Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts from the ‘Fungi’ category

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Unlike most annual reviews, this post shouldn’t include any reference to seismic political events which we are all likely sick and tired of. Instead, it’s a run through of some of the interesting mushrooms I’ve papped in the past 12 months. It also ends up being a seasonal review more than anything, because fungi is found mostly in the gentler bits of spring and the October-November phase before the cold weather snaps down. Expect references to camera equipment and a smattering of photography jargon that even I don’t understand.

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January, February and March 2018

There have been two things that have changed the nature of my fungi photos in the past year, one of them being the purchase of a compact camera. At the end of 2017 I bought a Canon Powershot G7X MII, a little camera that has allowed me to take photos of mushrooms in ways I couldn’t before.

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This is because of the camera’s small size and the screen that flips round so I don’t need to lie down on the ground. Most of the time it’s actually impossible because some of the smaller mushrooms (usually the most interesting and unique) are down in amongst other debris and you need a small camera in there.

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Another bonus is how light the thing is, though it has a bit of weight about it, it can be taken anywhere and charged off a USB. This means you can bring out a powerbank to charge it in the field or when trekking and you don’t need to spend £60 on batteries.

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Above are some of the early pics I managed to get with the Powershot in and around Sydenham Hill Wood in south-east London. I took the photos in raw format and refined them (just colours, exposure, sharpness and a bit of cropping in Adobe Lightroom) to bring them closer to natural life.

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Whatever you think of the photos, you’ve got to say they’re really sharp and as good as most Digital SLRs. I would say that if you don’t have a ‘decent’ camera and you want something light, portable and uncomplicated, it’s a great option.

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However, one problem is the camera is so light it fell out of my pocket and I didn’t have it insured! I hope the person who found it is very happy with it. Anyway, back to the mushrooms.

July

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Early summer months are a time of bracket fungi on trees and sudden eruptions of inkcaps after rain and milder temperatures. Hot dry weather is not good ‘shroom time.

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It is, however, a time to appreciate the rock solid brackets that climb up the trunks of veteran trees.

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This hollow beech tree at Slindon on the South Downs is a fine example of a veteran tree, characterful and fungus-clad. I have to admit to not having a passion for bracket fungi of this kind, but I do know that these species enter through a wound in the tree and establish their mycelium (network of fungal fibres) and produce a fruiting body, in this case the bracket you can see above, and pump their spores into the air.

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One of the true highlights for people who forage wild food is the summer glut of chicken of the woods. This fungus is hard to miss and simple to identify when in good condition. It is mostly found on oak, though I found my first specimens on yew in 2018. Chicken of the woods on yew should never be eaten because of the poisonous nature of the tree. I’ve never eaten this fungus but a friend said that she got too excited about finding it ate too much of it last summer. A case of being bloated rather than sick. May-June is the prime time for this beast.

August

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August can be a very wet month in the UK. In 2017 it was rainy and cool and in the mushroom world autumn happened in August, with a much weaker season over the typical October-November period. I visited Epping Forest in August 2018 to see if there was any repeat of 2017, but there was a very modest fungal showing. This was due to the extreme heat between June and July with very little rainfall in southern England. It’s an example of how climate change will effect our ecosystems and the species within them.

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This is not the moon landing, it’s a giant puffball! These monsters grow in grasslands and were once used as footballs. Though I don’t eat wild mushrooms I know it can be used to make puffball burgers. It’s one of those mushrooms that makes you think, what is the point of it? I suppose it has been kicked and thrown around for so many millions of years that its spores have spread widely and it’s become an evolutionary success.

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One fungus that does well in August and people struggle to cope with is oak bracket (though this specimen was on a veteran beech tree). This was an evening trip after passing it in the pouring rain on a group walk in late July. It’s one of the most photogenic shrooms and is full of macro possibilities! The above pic is taken with a wide angle lens.

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Using the macro here brings out the beads of water as the fungus exhudes the excess water from its pores. Can you see the figure reflected in the droplets? I’ll be back to visit the beech tree this fungus grows on next year.

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The closer the connection you develop with wildlife through observation, the more important the seasons become. Man-made climate change is messing with that but I still see the arrival of Russulas (brittlegills) as a key indicator of summer’s end and the first specks of autumn.

September

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Walking 5 miles on the South Downs Way in early September I was delighted to find a patch of boletes growing under an old yew tree on chalk. I had my now deceased compact camera to hand and snatched this photo. This elfish mushroom is probably Scarletina bolete. It has orangey-red gills and absolutely stinks. One upturned specimen was beginning to smell like a decaying animal.

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I managed to sneak in a visit to the New Forest in September, a place so good for fungi it’s illegal to forage it. I found this bracket mushroom growing on a pine tree on heathland. It looks like a certain political figure, but I mean that as no insult to this amazing natural phenomena (the fungus, not the human).

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August and September is a good time for the members of the Boletus family, home to the much sought after and munched Boletus edulis (otherwise known as cep, penny bun, porcini). The boletes are a diverse group. I think the mushroom above is a suede bolete. It looks like a biscuit sitting atop a rhubarb stalk.

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A strange find was this parasitic species called powdery piggyback fungus (brilliant name), growing on the gills of blackening brittlegill.

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I thought these were horn of plenty at first, but they also just look like straight-up dog poo.

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Cairngorms - September 2018 djg-2Towards the end of September I visited the Cairngorms and Perthshire in the Scottish Highlands. At Balmoral before a group hike I found what I think is Boletus edulis at the shore of Loch Muick. There are two sides to every shroom. The one with the sun, rain and loch behind is one of my fave pics of the year and was found, taken and left alone within the space of about 30 seconds. You can plan for all the amazing pics you want, but when it comes to mushroom portraiture (lol) you have to be ready at all times.

 

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In some Perthshire woodland outside Pitlochry my friend and I found some jelly babies, a first for me.

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Yellow staghorn was cropping up fairly commonly in September. This bunch was on a stump which gave the opportunity for my friend Eddie to help with the composition. Another favourite from 2018!

October

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One of my new playgrounds in 2018 was Ebernoe Common, a National Nature Reserve managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust. I had two full days over the autumn to explore Ebernoe (responsibly!) with my DSLR and macro lense. The mushroom above was found after about 5 minutes of searching one area that is quite open and heathy. The summer drought meant that mushrooms were not as abundant as perhaps they would have been after a wetter season and the ground here was very dry. This is taken with a macro lens and is lit with a small LED side light, alongside a lovely break of warm autumn sun.

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I find macro photography to be meditative. Looking at such a fine level of detail on what is usually a stationary object is very calming. One thing I have noticed is that when you look closely at a mushroom you often find other life. In the photo above I was trying to get a pic of what I think is bleeding bonnet and only when checking the photo on my camera spotted the springtail crossing its cap. Springtails are invertebrates that are found in soil and damp, shady parts of woodland. They are key to a woodland ecosystem as detritivores (they recycle stuff), and part of healthy woodland soil. By that I don’t mean soil good for ploughing or food growing but as part of the natural make-up of soil which includes fungi, bacteria and invertebrates.

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Before the clocks went back in October I managed to visit The Mens in West Sussex (another special ancient woodland managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust) while the evening light was still there. For most woodland photography it’s vital to have a camera or lens that can deal with low light. The ISO needs to be able to go beyond 1600 without being too grainy I think. Luckily I have a camera that can do that. I also like to take photos at an aperture like f11 which gives more detail and a better depth of field than something like f2.8. Though wider apertures like f2.8 can give lovely isolated mushroom images. That’s photo jargon I know but it makes a huge difference when in woods.

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One way to get around this is to use artificial lighting. Sometimes a phone torch is good enough. The translucence of many mushrooms means that lighting can create all kinds of possibilities. The bonnet mushrooms above where photographed in very low light with cloud cover above the woodland canopy. I used a little LED light to bring them out against the dark woodland background.

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The detail my camera’s sensor combined with the macro lens can produce is amazing here – to the left of the frame you can see spores being released from the gills of the mushroom. Amazing! On the right-hand side you can see them dropping out of the gills, eventually carried away on the air flow.

