Fungi Friday: 10th January 2020
I’ve barely made it out this year, as young as it’s been. That poses a big threat to the Fungi Friday machine but thankfully I know where to look. The focus at this time of year is on small and hardy species in the Kingdom of Fungi, species like candlesnuff fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon):
I found this macabre specimen at the foot of a handrail post. They look so much like hands reaching out from the soil. No wonder other Xylaria have the names of dead man’s fingers and dead moll’s fingers. This species is called candlesnuff because you can flick the tips, in drier weather, and the white spores are released. It looks like a puff of smoke from a snuffed out candle.
In the fungal world candlesnuff is an Ascomycete or spore-shooter. Most mushroom-style fungi are Basidiomycetes, a group which spread their spores by ‘dropping’, usually on the wind. Mushrooms with gills are the perfect example of this. Wind-dispersal of spores is one of the oldest forms of reproduction on Earth.
Other classic spore-shooters are beech jellydisc (Neobulgaria pura) above, which is common on fallen beech trees in November.
The lack of January fungi can be helpful in reminding us of those which are more slow to colonise, things like lichen. This foliose lichen was growing on a fencepost (do not underestimate the wonder of fenceposts). Lichen is a symbiotic relationship between fungi, algae and cyanobacteria. The fungus produces the physical structure which provides a home to the cyanobacteria and algae which are capable of photosynthesis. It’s another reminder that fungi exists in the world in partnership with other organisms, something which we are so ignorant of as a species at times. For anyone who has tried to read Hegel, the German philosopher, I once read that a lichen is an example of the master-slave complex. The fungus is the master and the alga is the slave. The thing is, without the slave the master can’t prosper or maintain its status, so the master is in fact enslaved to its own prisoner. What’s that, myco-philosophy?
In winter I look for signs of spring. In the 10 years that I’ve spent looking closely, the often mild winters have provided glimpses of the coming season far earlier than we expect. Here bluebells were breaking through the fractured leaf litter of oak and chestnut. It’s been a mild winter again at the end of the warmest decade on record.
Winter sun, that precious resource.
Thanks for reading. Let me know if you found anything interesting this week. Here are some articles I spotted recently: