Last winter I wrote a post called “Darwin’s Neon Golf Balls” about a fungus called Cyttaria that Darwin collected during his journey on the Beagle. The fungus has a fascinating alien shape and neon orange color when fresh.
At the time, I wrote:
According to the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, Darwin sent his specimen to the eminent mycologist the Rev. Miles J. Berkeley**, who identified it and subsequently named it after him. It lies at Kew today, and if you had the right credentials, you could examine the very specimen he collected.
Recently I was watching an interesting piece by the BBC about a mushroom-inspired art project at Kew Gardens for (yes, this really exists) the country’s Oct. 13 National Fungus Day. Artist Tom Hare has taken willow wands, soaked them to make them pliable, and then twisted them into giant mushroom sculptures. And he has done a spectacular job. His sculpture of the porcini (Boletus edulis) is particularly striking and accurately rendered, using straw to amazing effect to show the fine pore layer under the cap. When I began studying fungi, I was happily startled to discover these spongy tubes under the group of mushrooms called boletes, as I had previously assumed all mushrooms had gills.
And lo, plopped into the middle of this story were the very specimens of Cyttaria that Darwin collected and of which I wrote! I could almost imagine him slicing them off the southern beech, or perhaps being offered a handful by the natives he described. If you look at the accompanying botanical label above (which is a screenshot from the video), you can even see the annotation acknowledging Rev. Berkeley’s role.
Sadly, there is no way to embed this video here, so you will have to go directly to the Beeb to see it, but it is well worth your time: click here to watch. I encourage you to view the whole thing, but if you’re short on time, the Darwin specimens are at 1:12.