Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts from the ‘Woodlands’ category

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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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Dartmoor - November 2019 blog-10

Buckland Abbey, Tamar Valley, Devon, November 2019

At last the rain has stopped. Buckland Abbey, once home to Sir Frances Drake (1540-1596), climbs out of its nook in the hillside, reflecting the stony skies above. Drake is known for β€˜his’ ships which battled the Spanish Armada in the 1500s, for circumnavigating the earth and for his role in the slaughter of civilians on Rathlin Island in 1575.

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I first heard about him from spending time in south-east London’s remnant ancient woodland known as Great North Wood. It is said that some oaks grown in the Great North Wood were taken to the docks at Deptford and used in the building of some of Drake’s ships. It has never been verified. One thing that was verified at Deptford was Drake’s knighthood in 1851, on the ship named the Golden Hind, something I only learned at Buckland Abbey.

The fields around the Abbey are pocked by small cream sheep that run like chickens as we pass them on the track. In the distance the dammed River Tavy reflects the sky again, the dark woods flowing across the slopes to where the river enters the Tamar. Looking at the Ordnance Survey map, something stands out. To the north-west is a large woodland named The Great North Wood.

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Ordnance Survey Β© Crown Copyright 2019 and/or database right 2016. Licence number 100043379

Could this be simply because it’s so large, or because of Drake’s links to that area of south London? The name is said only to have been popularised in the Victorian period and could have been given to differentiate the once vast area of woodland to that of the Weald that covered most of south-east England in the Anglo-Saxon period. Perhaps this local wood was also named by residents of the Abbey in the 1800s.

Redwings are established now, flocking in the fields. I hear my first fieldfare chuck-chuck-chucking over the Abbey. Down in the woods beech trees burn even without the aid of sunlight. They brighten the most glowering corners. Hazels are yellowing and even the odd wych elm with its almost bulb-bright leaves. It’s here saying, β€˜don’t forget about me.’ Many elms have gone, but wych elm survives.

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The rain threatens specks again as the light, if you can call it that, dwindles further. In a combe of a field a grey heron flaps its wings, either a slice of Buckland Abbey’s grey exterior breaking free, or a slither of sky lending itself south, to the glassy Tavy for the night.

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St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, October 2019

After a night of stormy weather, the high winds blew through the woods and really I probably shouldn’t have been there. But October is such a special time in the woodland year that any time spent there is to be cherished.

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I walked for three or so hours in the Forest and found lots of species, masses of small brown and grey mushrooms in the leaf litter that don’t make great photos. My first find was a lovely species known as twig parachute.

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Staying in macro mode these miniscule bonnets were were growing from a bed of moss on the buttress of a tree.

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There is a small clearing I’ve recently found, well hidden from paths but obviously the secret space for other visitors as well. Here a thick humus of leaf litter and, in particular, beech nuts were creating good fruiting ground for mushrooms. This little brittlegill (I always prefer their Latin name of Russula, indicative of their redness) was one of those to benefit.

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A beech tree has dropped a large limb and deadwood fungi have begun to colonise it. This is a splitgill and only really comes to life after prolonged rain. It’s a process of re-hydration. They’re tricky to photograph but always look nice with some bokeh (the baubles of light) in the background.

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In the mosses growing in the dark and wet corners under holly trees, species like what-I-think-is curry milkcap were fruiting. This species is said to have a curry-like taste.

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St. Leonard’s Forest sits on the edge of sandy heathland soils and Wealden clay. Passing into the heathy areas which make it a ‘Forest’ (forests were open landscapes used for hunting by the aristocracy, and don’t denote woodland alone) fly agaric suddenly arrived. These shrooms are thought to have given Father Christmas his red and white outfit and provided the hallucinatory impact that gave visions of reindeer flying. I’ll write something about that one day but still, these should be treated as deadly poisonous.