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I was really pleased with how this one came out, the moss ‘sporophytes’ add an extra element through their accidental lighting! You wonder where the idea for lampshades came from…

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An October visit to Dartmoor gave the opportunity to explore the oak woods that make the south-west famous among those who care about Celtic rainforest. Dartmoor is known for its moorland but it also has extensive areas of ancient woodland. Some of this woodland is so boulder-strewn that there isn’t actually much in the way of substrate for fungi to spring from in the way it does in the Sussex Weald, for example.

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No mushroom season is complete without a fly agaric. We found some real beauties under some birch trees in a small slither of more typical beech woodland.

November

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Porcelain fungus is one of the most photogenic species due to the translucence of the gills and the slimey cap that catches the light so sweetly. It also fruits at a time when leaves are still on the trees, helping to produce the bokeh (light circles that blur in the background) where the light does get through. The most beautiful mushroom images are often taken from below in my opinion.

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Compare the above photo taken on the same tree early in October, compared with the more wintry version above that.

The tree host here is a fallen beech that is my go-to for photos. You can see some of the diversity in this video:

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A species I was interested to find was split gill fungus. It has a quite hairy exterior and grows like a bracket or polypore on dead wood. This one wasn’t easy to photograph and I’m not over the moon about the pic, but the bokeh in the background is nice. It was on the tree in the video below, another fallen beech:

Another part of the Sussex Weald that I visited is St. Leonards Forest in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s a core part of the ancient wealden landscape in southern England. I walked about 8 miles in search of peak-season shrooms:

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These oysters had a look of the sun rising over a green hill, much like the emoji! I think they’re olive oysterlings.

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Yellow staghorn was going strong into the late-autumn. I used a side light to bring this one out in amongst the beech leaf litter.

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Fallen beech trees are becoming a theme here. This jelly fungus was common, as can be seen in the previous videos as well.

December

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December is a month of snow-white mushrooms for me. If it’s a cold month and there’s too much frost, the mushrooms will perish. December kept on message with recent years and was fairly mild all the way up until Christmas which meant some shrooms could fruit.

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Bramble stems often have oysterlings attached to them. At first they look like little white nothings but when you look at the gills, they’re beautiful.

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It’s also a good time to look for slime mould. Though not in the Kingdom of Fungi, slime mould is equal parts beautiful and disgusting. This is probably dog’s vomit fungus, Fuligo septica, famous for how it eats everything in its path:

I mentioned earlier those rogue springtails photobombing fungi pics.

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During the Christmas holidays expectations for shrooms are low but I go for walks regardless obviously. Above is a fungus that is a bit of worry for gardeners, it’s silver-leaf fungus, a species that usually suggests a tree is dead or dying. It was harmless on this already dead tree. A much bulkier springtail was taking interest in it, perhaps.

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My final fungal pic of 2018 was this lovely little bonnet, umbrella-like as it peeped out from the bark of a veteran oak tree.

Thanks for reading, wishing you many mushrooms in 2019!

p.s. insure your equipment!

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Epping Forest - 11-8-2018 - djg-45

Epping Forest, Essex/London, August 2018

Saturday morning in Epping Forest and so often a trip to the woods feels like leaving a world behind. The weekend shoppers, cyclists, children feeding ducks in the village pond. The open plain. Rain came yesterday in stormy downpours. It was so wet a local garden centre roof couldn’t contain it. Today the sun beats down on the still scorched grasslands, small copper and common blue butterflies drinking from ragwort flowers at the path’s edge.

Breaking into Epping Forest, the temperature sinks and the dampness swells. I’m here to photograph mushrooms, hopeful that the rain has prompted the fast-acting fungi to fruit. Last August autumn came early and Epping Forest was bursting with boletes, amanitas and russulas. Every step meant mushrooms. Over the past year that memory has spread through my mind like the hyphae of a fungus in the woodland soil. Today, the woodland floor offers the complete opposite.

Ganoderma fungus - Daniel Greenwood

Some fungi don’t need much water but for the majority of species it is fundamental to producing a fruiting body, otherwise known as mushroom or toadstool. Epping Forest has many dead trees that hold their own reserves of moisture in the cool, dank shade. The fallen beech trees that lay across the Forest host tough and long-lived bracket fungi that appear as hard as stone. Softer are the oyster mushrooms splashed against the old trunks. At first they are brown-capped but as they mature the cap spreads to match the creamy flesh of the gills.

