separated them more clearly, providing new descriptions, and assigning cinnabarinum to Calostoma based on the descriptions of Desvaux and Persoon, while maintaining lutescens in Mitremyces. George Massee's 1888 monograph of Calostoma discounted the distinction entirely, arguing that Schweinitz's two species were the same species at different stages of development.
In 1897, Charles Edward Burnap published a new description of C. lutescens, making a clear division between the two similar species that have not been substantially revised since. References to this species as "C. cinnabarina" are common but incorrect.
The specific epithet cinnabarinum is derived from the Ancient Greek word kinnábari (κιννάβαρι), and refers to its "cinnabar-red" color, like that of dragon's blood.
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