4 December 2008

Candle-snuff fungi (Xylaria hypoxylon)

These very common saproxylic fungi that grow on dead and often buried wood are having, like many other fungi, a good year.

20081121 BHW Xylaria hypoxylon

The name 'candle-snuff' has been explained by likening the (unforked) fruiting bodies with their white tops and black bases to extinguished candle wicks.  But some authors say it is because a smoke-like cloud of spores sometimes arises if the fungi are tapped.

Despite its attractive and distinctive appearance, this fungus seems to have found little use in folk medicine.  Recently however a chemical (19,20-epoxycytochalasin D) has been isolated from the fungus.  This compound is, apparently, a strong cytotoxin and may have some value in dealing with tumours.  It underscores the point that many compounds with useful properties must only be found in particular species, compounds that will be lost in nature if these species become extinct.

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