Macro Monday: when moss is boss

Macro Monday 14th December 2020

As someone who works from home 9-5, I have to break up my days and get exercise through one or two short walks a day in the daylight hours. I often pass through a cemetery on one of those walks. Last week I noticed a double gravestone which was acting as a green wall. It was absolutely dripping in moss. I tweeted about it:

The best moss images I’ve managed to take have been in the New Forest National Park. This is juniper haircap moss, which I caught just as the evening sun was slipping away:

I liked the mossy cemetery scene so much, and even though I stepped in dog poo at the time, the next morning I headed back. This was the photo I had in mind:

I had about fifteen minutes and this was the best I could do at the time. I really need a tripod and more time to get this right. Nevertheless, when I looked closer at the stone itself, I noticed a herd of miniscule invertebrates:

I recognised them as globular springtails. This is possibly my first attempt so hopefully I can get a clearer image in future. There’s a helpful guide to them here. Springtails are found in huge numbers in soils and are a key part of soil biodiversity. Apparently they also enjoy graveyards.

I think what the springtails are particularly interested in here are lichens. Thankfully, I am also interested in lichens and we’re about to move into that season. I was so enamoured with the springtails that I went back at lunchtime. It appeared then that the springies were actually grazing the lichens.

This is not over. (Technically for this week it is, but you know what I mean). Hopefully more springtails next week.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: a grave situation

Fungi Friday 4th December 2020

In Sussex we have now inched out of a national ‘lockdown’ and into more localised restrictions on hugs, walks and purchases. Not that fungi (if it could) cares a jot about any of these psychological blockades. They have enough on their hyphae feeding the world’s woods, trees and forests. I will admit that after seeing the mushrooms fading away into a typical ‘mush’ in my local woods (not actually mine) I had sweated on this post. Again, not literally. Temperatures are loitering around the five degrees Celsius mark (I learned this week that Celsius was an actual person) which means frost and therefore frozen fungi. Fungi are 90% water which means they can only really produce fruiting bodies above ground – it can be quite toasty in the soil, where they can remain active socialising with tree roots – when it’s warmer than this.

One thing I have noticed is that fungi are lingering longer in grasslands. Last week I saw inkcaps in golfing greens. Recently I passed a local cemetery and spotted some white mushrooms in the grasslands. On closer inspection I could see these were a white species of waxcap. Waxcaps are rare mushrooms which are largely dependent on ancient grasslands or those which are stable, i.e. not regularly ploughed up or disturbed. Among the white mushrooms I saw some stonking red ones – which iNaturalist helped me to ID as scarlet waxcap. I am put off identifying this family of shrooms because it is not always straightforward, a bit like webcaps, of which there are thousands of species, even in the nature-depleted UK.

These are gorgeous mushrooms. Cemeteries are a great place to find these fungi because the grasslands are sometimes as old as 300 years or more, do not suffer from the use of chemicals, and the lack of footfall out of respect, means the grasslands are soft and accommodating to species trying to move through them. There are lots of projects to monitor grasslands for waxcaps, such as this project from Plantlife and the very interesting charity Caring for God’s Acre.

My best find was this keeled-over meadow waxcap, fanning its gills like some feral peacock. It may have been the frost that has caused it to pose like an ancient tree, but it will probably help with the spread of its spores.

As you can see, waxcaps are incredibly beautiful fungi. If you see any on your travels please do submit species records to Plantlife or your local Wildlife Trust. You can also take a photo and submit it to iNaturalist or iRecord depending on your preference. Better still, inform the people who own the land – ‘do you know you have rare wildlife living on your land?’ – and ask them to take this into consideration when managing it.

Here’s a wider view where you can see just how big the meadow waxcap is! Those surrounding trees will not be great for the waxcaps due to shading, so for their benefit tree planting should be avoided and cutting of the grasslands is a priority.

It wasn’t just waxcaps though, I found something more suitably Gothic growing alongside a grave.

This is a species in a group known as the goblets! What a great name. I need to get myself a goblet.

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms