There’s a strange group of fungi on this dead tree stump in the grounds of Exeter University. I’m out again on a foray with the Devon Fungus Group. The group has grown from just a few diehards to an epic assemblage of Hollywood-blockbuster proportions in recent months. I wonder if lockdown has engendered a new love of the natural world and the spectacular life forms within it? If so, I’m thrilled.
This spectacular lifeform is the Spectacular Rustgill, Gymnopilus junonius. Its scientific name is a fun one, because gym, or gymn means naked, from the Ancient Greek, which is also found in the the word gymnasium which means to exercise naked. Pilus means head, so Gymnopilus means bald head. Junonius means it’s named after Juno, the Ancient Roman goddess. Juno was the daughter of Saturn and married her twin brother, Jupiter. What strange views people had of the origin of the world back then. Little did they know that it was all going to get a lot weirder.
You have to go back two hundred years to 1821 to see Gymnopilus junonius being written about in System Mycologicum by Elias Magnus Fries, a Swedish mycologist. It’s an epic volume, written in Latin.
On page 244 is is section on what he called Agaricus junonius:
Elias Fries wrote: A. junonius, pileo carnoso obtuso sicco stipiteque solido laevibus luteis, lamellis adnatis lute-fulvis, which, I think, means a fleshy cap with a dry, obtuse stem, solid yellow smooth, attached to golden yellow-amber gills. Feel free to correct my Latin if I’m wrong. Sadly, it’s a subject I never studied. He also describes it as pulcher, which means beautiful. I’d love to go back two hundred years, shake his hand, and say “Yes!”.
Two hundred years later, it’s still recognisable from his description.