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While we’re on deadly shrooms, this relative of fly agaric is panther cap. It’s definitely poisonous and is more photogenic when it’s in its bulbous stage. Again it’s common on sandy heathland soils.

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There is some constant pleasure about seeing boletes. Perhaps it’s because the cep/penny bun/porcini is the tastiest. This bolete scares me. Can you see the smiley face and squiggle of hair on the cap?

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Days of cloud were broken up by the storm and it was a relief to see some sunshine. This footbridge runs over a gill that cuts between the clay woods and the heathland on that travels further east into St. Leonard’s Forest and the wider Weald. The gill was as full as I’d seen it because of torrential downpours.

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On my way back home I found a gang of clustered bonnets on a trunk that crossed a path. It had been chainsawed in half so people can still walk through. It’s the perfect height and position for photos.

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The sun broke through the trees and lit the bonnets where they had squeezed their way out from behind the bark. To me they look a little bit like they’re hiding from something beyond the wood they cower behind.

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The Sussex Weald

My Wood-Wide-Web

 

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Ebernoe Common, Sussex Weald, October 2019

Last week I spent a drizzly and dark afternoon at Ebernoe Common, a National Nature Reserve managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust. It was raining not only water but mushrooms. The first signs of the good times came in the shape of a magpie inkcap. This is something I’ve only seen three times, twice at Ebernoe and once on the North Downs.

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The word magpie relates to the English phrased ‘pied’ which means black and white. This species goes into the delicious state of deliquesce (an inky kind of melting), just like its relative the shaggy inkcap. Unlike the shaggy inkcap, though, it’s toxic so don’t eat it. The thing I like about this image is the glow of green in the background gradually turning to yellow as autumn progresses. Beech usually provides this kind of backdrop.

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Porcelain fungus is a reliable species. It fruits in the same place, often en masse, each year. It is a beautiful species but the beauty, like so many things, lies underneath.

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The gloopy glimmer of the cap is photogenic but the gills of porcelain fungus are stunning.

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I use a small LED light to illuminate mushrooms in this way. I can’t tell you how much more character this can offer to photos. Actually I can: a lot more.

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Here you can see my roving light (yes, I meant this!) mixing it with some delicious bokeh in the background. Leaves and branches create lovely bokeh because of the break of light in the gaps.

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Here is one of ‘the finished images’. I like that the light circles can imitate the caps of mushrooms in photos and offer a deeper layer of resonance and reflection. Who knew.

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In photography, macro is where the fun happens. There are so many amazing things happening at our feet that our eyes are incapable of seeing without the help of magnification. If you want to have a go at macro, don’t hesitate. Just do it. I call this one ‘Climb every mountain’. The piece of deadwood does have the appearance of a peak in this light. The mushroom is like a protagonist, playing on a theme of mushrooms as individuals or sentient beings throughout human history:

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This seems to be particularly prevalent in German culture and Christmas or New Year celebrations. Christmas has evolved from Pagan traditions (Paganism was once considered any religion which was non-Christian) and the place nature has in the human imagination is pretty clear here.

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Back to life, back to reality. Honey fungus is enjoying its first boom phase and seems to be having a good year.

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There is a dead veteran beech tree at Ebernoe Common which is basically where all the mushrooms live. This wide angle image shows just how many larger species were making a home within the tree. Here you can see giant polypore (bottom left), honey fungus in the middle and Ganoderma brackets everywhere. This is a stunning tree and of the highest ecological importance because of all the species, not just fungi, it supports. All of these species are contributing to the tree’s decay and recycling into organic matter (soil).

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Not far away was a patch of hen-of-the-woods, an aggressive root-rotter (harsh). It’s said to smell like mice (more harsh).

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You can imagine how I thought someone was playing a trick when I passed this. A swing made from a beech log that was covered in porcelain fungus. It was embarrassingly hard to photograph well. Thankfully only the mushrooms were looking and they haven’t evolved to use Twitter yet.

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On my way out I spotted this slurp of fungus low on a log by the path.

