Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

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Fungi Friday 27th March 2020

It’s estimated that 25% of people on Earth are now under some social restriction due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While the non-human organisms are probably enjoying this hiatus, it’s certainly harder to continually produce these finger-on-the-pulse-docu-drama Fungi Friday posts. This week I confess I have no fungi photos worth sharing. I even sat in the garden just now for half an hour trying to get extreme macro images of a mouldy orange. No word of a lie. Look:

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So the only sensible thing to do is admit defeat – I have no mushroom images to show you from this incredibly sunny and dry week in Sussex. But this blog has only been running since Christmas and so this is a chance for me to spend some of those Fungi Fridays I’d been storing in the mushroom bank.

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In early November I took a walk one Sunday around a nature reserve close to where I live. It’s a mixture of wetland, wet woodland and plantation. I featured some pics from it last week before the powers that be sent us packing. I found a very unusual looking mushroom growing along the path edges in patches of woodchip. This was a new species for me and apparently too for our great nation.

I struggled with some serious mushroom envy at times last year due to lots of images of a blue mushroom that every mycologist and her dog had found. I felt a bit better about it after meeting its cousin, the redlead roundhead, for the first time. This beautiful red shroom is a naturalised species which originates in New Zealand. As the Covid-19 pandemic shows us, things can spread easily around the world if their manner of reproduction is microscopic, airborne and supported by intercontinental human travel. Tree diseases, I’m talkin’ to you!

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I was trying out a new zoom lens on my little mirrorless camera and these funeral bell mushrooms enjoyed their opportunity to show off their poisonousness. Their name should tell you what eating them does. They are very similar to sheathed woodtuft and anyone looking to eat fungi should be very careful when trying to decipher between these two species. I’m just going to flat out discourage that!

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The path edge was also rich in puffballs. The birch log at the side of the photo is path edging, what is sometimes known as a fungi super-highway. These puffballs are quite weird looking but they’re in their prime. I think they probably common puffballs but they could also be pestle puffball, which I believe is a bit larger than this really. 10 points if you can identify which small mammal has nibbled into the hazelnut in the bottom right.

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In another coniferous patch I found this expanse of common funnel mushrooms. I spent several years working in a woodland that housed trooping and clouded funnels in the same areas pretty much every year. But the above was a species I’d only seen once before. Also using a zoom lens made it a lot easier to express the scale of their spread, compared with the narrow depth of field a macro lens provides.

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Next week I’m planning to recap my peak autumn 2019 mushroom experience which I never got round to posting last year. I promise no more mouldy fruit unless it’s aesthetically worth it.

Wishing you well, thanks for reading.

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Blackdown, West Sussex, March 2020

We climb the hill on a winding, muddy path through woodland. The trees are sprawling yew, rotten beech and broken holly. On the thick, black soil holly leaves have fallen. We listen to the spinning coins of a goldcrestโ€™s song as it moves close over our heads in the twigs of a yew. These tiny birds weigh little more than a 20p piece and must eat 90% of their body weight each day to survive in winter.

The light at the top of the hill comes through the branches. Woodland becomes heath of gorse, bilberry and birch. The voices of a walking group echo down as we step up through sandier soils now. A screen of crooked birches are splayed across the view, desperate to keep its secret. Their birchen secret is out.

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From up here, the highest point in the South Downs National Park, the Sussex Weald opens out. Soft brush woods are broken by fields where individual oaks express themselves as they once would have, in landscapes kept open by now extinct herbivores like aurochs and wild horses.

Then there are the folding Downs catching in a spill of light from the west. The beechen clump of Chanctonbury Ring, with the heavy metal orchids of Truleigh Hill further east.

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A woman is here with her son and his girlfriend, walking the dog. She tells them in a faintly Irish accent that you can see the Isle of Wight on a good day. This is not one of those days.

The families and walkers are dissipating and the view is now ours for a moment. Just as the last person leaves, a call rings out from the woodland we crept up through.

One call, and then the truncated follow-up. A tawny owl, calling from the rafters of the Weald at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.

The Sussex Weald

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Fungi Friday 20th March 2020

Happy Spring Equinox! Yesterday was a special day, the first proper mushrooms of 2020 made an appearance in Sussex, to me at least. Problem was I completely missed this mushroom, blewit! Wood blewit, that is (sorry). Thankfully it was pointed out to me and I had a glove model on hand (lol) to show it off.

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This has been an incredibly difficult week for people and it’s hard not to talk about it here. Heading out to see which birds are now singing or which mushrooms might be fruiting is a massive tonic to the social frenzy which is hitting pretty much everywhere at the moment. This week I heard my first singing chiffchaff of the year, a rubberstamp of ecological spring. This female great tit may soon become a mum.

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We have to look to nature now as spring arrives. It puts you back in your place and gives a picture of the longer term. The wild life will go on. But we should also consider that the problems we are now facing are linked to our awful devastation of the natural world, the abuse of its wildlife and ecosystems. Seriously people, we have to consider what we are doing to wildlife and their habitats first hand and also by our consumption of unsustainable products like beef from Brazil or chocolate from companies with poor ethical standards. I really hope that people can find a love of nature now that makes us slow down, consume less and see that our impact has to change forever before nature changes us more abruptly. After this, there can be no going back.

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As I say quite often on this website, I’m not a forager of edible plants and mushrooms, though I know a fair number that I could eat. By that I mean plants and mushrooms, not actual foragers. I have never lived in a place where the foraging of anything beyond blackberries is sustainable. Some foragers must have been banking on this moment of temporarily empty supermarket shelves. Though our numbers are too great and nature’s larder probably too diminished to sustain our diets now. Shame that the toilet roll you find in the woods ain’t ripe yet.

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Most of the fungi I saw yesterday was not edible, either because of its species or just generally because something else had already eaten it. The Coronavirus situation should remind us that there are millions of other species with lifestyles that are far more sustainable than ours, and we are vulnerable to pandemics, especially as we force our way ever deeper into untouched ecosystems that have been intact for millions of years or disturb people who have lived in harmony with those landscapes for a long time. The fungus above is probably shaggy bracket or Inonotus hispidus, one you usually find in bits on the floor having dropped off from higher up. I learned this species conducting tree health surveys with tree inspectors.

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A common mushroom popping up now is glistening inkcap. The ‘record shot’ above is enough to show you how few mushrooms I’ve seen recently. The standards should get better as winter diminishes in the rearview mirror.

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Some fungi need a bit more before they’re ready to go on stage. Here we have a splitgill fungus, which I covered a few weeks ago. Still this snowy white shroomster was a pleasant sight against the blackened rings of this log.

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I am getting mentally ready to spend a lot of time in my garden this spring. I am very privileged to have a garden and, having eventually got to this point, I will never take it for granted. During one of this week’s WFH lunch breaks, I found this miniscule fungus frowing on the remains of a magnolia leaf. I wasn’t even looking for it, I saw it later when editing the RAW file on the computer.

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This very tiny fly was resting on a patch of fungus in the pigment of this leaf. I’d like to learn more about these types of fungi but one of the more recognisable ones is that which grows on bilberry (blaeberry, blueberry) leaves.

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I owe lichens for getting this #FungiFriday blog close to completing its third month. Let’s hope that Fungi Friday can help us adapt to the life changes we are all experiencing just now. I plan to do a virtual Fungi Friday guided walk if we’re still allowed out, in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned for that, but most of all stay tuned to the season rather than your news app on your smartphone. It will help you when you need it.

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The Sullington Yew, Sullington, West Sussex

The South Downs is renowned for its ancient churches. Its chalk soils have also proven hospitable to yew trees. Some of the most extensive yew woodlands in the UK (if not Europe) are on the chalk of the North and South Downs in southern England.

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I had a couple of minutes in the village of Sullington at the foot of the South Downs close to Storrington in West Sussex. The village is made up largely of an ancient farmstead and the Church of St. Mary.

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The Sullington yew sits in the churchyard, supposedly 1200 years old. To me it looks like it could be younger due to its lack of hollowing in the heart of the tree. If it’s that old it would pre-date the church by several hundred years. It is true that many yew trees pre-date the churches they share a plot with. Yew trees hold strong spiritual significance to pre-Roman/Saxon Brits who were Pagan. Therefore churches came later, being Christian, on sacred Pagan sites.

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The church itself is built of flint, sandstone and other materials. Part of it is Saxon, meaning it survived the Norman Conquest of 1066. It is thought to originate from 1050.

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Here’s the tree on the Ancient Tree Inventory.

 

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Fungi Friday 13th March 2020

No self-respecting person goes out looking for mushrooms in March. The mushrooms come to you. Or in this case (above), the bracket mushrooms will hover over your head and attempt to abduct you ala UFOs visiting nocturnal fields in the southern states of the USA. I’m unsure of what this bracket fungus is but it is probably the funniest. I actually ‘laughed out loud’. It’s growing from a poplar in a wetland reserve in the Sussex Weald. If you look closely enough it also looks like a grumpy frog.

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This great spotted woodpecker was looking for his lunch nearby. Thankfully his attempt to fool me into thinking he was a bracket fungus didn’t work. It got more weird:

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Alongside what is known in Sussex as a ‘gill’, a stream rushing through woodland, I found this horror. Now I’m unsure whether this is the jellied remains of an old bracket fungus or simply the remains of a jelly fungus. It could also be something far worse. I prodded it with a twig and it jiggled, so I would go with it being a jelly fungus. It was delicious. Kidding, it wasn’t. As in, I didn’t eat it.

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The only fungal wow moment of the past week has been this encounter with splitgill fungus growing from a pine tree. This was a plantation of thousands of pine trees with very little variety in structure, tree species or ground flora. Keep an eye out for my next Sussex Weald post on that. These mushrooms stood out like many sore thumbs.

