Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the June 24, 2012 Newsletter issued from the woods of the Loess Hill Region a few miles east of Natchez, Mississippi, USA
In deep shade on the floor of a bottomland forest in nearby Homochitto National Forest, slender, tapering, 1¼-inch (3cm) little black fingers with white fingertips arose from a decaying Southern Magnolia fruit from last year. Each "finger" issued from a different chamber, or follicle, of the fruit. You can see the strange little community above.
The graceful little fingers are the spore-producing fruiting bodies of an Ascomycota fungus, a fungus phylum incorporating the mildews, molds and famously edible morel mushrooms. The fungus was XYLARIA CARPOPHILA, its "fingers" sometimes known as Candlesnuffs. In much of the literature they are called Beechmast Candlesnuffs, because in Europe they nearly always occur on decaying beechnuts. However, in North America they have been documented on decaying fruits of hornbeam, dogwood, haw berries, fruiting heads of tulip trees -- and now we see that they also like Southern Magnolias -- so we'll just call them Candlesnuffs.
Members of the genus Xylaria decompose wood and other plant debris. Candlesnuff's species name, carpophila, translates to "fruit-loving," so this species' predilection for fruits was early noted.
This January in the Yucatan we met a much larger, thicker, more common member of the genus Xylaria -- "Dead-Man's Fingers," growing on a woodpile near my hut. You may want to compare our present Candlesnuff with that at http://www.backyardnature.net/yucatan/earth-tg.htm.