For a long time I’ve noticed an explosion of twigs among the canopies of birch trees but never taken the time to find out what it was. Recently I read that this unusual grow pattern, if that’s what it was, could be caused by fungi. Last week I was out walking in a woodland not far from home when I saw a fine example of this strange occurence.
You can see how this could simply be confused with mistletoe, a similarly bushy growth high up in the tree. But mistletoe is caused by the sticky seeds of the plant becoming attached to a branch. The ‘deformity’ in birch trees looks all the more unusual. I took some photos and had a look online when I got back. When I submitted the record to iNaturalist for some help, I got the result of a fungus with the scientific name of Taphrina betulina. ‘Betulina’ relates to birch in Latin, Betula pendula.
This fungus is an ascomycete, related to cup fungi and the fungal fruiting bodies found in lichens. Unfortunately I couldn’t get close enough at this point to ever see those details on the witches’ broom.
It could easily be confused with random birds nests, and you have to wonder if they may actually form decent nesting habitat for some species, probably woodpigeons more than anything else. One thing I notice about the cultural significance of the species is its name – another reference to witches. It must be that anything which looked unusual in nature was referred to as the work of ‘a witch’.
In the fungal lexicon (is that a thing?) there are a host of jelly fungi which go by the name of witches’ butter. It may be in the case of witches broom that the cluster of twigs looked like the flying broom of a witch, as per the old folktale. That or Harry Potter, anyway.
It’s been such a dry spring that I’m starting to wonder if there are any on this planet! They’re probably not on Mars but it’s a nice idea. Here’s more info on that story.
While I have your attention, allow me to explain some changes to the way this blog works. I am moving from the fixed days of #FungiFriday or Macro Monday. If you’re a regular reader you may have noticed that already. Now I’m making a monthly podcast, I need more flexibility with posting, and I actually sometimes have more to post about on both macro and fungi than just once a week. Also deadlines of Thursday and Sunday are not ideal!
Back to life. After a barren period (no morels for me), I did manage to find a couple of species on a long walk the other day, hiding away in the shade of a country lane. Get ready for phone pics.
This is turkeytail, one of the most common fungi you can find, distributed across the world. It is sometimes used to make tea and extracts are used for their anti-cancer properties.
In Sussex we have recently had rain after a very dry April indeed. If this is climate crisis related, it means that the British tradition of April showers could be confined to the past. Once again, wildlife can point to wider issues in the environment which we are often oblivious to.
In that not-quite-fungi-but-probably-animal category are the slime moulds, of which I found one on the same walk.
This is a great advert for fungi and slime mould because it’s so blatant. It’s a species you see cropping up on social media time and again, with many people intrigued by its presence, often on deadwood. It’s false puffball, a slime mould. Looking at iNaturalist, April seems to be its peak month.
In other news, I’m giving a fungi talk online on Tuesday 18th May at 19:00 (London, UK time) for Bell House, a charity that supports people with dyslexia. There is a suggested donation of £5 towards their work. You can see the full details and how to book here.
These days of lockdown have made me appreciate the places I’ve had the privilege of visiting in the before Covid times. Also, I haven’t been to the woods properly in what feels like ages and I’ve not found any fungi locally, until it was too late for this post. And this one is late!
In spring 2015 I went to Romania by train, something that seems like a lifetime ago now. My friend Eddie and I spent several days hiking in the High Carpathians spruce woodlands.
One of the areas we walked in was the Bucegi Mountains.
This was a quite touristy area due to the presence of a waterfall, but there were very nice woodlands flanking the main walk. Flowers like winter aconite were common.
There were some huge spruce trees, covered in these beautiful bracket mushrooms:
They are a species I have seen mainly in Poland, Czechia and here in Romania. They’re red banded polypore.
I didn’t have the right lens on to capture the scene, but the mushrooms were covered in what I think were fungus gnats. The gnats were mating en masse! Some insects are actually dependent on fungi for habitat. I’ve seen them roosting within mushrooms gills before. Quite amazing.
