This week I stumbled across two of the more charismatic polypores you can find at this time of year. Polypores are bracket fungi that grow like shelves, usually from a tree trunk but sometimes also at the base or from a branch.
On a morning walk I went to check on the progress of a polypore I’d spotted several months ago (pictured above in late June 2021!), growing at the base of a large oak tree.
Oak bracket is one I posted about almost exactly a year ago during a visit to Suffolk. It also goes by the name of weeping conk, with a scientific name of Pseudoinonotus dryadeus. It’s a parasitic species, which means that this tree may be suffering some internal, ‘mechanical’ trouble. I hope not because it’s one of the largest in the area and is right next to a path. This makes it much higher up the chopping order if public health might be deemed to be at risk. I will never forget being taught that trees weren’t a hazard until we showed up.
This is a very attractive fungus, if you like a dough that drips caramel. It grows at a fairly critical part of the tree, where it meets the ground. It’s crucial because the tension of the roots holding the trunk upright.
Look into those hundreds of caramel eyes and tell me this is not one of the most beautiful fungi out there.
Later that evening I cycled out to the countryside on what was the end of a September heatwave. The landscape was very dry and smelly. I could smell the manure from my house two miles away in the daytime. That evening I became acquainted with the stench up close – muck spreading in the fields. It was absolutely rank, undoubtedly made far worse by the heat and lack of rain.
My route took me past the 800-year-old Sun Oak. Like the large oak I saw earlier that morning, this tree was also home to a charismatic polypore fungus.
This red button is a beefsteak fungus, Fistulina hepatica. It may also have been a red button – do not press the red button. Unless you want to continue watching this programme (BBC joke).
Oh go on then.
In reality this fungus will grow out to form something that looks like a human bodily organ (hepatica). It’s often on oak or sweet chestnut, especially more mature trees. It’s another parasitic species but it’s said to grow too slowly to ever cause the tree structural problems. We should remember that these fungi have been growing with their hosts for potentially millions of years. It’s the impact we have had on their habitats that have made the trouble. Check yourself before you wreck everything else.
Here’s a recent example that cost me several milligrams in blood as the mosquitos were hanging out under this tree waiting for me to arrive. Beefsteak indeed.
Thanks for reading.