A spectacular new species of mushroom

14 April 2010

A mushroom recently found in southern New Caledonia is shocking pink and startlingly tall. A team of researchers from the Tropical Symbiosis Laboratory at the Noumea IRD Centre and Museum of Natural History named the new species Podoserpula mirand for the amazement it sparked. It lives deep in the forest in symbiosis with “gum” oak trees, from which it rises in elongated “cups” to a height of 10 cm.

Biodiversity in New Caledonia is considered one of the planet’s “hot spots,” with the highest level of endemism and some of the richest vegetation. This Pacific archipelago has a surface area of just 17,000 km² but it is home to more than 3,000 species of native plants. The uniqueness of its plant life is ascribed to soils with high concentrations of heavy metals that are usually toxic to plants. In the course of its evolution, New Caledonia’s flora has found solutions by adapting physiologically in order to grow successfully in these unique soils.

The recent development of a research program on the role of mushrooms in particular and adaptation to “extreme” soils, such as the mineral-rich soils of New Caledonia, has resulted in the identification of several hundred new species in the territory. The staff at the Laboratory has grown more than 2,000 specimens in its herbarium. Scarcely one percent of the species have been scientifically described so far.