In Epping Forest our former reliance on woodland trees for simple materials and fuel echoes into the age of disposable plastic and solar panels. Approaching Ambresbury Bank, areas of the Forest open out into exhibitions of old beech trees known as ‘lapsed-pollards’. These digit-heavy trees were once cut to a high stump or pollard. Their branches were pruned back for firewood and other thrifty woodland things. Many have not been cut since the 19th century, the era traditional, pre-forestry woodland management began to fade in the UK. The old way of doing things, that is.

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In the past few years I’ve come to know someone who grew up local to here, living through the Second World War, with the Forest as her childhood playground. She remembers doodle bugs running out of fuel and crashing down to destroy a house a week away from receiving new tenants and the greenhouses where her father grew mushrooms for a living. She also remembers a man approaching her and her sister in the woods but she was smart enough to get them away as quickly as she could.

Today she said something unusual to modern language, calling the path that runs centrally through the Forest a ‘ride’. This is an old woodland word harking back to the days when large trees were felled and carried out along a wide trackway cut through a wood. This act is where the phrase ‘the long haul’ originates from.

The use of the word was proof of a life lived close to woods and a bygone way of seeing them, before they became pure recreation areas, nature reserves or carbon sinks in the minds of citizens today. Now the ride is the domain of cyclists, tyres hissing on the still wet gravel, as well as dog walkers and horse riders. Though the trees are cut for conservation and their own preservation, no timber is drawn out along this ride in the way one local native of the Forest once knew.

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A few hundred yards ahead a small desire-line appears between brambles, leading to a noticeboard and huge trench. On the banks of the trench are pollard beech trees, which are in fact much younger than the trench. This area is known as Ambresbury Banks, an earthwork thought to have been dug out in 500BC by a pre-Roman, British tribe. Its aim was probably to protect the people from invasion or as a place to keep livestock.

The creators of Ambresbury Banks were like close to the true Brits or Picts of pre-Roman Britain, the ‘painted’ people. Unsubstantiated tales (or myths) tell that Boudicca’s final stand against the Romans took place here. It’s a story adopted by several green spaces in the hills of Greater London.

Another nugget of knowledge from my native Forester came with the true pronunciation of Ambresbury Banks when I told her where I was going for a couple of hours:

‘It’s “Aims-bury”,’ she said. ‘Not “Am-bres-bury”.’

I head back to the village following the route I came in on. Saturday walkers appear from behind trees, lost in the lack of ride and clear trackway. A glade has been formed by the collapse of an old beech tree. Its limbs grew as individuals from its base. Falling, they have pulled up soil and broken smaller trees in their wake. Now light fills the break in the canopy. Dragonflies compete for airspace, hoverflies bask on the sun-baked bark. Oyster mushrooms squeeze from cracks in the dead wood. The loss of this old tree has elements of sadness but look at the life that comes in its wake.

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Autumn 2015 in southern England began with a prolonged dry period reminiscent of 2011. This meant that a lot of fungus was late to fruit. Other than a September burst of honey fungus, there was little to see until the rain came and enriched the thirsty mycelia of British woods and meadows. Here is my year in mushrooms:

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Oyster mushrooms, Pleurotus ostreatus

One of my favourite things to photograph is mushrooms, yet the act of closing the shutter is often only a small part of the experience. I can go looking for mushrooms and sometimes come away with very few photos. I have to walk until I find something, heading to the right place at the right time of year to find it. I know plenty of fungi enthusiasts who pick and cut mushrooms to identify them, a key process in understanding a species. As a photographer I see no reason for me to pick them. I’m much happier leaving the specimen where it is so someone else can come along and enjoy it, as short-lived as many fruiting bodies are. If it’s a fungal foray to raise awareness and celebrate mushrooms, picking them is great.

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Bonnet mushrooms, Mycena on a dead oak tree

September to November is the right time to head out looking for the larger spreads of mushrooms, though they can be found all year round. I find enormous pleasure in that early autumn period when the moisture levels are right (fungal fruiting bodies are 90% water) and fungus abounds from every fallen tree, even the most barren of parkland funked out by funnels, inkcaps and fairy-rings.

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One of the most sought-after edible mushrooms is the cep, Boletus edulis

I found a cep, Boletus edulis under a rhododendron bush in the New Forest in October. It didn’t quite match the images of bountiful porcinis (the Italian name for the cep, also known as the penny bun) but I still had no desire to take it home with me. Fungi engages people like very few wild plants or animals can, mainly because they are renowned for their edibility and their poison. From my understanding, mushroom picking is not as popular in England as it is in Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic, France or Italy. Indeed, perhaps it is the Mediterranean influence over British culinary culture that has seen mushrooms become such a hot topic in debates about sustainable foraging. In Britain we lack the vast wooded landscapes of Transylvania, of the Tatras, Dolomites or Pyrenees. Perhaps our landscape is mycologically impoverished.

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An inkcap, Coprinus or brittlestem, Psathyrella, I wasn’t quite sure

One thing that always interests me is a land manager’s attitude to foraging mushrooms. The City of London own many excellent nature reserves on the outskirts of the city and they have a no picking policy. Likewise many urban nature reserves discourage visitors from picking mushrooms. The Forestry Commission have a mushroom code, allowing only a certain weight of mushrooms to be picked and the clear message that only mature fruiting bodies should be plucked. It depends what your interest is, but as an observer I err on the side that fungi has an important role to play in an ecosystem and should largely be left alone, especially in urban nature reserves. At the same time I appreciate that it’s unproven that collecting mushrooms has any meaningful impact on the mycelium itself. As a conservationist, I tend to support the land manager’s picking only with permission, as difficult to enforce as it may be.

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A fly you’ll often find on the cap of a mushroom

Fungi has a massive role in the health of woods. Species like beech, birch and oak have a strong dependency on fungi to provide them with nutrients and minerals that are otherwise impossible to retrieve from the soil. The mycelium of a fungus which fruits from the soil lives underground. The mycelium is made up of hyphae which extend through the soil, feeding on decomposing matter. The hyphae sheath the root hairs of a tree and a trade takes place between tree and fungus, a symbiotic relationship. The tree can delegate where the hyphae should extend in search of nutrients. The hyphae can then pass the nutrients into the tree via the root hairs. Water is often passed in return to the hyphae to nourish the mycelium and make the production of fruiting bodies (mushrooms) all the more possible. Experiments have been done to show that these mychorrizal relationships boost the growth of trees greatly. This is why the idea to dig up trees and replant them elsewhere to protect ancient woods is impossible. The soil is crucial. Trees are not everything.

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A cup fungus

Fungi has made me think very carefully about the camera equipment I use. The diversity of species means that there are an array of lenses and cameras you can use. There is no perfect set up. I use a Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens to capture the smallest of mushrooms. Lying on my stomach in the New Forest revealed many incredible things hidden away that I would otherwise not have noticed. A macro lens, though often a costly investment, can open up a new appreciation for nature.

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A tiny species of bonnet, Mycena

Some of my favourite species to photograph are bonnets (Mycena) and parachutes (Mirasmius). They are so incredibly tiny but so common, simply searching for them is an adventure. Again, the best place for these is woods with a thick layer of leaf litter, but they can also be found on mossy logs, and even on the end of sticks.

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Twig parachute, Mirasmiellus ramealis

At the RSPB’s Blean Woods in Kent I crouched for many minutes, fearful of dogs weeing on me, to photograph this twig parachute. It measured barely a few millimetres across. I found it because I knew where to look. My knees ache still.

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Orange peel fungus, Aleuria aurantia

Not all fungi is especially beautiful or in beautiful places. Many mushrooms are in poor condition because their time in the limelight is very short and they are affected directly by weather and other environmental factors. Slugs eat them, flies mate on them, people step on them. I found this orange peel fungus (Aleuria aurantia) on an embankment near Oxted, Kent outside a haulage company depot. The bank had been denuded of trees, their stumps poisoned. But the thing about nature is that it doesn’t care about how crap a place looks if the opportunity for propagation exists. This fungus looked more like some plastic debris half submerged in the ground.