I found a red banded polypore which had fallen from a tree. I don’t know if it managed to look like a smiley face. In Covid times it looks more like a mask. I think I’ll stick to the ones my mum made me!
This has been a surprisingly good winter for fungi. One thing I have learned about following the stuff all year round is that it is everywhere, all the time. I knew before that fungi ruled the world, now I know it. Look at the blusher mushroom dominating this post and try and tell me it ain’t true.
December in southern England has been colder than we are used to. In the past decade some Decembers have been, on average, around 10 degrees Celsius (remember him?), with one Christmas Day rocking an incredible 16 degrees. Instead we have had temperatures around zero for longer periods and last weekend there was snow. It lingered in London, Hampshire and other parts of the UK but in Sussex, it didn’t. Oh well.
I should probably move on, I have a lot of photos to catch up on.
I learned a new species in December, thanks to an ID on iNaturalist. I was walking in woodland in the Sussex Weald, in my local area, looking for macro subjects. By chance I saw some small white mushrooms on a piece of oak wood on the ground. I have a new camera which can stack together several photos to make one which has a large range of focus.
I hunkered down with these tiny shroomlets and managed to work the image stacking, as seen above. These tiny white mushrooms are oak pin (Cudoniella acicularis).
On the same day, and on several following, I noticed the prevalence of blewits. The blewit above (probably wood blewit) was growing from some leaf litter on the buttress of an old oak.
Around Christmas I found some other populations in a local cemetery. It obviously was having a little winter fruiting period, or shroom-boom.
This felled fungus offered a good chance to show off the mycelium. The white fibres in the substrate of twigs and leaves, are the hyphae of the fungus. They are what produce the mushroom that we see above ground. These hyphae will be extracting the minerals and nutrients from this detritus and turning it into soil. Fungi rule the world.
In that same cemetery I found an absolute stonker of a twig. This is a species of oysterling (Crepidotus). From above they look like weird little white bits on a damp twig, but when you turn them over, they are beautiful. I always look for them in December when there is generally not as much to see.
Also in the cemetery I found this. What on earth is this? It was growing on the single lobe of an oak leaf, lying on the soil near to the oysterling twig above. This image is also a stack done in the camera. I think it’s probably a slime mould, so not a fungus, but behaving in a way that is similar of course. If you know what this is, please do enlighten us the comments!
While we’re on slime moulds, this is a very happy cluster of something like dog vomit slime mould. You can see its journey across the ivy leaf from the white trails in the background. Let’s leave that one there.
This one kept me guessing over Christmas. I found several of this species growing out of a standing dead pine tree in oak woodland. It smelled really nice, so sweet, just like chantarelles in fact. People on social media were unable to identify it, but the consensus was that it was probably false chantarelle.
You can see why people might confuse it with the real deal. There are several features which will help you not to make that mistake… Maybe another time.
I have been lamenting my lack of luck with the flammulina family, as in the mushroom, not a group of people. That would be a great surname though. My one true encounter with velvet shank, the most common of this family, was at a distance from a boardwalk surrounded by high levels of water.
This illustrates that point rather well. This is funny (only for me) because they are one of the most photogenic species you can find:
One rests one’s case.
While this toffee-like secretion may not be quite so eye-catching, it’s a new species for me. It’s cushion bracket (Phellinus pomaceus) growing on a blackthorn or other cherry family wood.
It’s probably best to end with a more appropriate species for the times. My walks are now close to home, in a town and into the rural edges if there’s time and light. On one lunchtime walk I found this colony of coral fungus from right next to the pavement. I have seen this before in London, at the roadside.
It’s even difficult to get photos of something like this because people are passing by and me lingering too long can literally force someone into the road to avoid me. So the photos aren’t focus stacked and they’re a fast food alternative to the slower pace I usually prefer for taking a mushroom pic.
There is something special about woodlands in December. For wildlife, they can be a forbidding and barren place, which is why so many birds now move to warmer urban areas for food and shelter at this time of year. I’ve spent a good amount of time in woodland recently and the amount of fungi was a pleasant surprise. The gills in the Sussex Weald (a local name for a stream, plural) were gushing after lots of rain. They kept good company on their edges – mushrooms.
