Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts from the ‘Fungi’ category

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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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Fungi Friday 21st February 2020

The Weald holds so many future Fungi Fridays. It’s an ancient wooded landscape that stretches across Sussex, parts of Surrey and into Kent. It covers the most wooded part of the UK in East Sussex. Once it will have connected with the New Forest, forming much of England’s post-glacial ‘wildwood’. I am very privileged to live within rambling distance of the Weald. I write about walks in it once a month, check that out if you will.

I managed to sneak ninety minutes in locally last week and found plenty of interesting things. As well as the ‘dark side’ of fungi, a reminder that a fungus giveth, and it taketh away.

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We have had two storms in two weeks in Sussex and the winter streams are tickling through the woodland understory. Above, a tree was resting in a winterborne. This means a stream that only flows in winter when rainfall is higher. In Ireland, lakes (or loughs) that appear in winter are known as ‘turloughs’. Got plenty of those right now in Brexit-land.

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The log was covered in some nice looking turkeytail, a very common polypore that is said have anti-carcinogenic properties. It was a nice way to start.

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Then I happened upon these absolute corkers growing on a dead birch tree. These are blushing bracket in their mature stage. This area of the woodland is very wet, with mosses like sphagnum attempting to recolonise more places. It is set in amongst mature beech trees at the edge of heath-ier habitats, largely consumed by pines that were planted, rank and file, by the Forestry Commission in the 20th Century. It’s very wet and many birches are succumbing there. This is natural.

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This is a standalone dead birch tree with birch polypore, also known as razorstrop fungus. It’s a tough bracket fungus that people probably once used to sharpen their razors. It naturally controls birch trees and breaks them down for other organisms to devour, and therefore new soils to be created.

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Here’s a quick macro of one of the mosses from the work of the razorstrop, looking much like a cedar or a fern.

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I found some split gills looking rather shaggy, in a good way. If you look at the yellow smatterings around, I think that’s a slime mould making its way across the surface of the bark.

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Rewind to May in this area, when the first leaves were appearing on the trees and the ground was far drier. This is one of my favourite trees to photograph in this woodland because of the orange algae and the beautiful buttresses at the tree’s base.

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Here it is in December, the ground much more wet, the leaves all gone. Can you see the bracket fungus at its base? It has been damaged, probably by a visitor testing its strength.

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And here it was last week. Evidently the tree has been destabilised by the decay which has been accelerated by the fungus. This has softened the heartwood which leaves the tree vulnerable to storm damage.

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But this veteran beech tree still lives, it has only lost one of its three trunks. I hope it can remain where it is and continue down its veteran path into the realm of the ancients.

It’s just another reminder that fungi has its own way in the world and there is no sentimentality involved. It’s there to break down organic matter. Trees were not a safety concern until we started walking underneath them everyday.

Some species share what they can find, others take, take, take. It’s in their nature. But in the end fungi are contributing to vital processes of organic recycling and renewal. Without the ecological role of fungi our species would not exist writing blogs, taking photos, hurling abuse at passers by, or walking under veteran trees in the woods.

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Fungi Friday, 14th February 2020

Storm Ciara blew in on Sunday and probably washed any winter shrooms away. But I’m still spending my time with the symbiotic fungal folk found in lichens. The lichens have had a good week, heavy rain has been interspersed with some lovely winter sun.

Near where I work there are lengths of low post-and-rail fences that are covered in lichens. They’re likely to be sweet chestnut and not to be treated with any chemicals. This patch above is a joy, a mass of cladonia cup lichens with mosses and some crustose lichens smattered in between.

This is probably Xanthoria parietina which is a very common yellow lichen. I think it looks like scrambled eggs! The colours have only been very mildly edited here, it really was vibrant.

These are the fruiting bodies of the cladonia cup lichens in the previous image, far more alien-like.

These fences are close to the river Rother which was flooding the surrounding landscape in an epic manner. It’s done it twice now this year.

As you can imagine, for the mushrooms of the fungal world, this is too much water!

This is a dead alder tree that sits in the centre of the river. You can see the blue-green hue from the riverbank, the presence of lichens enjoying a sunny and moist spot to prosper in.

Next week I will actually have some 100% fungi to share!

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How mushrooms are helping to fight poverty in China – Time

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Fungi Friday: 7th February 2020

Welcome to my weekly #FungiFriday post! Every Friday I aim to post my latest photos and learning from the Kingdom of Fungi (where I live). You can see my Fungi Friday archive here.