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Lycogola terrestre

Also not all of the beautiful fungus you find is actually fungus. One spot I return to each year, a dank log pile next to a path in some dark beech woodland, is lit up by Lycogola terrestre. This is no fungus but instead a slime mould. This is an extreme close up of one of the fruiting bodies which appears on a bed of moss in a very small area.

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Shaggy inkcaps, Coprinus comatus growing next to new burial plots

Another of fungi’s pleasures is an ability to surprise. Millions of spores are released by a single mushroom (30,000 million an hour by a mature bracket fungus) and so it is unsurprising to find mushrooms growing in the streets. At Camberwell Old Cemetery in south-London, four-year-old burial space has been a successful breeding ground for shaggy inkcap (Coprinus comatus). I used a 300mm telephoto lens to photograph the scene above. Seeing as the graves were newly-laid I didn’t want to intrude.

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Honey waxcap, Hygrocybe reidii

The best grasslands to find fungi are either ancient grasslands like Farthing Downs where I photographed this honey waxcap, or church yards. Waxcaps (Hygrocybe) are a strong indicator of the age of grassland. There are over 1000 species in the UK, their burst of colour in the winter doldrums add life to otherwise dormant meadows. The mild winter this year meant that waxcaps were fruiting alongside field scabious, knapweed and even yellow rattle on Farthing Downs.

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Coral fungus growing in the lawn of a Dorset church yard

In church yards the lack of grazing pressure and the ‘respectful’ management of the turf means that there are likely to be well established mycelia under the graveyard lawns. These are excellent hunting grounds for corals, Ramaria. The problem is they’re often so small it can be difficult to get a good image from a cumbersome DSLR. Instead I use my camera phone to try and get a closer look. It has a fancy in-built lens and can manual focus as if turning the focus ring of a DSLR lens by using the screen. The results were very pleasing.

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An ancient pollard oak on Ashtead Common

The best places to find fungi are woods and meadows, generally those that are either ancient or relatively well established nature reserves which are sensitively managed. One of the new places I visited was Ashtead Common in Surrey. Ashtead Common is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and National Nature Reserve (NNR), mainly designated for its ancient pollard oaks. This collection of old trees means the diversity of fungal and invertebrate life is very high. The City of London manage their reserves very well indeed and Ashtead Common proved to be one of the best early sites to visit.

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The rich leaf litter in Blean Woods

RSPB’s Blean Woods NNR is a wonderful place for wildlife in general, not merely fungi. It is a vast network of woods that flank the city of Canterbury adding a level of sylvan mystery. Blean Woods is broken up into different habitats, with spots of heathland, birch and sweet chestnut coppice which provide vital nesting opportunities for nightingales and enough light when cut to support common cow wheat, the food plant of the endangered heath fritillary butterfly. In October the woodland floor was covered by a sea of black mushrooms that, I discovered later, were horn of plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides).

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Roydon Woods

It’s hard to say there is a best place to find mushrooms due to the transient way the fruiting bodies appear. My favourite place has to be the New Forest in Hampshire. The above image is of the Wildlife Trusts’ Roydon Woods NNR, an ancient broadleaved wood very close to Brockenhurst. The New Forest was probably like Ashtead Common in centuries past, with a structure more reminiscent of wood pasture (or savannah) where the trees were less close together and the grasslands were sunnier and luxurious. Roydon Woods has the feel of a landscape that is untouched by people, though such a thing does not exist today. It is possible to spend a day there and meet very few visitors but all manner of mushrooms.

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Dog stinkhorn Coulsdon, London, November 2014

In Devilsden Wood we tiptoe around fallen beech logs, slipping at times on beech leaves and clay, and the emptied mast. The nuts will have been eaten by hungry jays and squirrels. Over the past few weeks I’ve crouched down around these logs photographing their fungi: beech jellydisc with its almost caucasian flesh, purple jellydisc creeping out by the week from wisps of moss. Most startling for a layman like me was the glaring eye of dog stinkhorn, named after its canine stench. Lodged in a piece of black deadwood it had the appearance of a fox or wolf skull looking up at me. The long, finger-like stems that it had produced had collapsed, orange tips like finger nails. As Julian Hoffman has written recently, referring to the poet Rilke, we are surrounded by a world that beckons us to perceive it, to engage with it, to look and to touch. To me the fingers of the stinkhorn could be pointers to something worth seeing. Today only the jellydiscs remain, as well as a brown mushroom that reflects the white break of cloud between the trees above in its glossy cap. My friend Philip is searching for something behind me and as I look up the sharp dark shape of a sparrowhawk slices between us in silence. If we were little woodland birds we would not have seen a thing.