I spent a couple of hours following the edge of a network of Wealden gills. I found a number of smaller mushrooms along the edges of the gushing gills, like this very dapper looking mushroom with a wood sorrel bowtie. You may also notice a tiny springtail on the plant! The word gill is also used in Scotland and northern England, where it’s often spelled ‘ghyll’.
Something that really caught my eye was the work of this wrinkled crust fungus, which is its actual name.
Fungi’s main function (fungtion?) in a woodland is to break down organic matter into soil and other minerals and nutrients which can support other species. It was fascinating to see this fungus ingesting (perhaps) organic waste material in its path. In this case it was consuming a sycamore seed.
Nearby, another specimen of the fungus was getting to work on a sycamore leaf.
On a tree growing over the gill, this purply jellydisc looked like something out of a 1950s b-movie horror film. I think it’s the moss’s sporophytes that make it look so low-budget sci-fi.
I think you probably get what I mean.
I had my binoculars with me for this walk and they were very useful in, unsurprisingly, spotting things from a distance. Without them I would have missed a fallen birch tree that was covered in many species of fungi, as well as slime moulds and mosses. Above is a species of either trametes or stereum, two kinds of smaller polypore.
There was a helpful illustration of blushing bracket’s lifecycle, moving from a pale coloured fruiting body, to red and then something much darker. That’s a long blush.
Sulphur tuft is a very common species which seems able to tough it out through the colder months. I have seen so much of it recently.
Though it may look nice, it’s a toxic fungus, so don’t get any ideas.
Take nothing but photographs, in this instance. Give nothing but likes and nice comments.
I visited the Surrey Hills in the North Downs last week. Autumn was pushing through lots of tree species, but the oak and birch still held green. I was expecting to find more mushrooms, judging by the glut of shrooms splurged across social media in the past week.
This is the moody view from Box Hill, one of southern England’s best known beauty spots. Box Hill is part of the North Downs, a ridge of chalk that runs between Farnham in Surrey to the white (green) cliffs of Dover. The North Downs, like its southern sister, is covered by chalk grassland and woodland habitats, overlooking the clay soils of the Weald which are interlaced with sandy heathland.
I was expecting to see more mushrooms because of the recent rain and the time of year (autumn, FYI). There were a few fly agarics (check out this great thread on Twitter) but not much else. Perhaps London’s famous gangs of illegal foragers had got the train down and taken EVERYTHING.
I don’t think the foraging fyrd had been by, because these parasols were getting ready in the grasslands. Also I don’t know if they even exist to be honest. How it started (above).
How it’s going.
The amanita family were present in the form of what is probably a false-deathcap. The biggest hoard was to be found in an area of woodland, as you might have guessed.
In June I wrote a post about honey fungus and how disliked it is. It’s not really bothered though because it’s grown to be the biggest living organism on/in Earth (I think). This batch of honey fungus is the biggest spread of fungi I, have, ever, seen. The mushrooms are popping up from a widely spread mycelium in the soil.
Looking at the individual mushrooms I think this is ringless honey fungus because it lacks a collar or ring on the stipe.
Then again, looking at another spread growing around an old stump, there do appear to be turtlenecks going on.
I am currently reading The Overstory by Richard Powers. I was given it as a birthday present (and funnily enough also passed a copy by Jess) mainly because it’s a novel about trees. It’s a complex, multi-protagonist story that comes together around the clearance of ancient old-growth woodlands in North America. One of the characters is a woodland ecologist who gives evidence in court as to why old-growth woodland should be protected from logging. It’s a brilliant scene, and it has a quote in it which really hit home with me:
“I sometimes wonder whether a tree’s real task on Earth isn’t to bulk itself up in preparation to lying dead on the forest floor for a long time.”
The amount of life found in the decaying tissue of a fallen tree that no longer grows outnumbers that found in living trees. Yet deadwood has been cleared from European temperate woodlands to such an extent (hi Forestry, I know, you’re changing) that many species dependent on this habitat are at risk of extinction.
