Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Fungi’

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This is not an omlette

Fungi Friday 30th July 2020

Welcome to one of those weeks that is little more than a lament at how dry southern England is. This week I’ve been in two different woods and the story is the same – the recent rain in Sussex has not given much of a boost to fungi. I managed to zoom round a local woodland one lunchtime and found a couple of things.

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To give a sense of the impact of warm dry weather, even in the space of about ten days, check out the difference here. What is now a very dehydrated piece of birch wood was previously alive with slime moulds and all kinds of other life.

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It is mainly a matter of rehydration, however, and when the temperatures drop and more rain arrives, the show can go on.

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This is a species of Ganoderma bracket fungus growing on fallen wood. I only later noticed that a snail is hidden away in a nook of the fruiting body! You can tell I was in a rush. I wrote a lot more about brackets recently.

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This is smoky bracket, not an omlette. I have seen this small community of brackets growing over the past few weeks. Again, it was only later that I noticed the other life, in this case a resting fly.

I was pretty disappointed in this mushroom hunt but then it was somewhere between 25-30 degrees (Celsius). The area which I’ve mentioned before, that has been opened up, is now experiencing more trampling, including mountain bikes coming through. From my experience of woodland management, that was predictable.

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But some management that was really positive was the creation of dead hedges of logs and branches in a well-shaded area. This was where the mushrooms were hiding! I found a nice patch of oysters that were swamped/protected by brambles. This is a nice edible mushroom, not that I’m picking.

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I also spotted this small mushroom, such a joy to find something. I like its veiny-cap and the reddishness. I’m not sure of the species.

Dry times such as these make alternative topics a pressing need. At the moment I’m researching an article on fungi and Chernobyl, so stay tuned for that.

Thanks for reading.

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Brittlegill mushrooms

#FungiFriday 25th July 2020

It’s a great relief to be able to share some fungi from the Wood Wide Web this week. There has been steady rainfall in recent weeks which gave the sense that some summer shrooms might be ready to appear. At this time of year I’m looking for the early indicators of autumn’s fungal moment, which appear in the form of brittlegills or Russulas, in scientific language.

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A mixed secondary/ancient woodland in the Sussex High Weald

The fungi described this week are garnered from two walks in the woods of the Sussex Weald in West Sussex. The first walk was a short evening wander to a mixed woodland with signs of ancient woodland flowers like bluebell, but with lots of birch, hazel and some oak. It then pretty abruptly turned to pine, which happens quite often in the Weald because of the arrival of sandier soils where the Weald clay ends, and the prevalence of forestry.

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It was much more dry than I had hoped but mushrooms are tenacious things. This nicely illustrated a new fungal phrase I learned in Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweet Grass (p.112 in the ebook). You can listen to an interesting podcast with the author about mosses.Tthe Native American language of the Anishinaabe describes “the force which causes mushrooms to push up from the earth overnight” as ‘Puhpowee’. And so was this very small brittlegill pushing through the leaf litter.

I have never really tried to identify brittlegills to species level because they are so numerous and similar. I would guess this species is the charcoal burner. But I could be wrong about that.

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This is one of the red brittlegills from August 2018 in the Weald, something to expect in August through to September.

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It’s a very dim view due to the light but my companion found this fungus within a fungus. It’s a species of oysterling. You can see a black springtail (or maybe even a tick?) on the left hand side for scale.

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The second walk was in the afternoon at another Wealden woodland I am getting to know quite well. I recorded an Instagram story guided walk of this experience which you can see here. If you have the Gram.

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Again it was well-nibbled brittlegills that could be found. This is probably the work of a small mammal with some input from a slug. I’ve seen grey squirrels pick these mushrooms, and spin them around by the stem and nibble down the gills. That interested me because grey squirrels are an American species. Brittlegills are also found in North America, so perhaps they are just returning to their roots. Does belittle the idea that grey squirrels don’t belong in European landscapes, the evidently do. Yes, I know about red squirrels.

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I’m sure these species are not in any way appetising for the reader. This is probably one of the green brittlegills. It looks a bit ghoulish but I was pleased to find it. All these finds were just at the edge of footpaths.

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A common summer mushroom is rooting shank, one of the toughshanks. ‘Shank’ has a pretty dark meaning in modern language, particularly in London, but it’s an old name for leg. That’s where the names of red or greenshank come from in the bird world. Americans call similar species ‘yellowlegs’. I prefer the olde Englishe names.

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Rooting shank is quite an abrupt shroom, it just shows up where it likes. You can find it from now through to September from the woodland floor to stumps and buttresses of trees. This dream of a shroom was in the White Carpathian mountains in the borders of Czechia/Slovakia but I first saw it in urban south-east London.

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It’s not a fungus, but this dog vomit slime mould was a lovely find (believe it or not). This amazing video gives a much better explanation of what this slime mould is up to:

I have recently learned that slime moulds have memory!