Last Sunday I was taking apart an old shed. Plenty of wildlife had made a home in the shed, including lots of large spiders, woodlice and springtails. Pulling the panels away, I was amazed to find this very small mushroom sitting there on a wooden panel.

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This is a species that I’ve posted about on a previous Fungi Friday but instead when it appears in the fissures of tree bark. This shroom shows the ability for fungi to get into any appropriate micro-habitat if the spores can reach them. This shed was very damp and moulds were already building in places. I was simply speeding up a process that fungi and other recyclers had started.

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If you look at the image above you can see the scale of the mushroom. It’s miniscule! To photograph it I used a macro lens and a macro adaptor to get even closer.

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Meanwhile at the river Rother in West Sussex, my poplar branch patch was drying out due to lack of rain and some unseasonably warm sun. It gave the cyanobacteria and algae the chance they need to turn some of that light into sugar and feed the fungus that puts a roof over (under?) their heads.

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The common yellow lichen Xanthoria parietina continued undimmed. Life goes on. There’s a storm coming…

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Extreme Macro Photos Unveil the Hidden World of Fungi in the Forest

The History of European Forest Exploitation

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Fungi Friday: 31st January 2020

Anyone who works full time and is trying to keep weekly photographic habits alive will know the challenge that is January. Lunch breaks (if they continue after Bre*it) are the saving grace. This week I got out a couple of times and rescued my pseudo-Fungi Friday. Why pseudo? Because lichens are a mixture of organisms fused together through the evolutionary benefits of their respective differences. As Britain enters the transition phase of leaving the European Union, what better example can you find for the prosperity of working closely together. Algae, cyanobacteria, fungi, together they become so much more than the sum of their parts. Together they created the first soils from seemingly indestructible rocks.

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The beautiful diversity of life is what makes our world unique, it’s also what makes it live. As we continue to wreck biodiverse landscapes and our ways of farming, building and emitting eradicates species on a scale only seen five times previously in the 4billion years Earth has been a thing, we can’t forget that. Thankfully, lots of people haven’t. Lots of them will be tomorrow’s policymakers and, living with the anxiety of the planet’s poor health, will bring much-needed change.

This attempt to photograph fungi all year round is a silly mission but it has challenged me. In trying to find something to photograph, it’s taken me to read more on the diversity of fungal life that exists in the absence of typical mushrooms. One week I may have to post a photo of the black mould a former landlord is blaming me for. It has also taught me that most of my photography is in fact built around dead stuff. This doesn’t half make you look odd in the real world.

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Just like the march of unsustainable consumer-based economies, we should be mindful of the spread of Xanthoria parietina, a pollution-tolerant species seen here in bright yellow making its way across the lichen community.

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Lichens are good indicators of air quality, due to their intolerance of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide. These chemicals are produced through emissions from pollution caused by car engines and from farming chemicals respectively. My studio this week is an abandoned poplar plantation along the river Rother in West Sussex surrounded by arable farming. If you look at the uppermost branches in the image above, you can see the spread of Xanthoria in the golden glow it creates.

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Here it is once more, spreading across more species of lichen on a fallen poplar.

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Lichen has saved my photographic January. Whether you use your phone or anything else, I know I’m not the only one.

I’m not just lichen it, I’m lovin’ it!

Fungal decisions can affect climate

Ash trees recovering from ash dieback in Norfolk

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Fungi Friday: 24th January 2020

A week of blissful winter sunshine and endless starry skies, cut short by low clouds. What is the point of January, many ask. If fungi asked themselves that question, they probably wouldn’t be here and therefore nor would we. Nature does not disappear completely in winter. The paucity of species can help introduce us to new ones we never knew existed.

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January to me is a good time to find slime moulds. Yes, I suppose this is two straight weeks of cheating after last week’s lichen love-in. But if this is the only way to raise awareness about slime moulds, I don’t think fungi will mind. I had an hour to look through the wooded slopes of an old estate in East Sussex, to find this week’s quarry.

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There was very little fungi of the mushroom kind, in fact, none. But one of the bad funguys had been making itself felt in the wood. Ash trees had been felled after becoming infected with ash dieback. I used to monitor a woodland at the time of ash dieback’s arrival in the UK and have, since about 2014, watched it rocket across the country. In Sussex it is killing lots of ash trees that are under 50 years of age and the landscape of the South Downs is losing a lot of its higher woodland.

