Rye ergot, caused by Claviceps purpurea.
Photograph courtesy J.A. Menge
Stromata produced from ergot (sclerotium) in which ascospores are produced and expelled to infect the next crop of flowering rye or other grasses. The ergots (sclerotia) of this fungus contain a number of biologically active alkaloids including those responsible for the disease of humans and animals called ergotism. This disease caused the death of many people in the middle ages when it was known as the Holy Fire or St. Anthony's fire. Victims often felt as though their skin was on fire, suffered visions and hallucinations, and often lost their hands and feet because of gangrene brought on by the constriction of peripheral blood vessels.
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