|Ergot infected rye.|
Ergot is a group of fungi in the taxonomic genus Claviceps (ergot fungi). The effects of it on human life show that it is a dangerous plant. Claviceps, strangely, only affect human life. Without humans it would just be a fungus that ended when its life cycle was over. Instead history shows that claviceps has caused the painful death of millions because of a deadly disease called ergotism. Claviceps is a grotesque looking plant that spreads itself through spore containing nectar and mushroom like sprouts that grow off of it in later life.
Claviceps have a few different forms as it grows through out its life. In its first part of life the clavicep fungus is a soft white tissue growing out of a flowering plant like a gross mold. During this time it secrets nectar so it would probably resemble something slimy inside the flowering plant. During the second part of its life the Clavicep turns hard, dry, and brown. It looks like a grotesque claw or rat feces. If you were to break or cut one of these nuggets in half it would be a dark purple color inside. It will eventually fall to the ground and sprout 4 or 5 slimy stromas. These stromas have a stalk and a head to release even more spores.
The Clavicep's way of reproduction is almost something out of a science fiction. Claviceps reproduces by using its spores on a flower the same way that pollen would be used on a flower. The spore lands on the stigma or a flower's stamen and then creates a tube down to the ovary, just like a pollen grain. When in the ovary the spore starts to reproduce and destroys the ovary. The fungus then uses the vascular bundle intended for seed nutrition to supply itself with nutrients. Ergot forms its first stage of life as a soft white tissue that creates sugary dew that drops out of the infected flower. This dew contains millions of spores that are spread to other flowers by insects because they are attracted to the sweetness. The Clavicep will eventually start to dry up. It grows into a hard dry mutated grain looking thing.
Claviceps affect on the surrounding environment cannot be accurately described as significant. If not for man cultivating rye there would be almost no notice of it at all. Claviceps infects only a few types of grass, of course rye is the most notable one. When it infects it it takes the plant cells in the ovary and forces them to reproduce rapidly and grow larger creating the grotesque claw feature mentioned earlier. This claw is more of a protection for the actual fungus inside. It protects against winter. Before winter comes the claviceps falls to the ground as do the other seeds. When springtime occurs the clavicep sprouts stromas. Stromas are small mushroom like features that contain spores inside a head attached to a stalk. The stromas are relatively small.
Ergot's Effect on Humanity
Claviceps have affected the environment around it most by infecting rye plants that humans were farming. Claviceps occurred so often that farmers thought it was part of the plant itself. Rye started off as a weed plant that grew wherever wheat grew. It was not until 800AD that people found it could be harvested as a food source. Around this time the first major outbreak of documented ergotism started. They called it "The Holy Fire". The fire in the name came from the burning pain in the limbs from the result of gangrenous ergotism. The Holy part of the name was because many thought it was punishment from God. This disease caused gangrene and the victim's toes, fingers, legs and arms would often become black as a result. The gangrene eventually killed them, but during their time of disease they also suffered from convulsive ergotism, which had psychoactive properties. Numerous outbreaks of the disease would follow until humanity would figure out what was really causing it. Clavicep's effect on the surrounding fauna does not seem to be apparent considering that they had instinct not to eat it. Research has not been found on the affect of the clavicep's honeydew-like nectar on insects.
- Ergot Otis C. Maloy and Debra Ann Inglis . Washington State University.
- Ergot of Rye Dr. George J. Wong. University of Hawaii.
- Perl Millet Diseases - Fungal United States Department of Agriculture.