Xylaria polymorpha, generally known as dead man’s fingers, is a saprobic fungus. The plant habitually inhabitant of forest and woodland areas, normally growing from the bases of rotting or injured tree stumps and decaying wood.
The Xylaria polymorpha is a very rare and distinct species of fungus that is widely distributed throughout the deciduous forests of North America and Europe. It has also been recognized to colonize substrates akin to woody legume pods, petioles, and herbaceous stems.
The dead man’s fingers are characterized by their elongated upright, clavate, or strap-like stromata poking up through the ground, much like fingers. The genus Xylaria holds approximately 100 species of cosmopolitan fungi. However, The Polymorpha means “many forms” and it has a variable but often club-shaped fruiting body (stroma) similar to burned wood. This odd mushroom dons a variety of costumes in its rather long life span.
Therefore, this fungus is often found with a multitude of separate “digits” but at times the individual parts will be fused together. Moreover, belonging to the class of fungus famous as “Ascomycetes” (division Mycota) recognized as the sac fungi, they’re characterized by a saclike structure, the ascus, which normally contains anything from 4 to 8 ascospores in the sexual stage.
Moreover, the sac fungi are separated into subgroups based on whether asci arise singly or are borne in one of the numerous types of fruiting structures, or ascocarps, and on the method of discharge of the “ascospores”.
The fruiting body is 3 to 10 cm tall; up to 2.5 cm across; tough; shaped more or less like a club or a finger but occasionally flattened. These fruiting bodies may persist for a number of months or even years and can release spores endlessly during these time intervals.
But a lot of “ascomycetes” are plant pathogens, and some are animal pathogens, a few are safe to eat mushrooms and loads of life on dead organic matter (as saprobes). Moreover, the largest and most frequently recognized “ascomycetes” include the morel and the truffle; though the polymorpha is an inedible variety.
Moreover, the dark fruiting body is normally black or brown, but sometimes shades of blue and green are amazingly white on the inside, and blackened dotted areas all around. Thus, this blackened surrounding area is made up of minute structures called “perithecia”. Hence the perithecia hold a layer of asci which hold the ascospores.
The asci elongate into the ostiole and discharge the ascospores outward. The spore distribution is a prolonged process, sometimes taking a number of months to complete this part of the life cycle, although this is not a common trait amongst fungi, as is normally a much swifter process. In the spring season this fungus normally produces a layer of white or bluish asexual spores, named “conidia”, which grow on its surface and surrounding area.
Furthermore, it is believed that the absolute time frame and slower spore release rate for X. polymorpha foster the individual success rate of spores and let this species distribute itself extensively throughout its ecological range.