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AND ITS VICINITY,
Rev. HENRY H. HIGGINS, M.A. CANTAB., V. P.
READ BEFORE TIE SOCIETY ON THE 24TH JANUARY, 1859.
THE Gasteromycetes or pouched Fungi, though on the whole much inferior to the Hymenomycetes, include certain species yielding to none of their class in interest and beauty.
The first section, Hypogæi, has been formed by Rev. M. J. Berkeley in order to preserve the primary division of the Fungi into Sporiferi with naked spores, and Sporidiiferi with sporidia enclosed in sacs; it excludes therefore the genuine Truffles, all of which have sporidia enclosed in asci, whilst it includes several genera otherwise closely allied to them.
Few of the species are of much interest, and owing to their underground habits they are found with difficulty. In Britain they appear to be far more common in the south than in the north. I have sought for them repeatedly in the neighbourhood of Liverpool, but without success.
In the next section, Phalloidei, we meet with forms as extraordinary as any that are to be found in the vegetable kingdom. Some of our native species are well known and have obtained notoriety chiefly on account of their disgusting odour. Impressions made upon the sense of smell have hitherto been associated with too much of the ludicrous to admit of their hav. ing been examined with the care which has been bestowed upon the impressions received by the organs of sight and hearing. Should it ever be otherwise, it may probably be considered a fact of some importance, that the odour of the Phallus impudicus seems to diminish in intensity on a closer approach to the plant, which may eren be held to the nostrils without producing nausea, at the very
time when it is rendering a whole house uninhabitable, or powerfully repelling an observer at the distance of eight or ten yards. Whatever then may be the emanations from the fungus which act so disagreeably upon the sense of smell, it is plain they do not follow the law of the intensity being inversly as the square of the distance, unless indeed the result be deemed a parallel to the darkness said to be produced by excess of light.
We must however visit warmer climates to see in perfection the perishable beauties of many of the species in this section, especially those belonging to the genera Clathrus, Latternea, Calathiscus, and Lysurus. A single species of Clathrus has been found in the extreme South of Britain: the rest belong entirely to tropical or sub-tropical regions.
In Clathrus crispus the globose receptacle is pierced with oval apertures adorned with sculpture, reminding us of the ivory balls so curiously fashioned by the Chinese. In Laternea triscapa three spirally fluted columns rise from the base of the peridium, meeting in a graceful curve at the apex. In Calathiscus sepia, a multitude of appendages like tentacles surround the mouth of the receptacle. In Aseröe pentactina five bifid arms, like the rays of a star-fish, occupy the same position. In Lysurus mokusin the summit resembles the head of an encrinite. In all these it is not difficult to trace modifications of the reticulated structure of the receptacle, observable in our native Phallus impudicus, and which in Hymeno. phallus indusiatus assumes the form of a spreading skirt, composed of network surpassing the richest and finest lace. The beauty of these elaborate structures is often enhanced by the most vivid colouring; the disagreeable quality of the British Phalloidæ is however shared by most of the foreign species.
The Nidulariacei are much more adequately represented by our native species, and the four kinds recorded as British have all been found within the Liverpool district. Sphærobolus stellatus was the subject of a short paper communicated by myself to this Society in 1856. Nidularia striata is one of the most interesting of all the fungi. It may be sought for with success amongst fallen leaves and branches in any of our neighbouring woods, late in Antumn. Sombre in its colour and retiring in its habits, it is
betrayed by the beauty and regularity of its form. In the debris of decaying 'twigs and stems of leaves and rotting fragments of bark and wood, the eye is at once caught by a congeries of little cups, exquisitely fringed and containing five or six sporangia, shaped like lentil seeds; the outside of the cup is shaggy with moss-like fibres. The modesty and symmetry of this little plant, together with its striking resemblance to a bird's nest containing eggs, render it indeed to the finder a welcome prize.
The fourth section, Trichogastres, is much more extensive than the last, and includes the fungi, commonly known as puff-balls. Licoperdon giganteus, the largest of the tribe, occurs every year in the grounds of W. Bell, Esq., at Pexbill; a specimen found there in the present year exceeded four feet in circumference. The Rev. M. J. Berkeley states, that this species when young is considered excellent for food by all who have partaken of it. Batarrea is remarkable for its woody substance, exhibiting “as true vascular 'tissue as in any exogen or endogen."* Batarrea phalloides is one of the most rare of the British fungi; before it was found by myself at Wallasey its northern limit was considered to be the county of Norfolk. In Geaster, the forms are exceedingly striking and varied, exhibiting in a high degree the inexhaustible diversity of means employed by the Great Creator, for securing the health and perpetuity of the species he has thought fit to call into existence.
In the fifth and last section, Myxogastres, the species are very numerous and are for the most part small in size, seldom exceeding a line or two in height. Many of them are very pretty; nothing can surpass the elegance of the golden drooping plumes of Arcyria nutans, or the exquisite delicacy of the texture in Dictydium umbilicatum; its balloon-like head nodding on its stem as though its task accomplished, it had just descended and consigned to earth some fairy being alighted from an aërial trip.
In proposing again to occupy with this subject so large a space in your annual volume of Proceedings, it may be proper for me to state my reasons for regarding a Synopsis and List of British Gasteromycetes a desideratum. Since the publication by the "Introduction to Cryptogamic Botany,” by the Rev. J. M. Berkeley, p. 7.