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Looking closely with the macro lens it has the appearance of something you might find in a coral reef. Then that’s the beauty of woodland, it has a depth to it that you have to dive in to experience for yourself.

Thanks for reading.

 

Read more:

The Sussex Weald

My Wood-Wide-Web

 

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Cowdray Park, Sussex Weald, September 2019

It’s a grey and dark September evening. Robins sing solitary from trees in their autumnal fashion. Cars wash nearby on the A272, to and from the village of Easebourne. The bracken rests in stages of green, yellow and brown. In Cowdray Park a sign warns of the bull in the field, but there are no cattle. The only beasts are the trees sat across the undulating hillside of parkland. Here lives the 1000 year old Queen Elizabeth oak and the Cowdray Colossus, the biggest sweet chestnut in England.

I pass creeping thistle still in flower and others with their leaves thinning to a translucent yellowy green. Walking under one of the ancient oaks, it looks like a rabbit’s head, its heartwood torn out and lying on the ground. An alcove has become of its bark, like a doorway to another place. It’s a fair metaphor, the word oak derives from an old name for door.

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The second oldest oak sits on the hill, its heartwood also lost, mainly trampled out by cattle and people. But now it has a fence around it. In front of the fence stands a roe deer. It watches me in complete stillness. I approach one slow step at a time, taking a photo each time I get closer. Soon it turns on its heels and disappears off behind the tree, springing into the air. I see it rising up and down beyond the fence like a merry-go-round.

I approach the oak and see it is producing acorns. How many millions of acorns has this sessile oak tree produced in its 800 or so years of life. How many autumns has it lived through? Perhaps as many as 800. Our lives seem so small and precious, fragile in comparison to this natural treasure.

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Loch Lomond, Scotland, September 2019

I am very fortunate to be able to visit relatives at the foot of the Scottish Highlands. It’s a landscape that I first experienced when visiting family in Perthshire and Stirlingshire about 10 years ago. My family haven taken me to visit the dramatic hills north of Perth, places like the Pass of Killicrankie, the ancient Birnam oak and sycamore, and Rob Roy’s grave in Balquhidder. My cousin was married in Pitlochry one Christmas and the misty woods of the southern Scottish Highlands left their mark on my sense of the place: dark, mysterious and forbidding. Little did I know that it was so close to an ancient continental clash, the Highland Boundary Fault:

Around 430 million years ago two small continents, one equating to modern Scandinavia and the other to the eastern seaboard of North America slammed, geologically speaking, into each other throwing up a vast mountain range similar in many respects to the modern Himalayas. At the height of the uplifting phase the peaks may have breached even the 30,000ft ceiling. – via Greg Murray, Scotlandinfo.eu

Those mountains thrown up are the Scottish Highlands, themselves now ground down to the rounded hills they largely present themselves to be. Just imagine, two continents once with their own flora and fauna now fused together.

The Highland Boundary Fault actually cuts through the northern part of Loch Lomond. If my geology is correct this picture was taken on the south-eastern side of the fault. Two worlds, long since collided.

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Like so many of the landscapes we hold dear in the UK, Loch Lomond was formed by the retreating glaciers over a period over several hundred thousand years. On the shore this oak tree protruded from an area of soil, still managing to survive with most of its roots probably under water.

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Oaks don’t like it too wet in the UK, unlike willow, aspen or alder, the last of which actually needs flowing water to prosper. Oaks like soil that drains well which makes this one all the more unusual. Like everything in nature, there will be an explanation.

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Loch Lomond is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, made more diverse by the series of islands that are dotted across the surface of the lake. The result of the messy retreat of glaciers, dragging rocks and debris along with them, the ensuing flow of water from the melting ice carving out more of the landscape and filling it with water.

