Field of Science

Identify this fungus

One of the Phactor's academic passtimes is plant identification. This skill takes a certain amount of knowledge, considerable experience, and the ability to not be misled, a common student mistake. Here's an example. A citizen wanders into the university, finds their way to my laboratory for plant identification, and asks the student on station, "Can you identify this fungus for me?" Now identification of fleshy fungi is another such skill, and at one time the Phactor was pretty good at the local fungal flora, but without lots of regular practice you lose your edge. Well, the student did one thing right, summoned me, and did one thing wrong, they were misled by the initial question and started looking in the wrong place. You see, fungi don't have flowers, and while lacking chlorophyll, this plant has flowers and actually all you usually see is just the flowering shoots of a subterranean parasitic plant. Locally this plant is called "Indian pipe" (Monotropa uniflora) and its a member of the heath/Rhododendron family, and while common enough, it is rather inconspicuous even in flower. So the lack of chlorophyll was taken to mean this was a fungus, but that isn't a valid dichotomy, and a very chagrined student hopefully learned a couple of lessons. Make your own observations and don't jump to someone else's erroneous conclusions.

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