Honey fungus is just one species that creates deadwood habitat for insects, spiders and other species which depend on it. These deadwood invertebrates are the most threatened species group in Europe. If you can do anything in the space you have, be it a private or a public space, please add some dead wood. It will make more difference than perhaps you realise.
I found so much for this week’s post that it’s a mushroom-packed blog!
The wait is over, the mushrooms are arriving. I had the pleasure of a 10-mile walk in the New Forest in September. It was a warm and sunny day. It was a special walk because it revealed two species I have never seen before. One renowned for its edibility, the other for its deadliness.
The New Forest is a National Park and Special Area of Conservation. It’s of European importance with places left like it in the continent. Its mosaic of woodland and heath is maintained by free-roaming animals owned by commoners. This in ancient land management practice which, around Europe, is often responsible for the conservation of rare habitats and species. The New Forest was established by William the Conqueror at some point after 1086 when the Domesday Book was created. Its old name ‘Nova Foresta’ translates directly to its current name. It certainly ain’t new anymore.
It’s also more heathland than woodland, an open habitat. ‘Forest’ does not actually mean woodland. It means ‘outside of common law’ or a place where Forest Law was enacted. Forest Law was implemented by the Normans to ensure recreational hunting for the aristocracy was protected from the foraging and ‘poaching’ of local people. Its enactments were often violent. The Vederer’s court still exists in Lyndhurst, where hearings took place regarding acts committed within the Forest.
The New Forest is home to lots of spectacular ancient and veteran trees like the hollowed out beech tree above. It has a feel to it that is unlike other places. It is spectacularly rich in fungi, or at least, compared to other areas of the UK.
Much of the land is owned by Forestry England and they discourage foraging.
The first fungus I found was in a car park, on a bank under pine trees. It’s cauliflower fungus, looking a little bit dry in the sudden burst of warm weather. This is an edible species.
In the buttress of an old oak was this beefsteak fungus, a bracket that looks like human organs. It’s an edible species that has also led people to call the police, thinking that a crime had occurred in the woods!
The most common species of the 10 miles was sulphur tuft. It responds quickly to rain and was popping up in lots of places. This is one of the most common species in the UK and is also toxic.
There was a good showing from the russula family (AKA brittlegills). This one had already been picked.
The crowded gills of russulas are a sight to behold. They are, of course, brittle and so break easily. The gills and stipe are always white or cream.
Unless it’s blackening brittlegill!
Deeper into the woods, this greenish species of milkcap was abundant in certain areas alongside the track. They were under either spruce or pine, shown by the needles here. I’m not sure of the species but they may be either Lactarius deterrimus or Lactarius quieticolor.
I think this is the same species, overcome with a blue-green colouring.
This is a wood or field blewit, which are usually found in grassy areas.
This is my first deceiver of the season, so named because it can be confused for others. I have rarely found that to be the case, though! This is a mega-common species and is also edible. It’s said only to be worthwhile in large numbers.
This doesn’t look great but apparently it tastes it! I knew when I saw these apricot coloured fungi that they were hedgehogs. This is a first for me. I looked for the spikes underneath the caps. They are described by professional foragers as one of the safest species to eat. That’s because they’re impossible to confuse with others due to the spikes and that all the hedgehogs are edible.
This is how they look from afar, note the beech leaves for scale. They don’t look like much.
Conifer mazegill is one of my favourite species of polypore or bracket. I love the velvet-like yellow edge to the bracket. It is a beautiful fungus. I think it’s one I’ve only ever really seen in New Forest plantations or heaths.
Fungi is an acquired taste. This is probably egghead mottlegill, on horse or cattle dung! Stay classy. It was alongside a road at the edge of beech woodland.
I wrote about the amanita family a couple of weeks ago. They were out in force in the New Forest. This is the first fly agaric I’ve seen this year. September is a great month for this iconic species. It has such a depth of cultural significance it deserves its own post.
The blusher is a common amanita which is so named for its pinkish colouring. I’ve read that it’s edible, which is weird considering the consistently poisonous nature of the family.
These are probably panther caps, a leathery-looking shroom. I’m not 100% sure because they seem too big.