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Here you can see the effect of the fungus, though of course many other fungal organisms will be benefitting from the decay caused by the disease. The rot has moved from the outside in through what are the softer layers of waste wood. Had the fungus weakened two thirds of the overall mass, the tree would probably have fallen down. Lots of people walk under these trees, so that’s why they have to be pushed before the wind shoves them.

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I have been exchanging emails with a fellow macro photographer this week who has been spending hours looking for slime moulds. One day this week he looked for four hours and found nothing. I was lucky enough to walk straight outdoors for a few minutes and happened upon this epic spread on the tree above:

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No, slime moulds aren’t fungi, they’re not even moulds, which are another kind of fungus. I still don’t have the slime mould ID book so any help is welcome.

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The thing that amazed me about these slimeys was that you could barely see them, even when I knew they were there. They camouflaged so well with the glowering winter light. The photos here have been taken with a flash.

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I could have spent all day with this spread but only had an hour and my small camera. Up close they look like little black kalamata olives. Nom, nom and nom. Though inedible.

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The land managers had left lots of standing dead trees which is excellent. There is some epic misinformation going around about deadwood in woodlands and their contributions to forest fires. It’s guff aimed to misinform people, appeal to people’s fears (what a surprise) and promote the destruction of these habitats. In Britain our native woods of oak, beech and so on, are far too wet to ever burn like a heath.

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The crevices seen above are the perfect places to find slime moulds in cold weather. This is because they provide microclimates and protection from the elements.

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Here I found some old stalkballs which are fungi (or maybe a species of slime mould, am not quite sure), plus the real life of the party:

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DISCO. I’m not sure which species of disco the blue cup fungi are, but the orange fruiting body is definitely a slime mould. They were few and I couldn’t get a good angle on them.

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Thankfully this blue disco brought the party on Fungi Friday.

Please do share your finds this week in the comments below. Also here are some fungi things of interest this week.

Thanks for reading.

First mushrooms appeared earlier than originally thought

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Flooding from the river Rother in West Sussex

Fungi Friday: 17th January 2020

Storm Brendon rocked up this week in Sussex and gave freedom of movement to the Arun and Rother. Temperatures have tickled 11 degrees but are set to crunch back down this weekend. Mushrooms must think, guys, WTAF?

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I see images of nice looking shrooms on social media, things like velvet shank glowing orange like sweets on tree trunks. All I saw were the melted ice lollies of sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare) on an embankment. It gets worse:

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Probably some bonnets, like a scene from the Netflix drama You. The rain has been too much for these Mycena. But have hope.

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Where there are non-chemical treated fence posts, there is hope. That hope comes in the form of our symbiotic fungi-algae friends, the lichens. This is a great time of year for lichens due to the amount of rain and their resistance to winter weather. They are hard to shift.

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The fruiting bodies here are known as apothecia. I love them. They are like cartoon eyes or mouths. Wonder what they’re trying to say. Obviously it’s a climate warning.

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This one just takes the biscuit. My lichen guide is in Ireland where it belongs, with all the other lichens. So I’m sailing in the dark and just here to appreciate the beauty of these ancient, life-giving organisms.

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These fencing rails are a reminder of how important dead wood is in the biosphere as a structural support for biodiversity. No doubt lots of other organisms will make a home for themselves in these lichens.

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This is a finger post with the yellow being the paint of an arrow pointing in the direction of the public footpath. I love the little apothecia eye cups on the right hand side.

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Living wood also provides a platform for lichens to grow. I can’t cope with the colour range in the species which dominates the image here. They were growing on the bark of a fairly young beech tree. A few people did glance over when they saw me effectively hiding behind the tree with a camera. In actual fact the camera was jammed up against the bark taking macro pics. Still, could have gone wrong.

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Here you can see the brown streaks which are fissures in the maturing bark as it grows. Patches of foliose or leafy lichens are growing in among the crustose species.

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This was their view, an oak tree fanned out before the South Downs ridge. Not a bad place to be for a lichen.

The British Lichen Society are running the hashtag #LichenJanuary. Lichens are for everyone so it’s good to see such a niche group spreading their knowledge to the masses(?) for free.

Thanks for reading and please share any interesting lichen finds (or indeed identifications) in the comments. Some interesting mycological articles this week:

Mushrooms and orange peel: could biotech clean up the building industry?

Ikea to use packaging made from mushrooms that will decompose in a garden within weeks

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