Claviceps purpurea

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Claviceps purpurea infection on a wheat grain (click on image to enlarge it)
Author(s): Dominique Jacquin
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Claviceps purpurea (Fr. 1823) Tul. 1853

The fungus causes the ergot disease in flowers of wheat, rye, other cereals and grasses. Instead of seeds it produces sclerotia which have a similar shape. Of particular concern are the poisonous alkaloids (ergometrine, ergotamine, ergosine, ergocristine, ergocryptine and ergocornine) which are produced inside the sclerotia and can contaminate bread and animal feeds. The consumption of these alkaloids causes cramps, hallucinations and, in severe cases, can lead to death.

Vernacular names
• Deutsch: Mutterkorn
• English: ergot
• Español: cornezuelo del centeno
• Français: ergot des céréales

Epidemic outbreaks of the disease have occurred periodically, apparently related to high humidity and temperature. E.g. high levels of ergot contamination of wheat samples were reported in the Canadian prairies during 1999, 2005 and 2008-2011. During these years 12-29% of samples delivered to elevators were infested with ergot sclerotia.

Claviceps microcephala
Sphacelia segetum (anamorph synonym)

For details see the respective page in Wikipedia.