Very rare ‘strangler’ fungus discovered…just in time for Halloween

Press release
Powdercap Strangler mushroom
Published : 30 Oct 2017 Last update : 06 Dec 2017

An extremely rare fungus with a lethal survival technique and eerie name has been discovered in the UK - just in time for Halloween. The powdercap strangler is a parasitic fungus that grows by body-snatching another grassland fungus, the earthly powdercap.

Using the existing stem for support, the strangler infects and overcomes its host, resulting in a two-coloured toadstool. The discovery was made on the lawns at the National Trust’s Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire by visitors taking part in an organised foraging event.

The strangler has only been recorded in a handful of locations across the UK, and is one of only ten parasitic fungi found worldwide.

Carl Hawke, Wildlife & Countryside Adviser, National Trust, said, “This is a remarkable find and a new record for Clumber Park – we’ve been on the lookout for this fungus for years!

“We’re extremely grateful to our volunteers and visitors who give their time to support our conservation work. It’s these kinds of remarkable finds that often inspire others to connect with and help protect the natural world around us.”

Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife Botanical Specialist, said:  "The sudden appearance of this bizarre parasitic 'body-snatching' fungus - unknown even to many experienced mycologists - shows just how much we need more eyes on the ground to spot these weird and wonderful organisms. Grassland fungi like scarlet waxcap, smokey spindles and earthstars often appear in accessible locations, such as on old lawns and in churchyards, so we're excited to be training a new generation of waxcap spotters to help make new discoveries like this."

Dr Gareth Griffith, Reader in Mycology at Aberystwyth University, said, “The Powdercap Strangler (Squamanita paradoxa) is an intriguing fungus. Rather like the monster in the film ‘Alien' it takes over the body of its host (Cystoderma amianthinum) and its mushroom erupts in place of the host's mushroom. This is a really exciting find.”

The Powdercap Strangler is the second notable discovery at Clumber Park in recent weeks after rangers found a spider that hadn’t been seen in the UK for almost half a century. The rare diamond spider was discovered in heathland as part of ecological monitoring of the park.

The National Trust is working on an £8.5 million restoration programme of Clumber Park, which includes restoring areas of heathland and other important habitats for wildlife. This is part of the conservation charity’s wider ambition to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025.