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Along the shores of Loch Lomond, Western Atlantic Woodlands grow mossy and wild. More civilised was the flow of walkers along the West Highland Way. Americans, Germans, French, English and indeed Scots were present in a constant flow (bar the pic above). I know this type of woodland as Celtic Rainforest. They are found in the western, wet areas of the British Isles such as here in Scotland, Wales, south-western England and western Ireland. They abound with mosses and liverworts, and they drip with lichens. They get branded as Celtic from the fact they exist in areas where the ancient Celtic-speaking tribes of Britain presided. They consist of oak, birch and hazel in the main.

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For anyone who has seen this website before it will come as no surprise to read that I was on the lookout for fungi. I found this species of what I reckon might be a kind of honey fungus (Armillaria) and some pleasing spreads of sulphur tuft:

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These mushrooms were at a part in the West Highland Way where walkers would pause to catch their breath. I heard lots of snapshots of conversations here, like the two Americans remarking that Donald Trump was a conspiracy theorist (no, really?).

I was quizzed by a couple from Yorkshire about what I would do with the fungi photos.

‘Do you print them or put them in an album?’ a woman asked.

‘I put them online, usually,’ I said. ‘But the main thing is to enjoy being out here.’

I was trying to sound virtuous, then again they were the ones who were walking the near-100 miles of the trail in pretty woeful conditions before then. The woman showed me that she had a film camera with her, a passion she had held for decades. More than anything when looking for or photographing mushrooms, the pleasure is in the moment of finding something, be it new, interesting or unusual.

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Before heading back beyond the Highland Fault to visit my family for the evening, I was taken aback to hear a raven low in an oak, belting out its call. I had never seen one so close. It sounded so much like its words were oak, oak, oak!

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Whatever it meant, the raven surely could not have known that its flight across Loch Lomond took in two continents.

Thanks for reading.

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Strathyre Forest, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Scotland, September 2019

I’m in Strathyre Forest, a Forestry Scotland plantation in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. The view of Loch Lubnaig comes and goes as the mist travels between the hills with the cars, lorries and motorbikes along the road down below. I’m sitting on a lump of rock, surrounded by the dead trunks of spruce trees, their successors rising below at their rotting toes. Around old spruce stumps felled by foresters, heather grows and flowers. Birch saplings and rosebay willowherb enjoy this pause in the blanket of monolithic trees.

Looking up for a moment, I’m given a shock by the sudden appearance of the loch and the surrounding hills. The mist has cleared and the shape of the loch’s marshy edges, fringed by the Lego shapes of a caravan park, where the river winds its way in, has appeared. A single spruce stands broken and dead, a mast of decay over Strathyre. A bird flies up, gradually picking a spot to perch on. It sits on the top branch and calls out.

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On the slow and drizzly ascent up to this point, I’ve spent most time on ground level photographing mushrooms. Under the dark monoculture of spruce red russulas are fruiting in profusion. I take photos using the camera’s timer so need to be really still so as not to disturb the camera, otherwise the picture will blur.

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The details are very fine and sometimes the focus is on a very small thing. This means stillness for me.

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My stillness meant birds flocking nearby came very close: goldcrests in their tens, with one within reach of my hand, then a young robin in a half-youth, half-adult plumage.

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It flew right at me and swooped away to land on a branch. It followed me back out onto the track and, perhaps, led me to a the biggest Boletus edulis I have seen. ‘Stick with me,’ I said, ‘and you’ll see mushrooms.’ I didn’t see the robin again after that.

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Away from the dark stands of plantations mosses, lichens and smaller mushrooms flourished at the buttresses of huge spruce and pine trees. One of the largest fly agarics I have ever seen opened like an upturned umbrella amidst its little brothers and sisters. There was light and life here that the close stocking together of trees does not allow.

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There I found lots of small mushrooms like deceivers, webcaps and plenty of others like milkcaps and lots of boletes sodden by days of rain. They reflect the attitude of a woman I heard in the pub last night as she discussed the wet forecast over the coming days. She would still be going out and enjoying her holiday. ‘It’s just water,’ she said.

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