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The lichenised fungi also provided a rather artistic sight. I think this is a species of poplar. It has crustose lichens growing around the trunk. In a tweet the British Lichen Society pointed out that this is evidence that trees grow outward rather than upward. Why is this? It’s because trees are constantly putting on new layers of wood internally, behind the bark. These layers of tissue form the static mass of the tree. It is in effect a kind of waste product but it gives the tree some structure.

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Take this stunning dead oak which was also seen on the same day as the lichens. The bark is falling away from the tree as it decays (thanks to fungi in part) and the layers of wood internally are exposed.

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All that, from the fact that lichens look a bit like bird poos delivered at high velocity from the leftfield.

Thanks for reading!

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Fungi Friday 5th March 2020

A couple of weeks ago I was inspecting a bird table in my garden and spotted a moss growing from its ‘roof’. This bird table has been, literally, around the houses and has probably gathered many organisms along the way. Looking more closely I found some jelly fungi.

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The weather has been showing signs of spring, with queen bumblebees on the wing and what I am sure was a male hairy-footed flower bee travelling through the gardens. On Monday I was in the garden briefly and had a closer look at the bird table. On the edge I found a nice cluster of what I think are lemon disco (yes, great name!).

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During a brief trip to The National Trust’s Nymans in the Sussex Weald this weird species was on the decaying heartwood of an old cherry tree. It’s a slime mould known as false puffball. If you press it with your finger it bursts, a bit like other Lycoperdonย slime moulds such as wolf’s milk (search for it).

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Elsewhere, the state of Sussex’s rivers shows how high the rainfall has been so far this year. But the lichenised-fungi are benefitting.

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Along this stretch of the river Arun, these beard lichens were profuse. One hawthorn was so covered with them it seemed like there would be no room for leaves in a couple of weeks!

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Lichens were doing well in other places too. This knotty old fencing rail was making a home for these cup lichens (Cladonia). Lots of countryside fence posts are home to these lichens.

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Not far away from the gushing Arun was a veteran ash tree with lots of King Alfred’s cakes growing from the damaged bark. In this image you can see the folds of the cambium where the tree is trying to protect itself from fungi and other invading organisms. This fungus will have a boom from the amount of dead ash trees caused by the evil fungus behind ash dieback disease.

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To people outside the UK or without a grasp of English history, this name is quite meaningless. It is based on the tale of King Alfred who was exiled in the Somerset Levels during the Viking invasion of Winchester. Alfred failed to keep an eye on a woman’s loaves of bread that were on the fire and they burned. It is said that she had no idea he was the King, so far removed was his from his throne. Don’t worry, he eventually came back and pushed the Danes away a bit.

In the real world this fungus is said to be a host species for hundreds of invertebrates. It’s also used as a kindling and many people who know of it do so for that reason.

Let’s hope for milder temperatures and less rain and see if some more photogenic fungi pop up!

Thanks for reading.

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The South Downs

Fungi Friday 28th February 2020

A fungal perspective on February would probably say that it was ok if you live on a fence post. The poor people who have had their lives ruined by flooding in Britain probably wish they too live on stilts. And so February saw itself out with yet more heavy rain and flooding. But it also carried the early signs of spring.

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The closest thing I got to a true fungus (whatevs that is) was this turkeytail fanning out from a fence post. It’s a reminder that to a fungus, a fence post is just a dead tree that we have put somewhere away from the woodland it was once growing in. There are also a smattering of crustose lichens in the background.

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The best chance of finding something fungal to photograph was on some raised timber somewhere. I found this very marshmallow-like polypore bulging from a crevice in a fencing rail. You know times are hard when it comes to this. Behold the pores developing underneath as the specimen expands.

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As you can imagine, the 100%-fungi fungi ran out quickly. This lichen stood out to me a bit like the archetypal graffiti you see alongside railway lines. I went to a secondary school with a rich mix of graffiti artists (I know that this is not a universally held description) and this reminded me of that.

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This is a heavy crop so the photo isn’t winning any awards, but the lichen’s orange fruiting cups are really cool. I read this week that these cups are ascomycetes in fungal terms, better known as ‘cup fungi’. Their biological name as a structure on the lichen is ‘apothecia’. The ascomycetes are the largest group of fungi in the world and are also known as ‘spore-shooters’ (but don’t confuse them with puffballs like I once did). Normal mushrooms are basidiomycetes and produce their spores in the basidia which are usually present inside the gills we all know and eat.

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This is a pic from last week (is that allowed?) where you can see the apothecia of the lichen. The spores are released from these navy-blue discs and shot out into the air.

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Just to illustrate, above you can see spores being released from a bonnet mushroom. This was taken with a high-resolution camera and lens, with some additional lighting. I didn’t know this had been captured until I looked at the photo later on my computer.

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Back to this week and there are signs of winter coming to an end and the return of some mushrooms. This fly has what I guess might be goat willow pollen on it, meaning that they’re flowering and spring, it cometh.

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The truest sign of winter going back to where it came from is these froggy peeps, about a week later than 2019. More from them in a bit, if I find the time. Rebbit. Soon enough they’ll be sheltering under toadstools in the woods, where they belong.

Thanks for reading.

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