© Daniel James Greenwood 2014
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Parrot waxcap

Farthing Downs, London, November 2014

Blue smoke plumes from the dreary Downs, the crack of piled ash trees cuts through the distant wash of the M25, and now the noise of chainsaws. This work is good fun. How many people panic at the sound of this machine, waking to find that their favourite tree is gone from the frame of their bedroom window. In the town I am always suspicious when their itch carries. But this is the restoration of the chalky meadows swallowed by the incoming of woods. We as a species have been trying to halt the loss of woods but at the same time deny new ones for thousands of years. This is a thousand-year-old view, the only change the exchange of machines for the pop of axes on heartwood.

Against a view of near leafless beech, a green woodpecker rises from the anthills, its flight reminiscent of a puppet tugged at intervals as it passes. Robins sing, gulls create the aura of the Sussex coast, and rain specks add a pinch of cool. In the now flattened meadows fungi can be found: a parrot waxcap plucked and left, yellow gills that ripple like flames around its stem. Puffballs are scattered across the path, little footballs deflated and unwanted. I press my toe into one, flattened and leathery grey, its brown spores puffing out like effluent. I definitely take them with me.

© Daniel James Greenwood 2014
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Devilsden Wood

Farthing Downs, London, September 2013

Standing on the track leading into Devilsden Wood I look to the ground for dryness, somewhere that hasn’t been soaked by this perpetual rainfall. I see fallen ivy leaves that appear like cuts of leather when really they are crisp under foot. Dog shit, too, the new waybread for the modern ancient footway. I hate the stuff. My waterproof sheds its load onto my jeans and it’s wait and become cold or move and receive woodland raindrops, some chucked from the canopy of mature yew, ash and beech, some fifty feet up. When they get behind glasses, these droplets shock the senses.

It’s fungi season, the signpost of falling temperatures, not too cold but a shift from the sultry summer. I gawp at log piles with an explosion of mushroom caps, marked by striping and shapes that would define them to those who understood them. But still, I spy an oysterling appearing from a rotting trunk and feel that in two years of woodland obsession I have at least learned something about this magical animal that appears so fleetingly it could almost be through the fabric of time, a monitor on how we’re doing. Checking the sole of my boot again, we’re crap. I wipe it off in a mud puddle. The rain has not lessened. I head back out from the dark, autumn-beckoning woodland and onto the wet warfare of the Downs. The change in mind is clear, the atmosphere of a woodland changes you. It is not like the open land, so much a canvas for human experimentation, our impact on woodlands is never so clear as the plough’s to the open landscape. A woodland to all but a minority could have been in that state for millenia, before human time. The wood is a wild city, with nature’s social housing, swimming pools and fast food. It was our home once, too. There is the semblance of a summer out here, yellow rattle not yet rattling, knapweed funked-out in pinkish purple, even a bit of scabious. These wildflowers have something of January’s left over Christmas decorations about them. A car passes along the lane. Woodpigeons are striking through the rainy sky, turning their wings and bodies at an angle – to avoid the direction of the rain? – always as individuals. These birds cut several different figures in a year – hurried, panicked on the wing, or else male birds cutting arcs out of the sky as they display to females long into the summer recesses. Now they could be migrating, they could be hunted. Mostly they are gorging on elderberries outside my bedroom window.

On the Downs a flock of goldfinch are startled into the sky like pieces of a broken vase put back, its smash rewound and fixed. They sit in a small hawthorn bush and I look more closely. On the end of a branch, clear and possibly not so fearful of man is a juvenile, all grey on the head, interested in looking but unaware of the perils of being watched. My advances fracture them once more and I’m left with a snapshot of their escape into the landscape captured on my camera.

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