False deathcaps were common in Mark Ash Wood, the target for the walk itself. It’s a beautiful ancient woodland with an old stream and wet alder carr running throught its heart. It was in the damp area, on a mossy tree root, that I found a special mushroom:
I had to put this out to Twitter to be sure. I think this is a deathcap, one of the most poisonous mushrooms in the Northern Hemisphere. Another first for me! That is a mushroom that definitely needs a post of its own.
Bradfield Woods is a National Nature Reserve. That’s a big deal. I have wanted to visit this place since reading Oliver Rackham’s books about woodlands, with Bradfield Woods being one of his most often mentioned, due to its ancient character. It’s a coppice-with-standards oak-hazel woodland. The oldest woods we have in England are woodlands managed in this way, with hazel trees cut to their base periodically and oak trees felled to be used for construction. The coppice stools can live for a very long time, as the coppicing does not kill the specific species of trees, namely hazel and ash in this case. The oldest woods are also the best for fungi because they have the most stable soil systems, despite the regular cutting of trees.
Bradfield Woods is a series of woodlands. English woods are small and often form a network of interlinked parcels, forests are large expanses of heathland, moorland and sometimes woodland. Bradfield Woods was saved in the 1960s (what is seen by Rackham as one of the most destructive periods for British woodland) from being destroyed for agriculture. But more woodland was lost at its edges, as the maps show, with this isolated chunk of woodland in a sea of farmland. This oak tree, not ancient, stood in a neighbouring field. The oak leaves at the top of the frame are in Bradfield Woods, perhaps willing it to return.
It was quite clear that we had visited at a great time because there were early signs that the conditions were right for fungi. The red-cracking bolete above was past its best, laying at the side of the main path. It’s a relative of the boletes, a Xerocomus species that is very often seen in oak woodland in August-September. It often has a reddish colour with yellow pores. In fact, the boletes and their relatives were out in force, released from a summer of lockdown:
This could be a suede bolete.
This could be another Xerocomus species.
There were lots of boletes along the path edges. It was reminiscent of summer 2016 when even in urban south London this type of mushroom was out in force.
Boletes are renowned for their edibility but it was still funny to see the squirrel claw marks in the top of this mushroom. I think this is probably the cep, Boletus edulis. The one everyone wants to eat.
I think these are another bolete relative, in the Leccinum branch, where birch boletes reside.
These gorgeous boletes were lying at the path edge 💅
There was an abundance of fungi, something I’m not seeing down south in dry old Sussex. Note the smaller mushrooms surrounding these fallen shrooms, signs of a previous burst after decent rainfall.
A summer mushroom that pops up quickly after rainfall is the fairy inkcap. This explosion was at the foot of a dead, standing tree. Leaving dead trees standing is crucial to a healthy woodland.
They will last perhaps a day or two at best before deliquescing into the earth.
Dryad’s saddle is a reasonably common summer fungus, and an edible one at that. But I have never managed to see them in this bizarre early stage where the top looks so much like a mocha or cappucino.
Here you can see old and new dryad’s saddles. Dryad is an interesting word. It means wood nymph, but also means oak nymph. ‘Druid’ means ‘knower of the oak’, which relates to the ‘dry’ at the beginning of the word. The tree is an ash, not an oak!
The most impressive species was to come later. Once again, along the edges of a main pathway, I noticed an unusual fungus. As the cliche goes, it stopped me in my tracks.
‘This is a moment,’ I said.
The mushroom was a stinkhorn, a species which appears from a sort of egg-like growth. It has a suitably unsuitable Latin name of Phallus impudicus. Probably going to leave that one there.
This fungus is renowned for its stench. ‘Rotting flesh’ is how it is most commonly described. It attracts flies and, in this instance, beetles. They were all over it, but took cover at the base of the shroom when I approached. It really did stink, the smell seemed to me to be similar to roadkill foxes I have had to dispose of when working as a woodland warden. The smell lingered and, gladly, it reminded me on leaving this spectacular woodland of a a very special and unexpected experience.
This week’s post is coming to you live from my phone. I’m on holiday, sans PC et laptop, blissfully. In fact, a friend has just sent me a pic of a fungus on WhatsApp, so it’s like a digital mycelium bristling onto life between my palms. Sounds so weird.
Suffolk is the stage for this week’s #FungiFriday, a county of underperforming football teams and myriad beautiful cottages. Not least the one where Harry Potter was born.
If Suffolk is the macrocosm, the National Trust’s Ickworth Park is the microcosm, where the fungi made their appearances to me in this week of weeks.
I only became a member of the Trust a couple of years ago but I now regularly visit their properties and estates because there are just so many in Sussex, compared to south London. I have come to know some of their employees and understand the work they do. I think there are few finer organisations in their sector.
In more recent developments their attempts to interrogate the role of slavery in their cultural archive makes me proud to be a member, alongside their commitment to welcoming everyone to their sites and properties. They are also exceptional when it comes to the conservation of and investment in ancient woodland landscapes, places I, like many across the world, have a deep personal affection for. In my view, The National Trust shows us that being rural and ‘traditional’ is no excuse for failing to champion diversity and inclusion, or to shine a light on the darker sides of British culture. If you feel like that ‘cancels your history’ then you won’t like my blog! 😬
Within minutes of entering Ickworth Park proper, I noticed an unusual growth from the side of a large oak tree. Seconds later it dawned on me – it was a fungus.
Upon closer inspection I found that this was a special fungus, one that comes to life at this time of year. It’s weeping conk, a bracket fungus that exudes the water it draws out from the tree/soil.
My companion approached this fungus with disgust but within 30 seconds was in complete awe of its caramel-coloured droplets. It goes to show how conditioned we are to find so much in nature disgusting, when really it is cause for fascination.
The more you look, the more it looks like dessert.
I even managed to get a bit of bokeh (blurred circles of light in the top right) in to garnish this special fungus.
Ickworth was an exceptional site for ancient and veteran oak trees. In my experience, this equals fungi. This is because soils are often more ancient, undisturbed and stable, where fungi thrive along with all the other organisms they interlink with. The above was one of the larger old oaks that we passed by along the main paths.
I said I thought the National Trust were excellent in managing ancient woodland landscapes and I flippin’ meant every word. One thing they understand so well is the need to plant to replace trees being lost now and in the next century.
Next week I’ll share some more finds from Suffolk, including an epic visit to Bradfield Woods. Things are popping up out there and autumn is showing its fruity signs.
2020 has been a challenge for all three of us fungi photographers down here in southern England. But we are starting to see a change in the weather. Therefore, something is stirring in the Kingdom of Fungi. On a side note, did you know that the fungi was only given its rightful place, taxonomically distinct from plants in 1969? 1billion years on Earth and they were only just recognised as being separate from plants 51 years ago! Obviously scientific study hasn’t been going for a billion years.
One species which has appeared after recent rain is chicken of the woods. I’ve seen it in two different places, but the same habitat which means the species is responding to wider atmospheric change, not localised. You will see better shows from this pretty outrageous fungus, the rain had actually made it more like scrambled eggs.
As so often with chicken of the woods, it was growing on a fallen tree trunk, sweet chestnut in this case, and its orange colour flashed into the corner of my eye from the deep shade where it was growing.
My second major recent sighting drew me back to where I first found an interest in fungi: trees. Storm Francis has thrown their toys out of the pram in recent days and I was pretty astonished to see that some sycamore trees, young ones, had lost their leaves already. I am guessing there is a link between a lack of spring/summer rain and an earlier autumn, in terms of trees shedding leaves. That’s based on observation only.
I don’t know if this is Francis’s work, but this standing dead horse chestnut has been brought down in the past week. It has some huge bracket fungi growing from one side, which will have softened the wood further. It’s important to remember that it’s rarely fungi that fell a tree, but the wind. Fungi just put in the groundwork. Great job.
I am sure this is a species of Ganoderma bracket fungus but I’m not sure which kind. I cycle past this every couple of weeks nowadays and always stop to feast my eyes on these gigantic fungi. If this is one single fungus, it could be 15 to 20 years old.