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It was only after taking this photo of the slime mould’s birch log that I realised how much was happening. You can see the early stages of small polypore fungi moving in from the outer edge as the wood degrades. I think the greyish blobs next to the slime mould may be Lycogola species, sometimes known as wolf’s milk. Lyco means wolf. The puffballs, Lycoperdon mean ‘wolf’s fart’. Oh dear. And we don’t even have wolves in the UK anymore, just in Downing Street, LOL!

Thanks for reading.

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King Alfred (not a hunter gatherer) burning a woman’s cakes © BBC Horrible Histories

Fungi Friday 17th July 2020

I have been taking an online archaeology course through the website FutureLearn. You can imagine my sheer delight when one of the sections was focused on, you guessed it, FUNGI!

The course explores the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) archaeological site of Star Carr in Yorkshire. The fungi section of the course covers the species discovered at the site and what they might have been used for by the people living there between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago.

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Image of the Excavation site Star Carr located in North Yorkshire England. The image is a reconstruction Alan Sorrell’s reconstruction of Star Carr in 1951, Illustrated London News 3 (via Wikimedia Commons)

The Mesolithic followed the Paleaeolithic (Old Stone Age) in 13,000BC, ending with the Neolithic (New Stone Age) around 5,000BC.

The Neolithic is seen as the period where human populations became more settled after the development of farming. These agricultural developments are what gave us much of the world we live in today. Current European farming techniques originated in the Middle East, slowly spreading west to replace the old hunting and gathering of the Mesolithic.

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Map of the spread of Neolithic farming cultures in Europe, dates in year BCE (via Wikimedia Commons)

But this isn’t Farmy Friday, so let’s get back to the pre-agricultural times when mushrooms were a key resource.

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King Alfred’s cakes

King Alfred’s cakes

The fungal finds at Star Carr have produced specimens of hoof fungus, willow bracket and birch polypore. This doesn’t include the species known as crampballs, King Alfred’s cakes, or in scientific language Daldinia concentrica. From experience, this is the fungus that people in Britain today most recognise as one which can be used in the process of making fire. This is probably because of the recent boom in bushcraft. The fungus gets its most evocative name of King Alfred’s cakes after an English folk story.

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To people outside the UK or without a grasp of English history, this name is quite meaningless. It is based on the tale of King Alfred who was exiled in the Somerset Levels during the Viking invasion of Winchester. Alfred failed to keep an eye on a woman’s loaves of bread that were on the fire and they burned. It is said that she had no idea he was the king, so far removed was he from his throne. Don’t worry, he eventually came back and pushed the Danes away a bit and established England.

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Birch polypore

Birch polypore

Last week I donated 1000 of my own words to the cause of bracket fungi. The findings from Star Carr have taught me about how these fungi were used by our ancient ancestors. Perhaps most interestingly, the fungi found were largely there because they had been foraged from elsewhere. Star Carr is a site next to a lake, so any woodland surrounding it will have been wet and it’s likely the people living there travelled to other places to gather fungi. There is evidence of the trading of ornaments and other items from across Europe, so people were not confined to the area itself in the way we live now.

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Birch polypore in winter, West Sussex

Birch polypore or razorstrop fungus haunts me out there in the woods. It is the one that catches the corner of my eye and fools me into thinking it’s autumn. It is a very common species where it acts to control population density. It plays a crucial ecological role in that it breaks birch trees down into nutrients and minerals, and therefore a substrate which can become soil. Fungi in woodlands are life-giving organisms. As a resource it was once used to sharpen tools in the manner of a leather strop, but it is also very useful in its ability to burn slowly and for long periods. This would have been crucial for people who were travelling and needed to make regular camps as we know Mesolithic peoples did.

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Birch trees coming into leaf in West Sussex

Birch trees

Birch is an incredible resource. Like fungi, it can be used to make fire. There is no doubt that birch will have been used by hunter-gatherers for this purpose. The bark was used to make slippers, matting, boxes, even canoes. At Star Carr birch bark rolls were discovered. The evidence is that they were cut from a tree and would have been used as torches. The ‘tar’ inside birch bark could have been extracted and used to secure flint arrow heads. Nowadays it’s known for being able to make birch wine when the sap begins to run in spring.

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The Bavarian Forest

Hoof fungus and hunter gatherers

The image above is of a dead beech tree covered in bracket fungi. Hoof fungus, so named because it looks like a horse’s hoof, appears to be a key species in Mesolithic Europe. It’s present across the Northern Hemisphere so it will also have been of use to Native American peoples. It has another common name of tinder fungus. An important material deriving from hoof fungus is amadou. This is the spongy inside of hoof fungus that can be used to make embers. The video below by the team at Star Carr shows how it can be used, along with pyrite, to make a fire. This is exactly what people in Mesolithic times would have done.

It just goes to show how resourceful people were in the Stone Age. It also reminds us of how important fungi has been to us, not just on the ecological level of recycling organic matter and its place in the woodland ecosystem. It helped to keep people warm and therefore alive.

Thanks for reading!

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Fungi Friday 10th July 2020

I went on a bike ride to the edge of a large woodland complex on Fungi Friday Eve (AKA Thursday). I went in hope of finding that mushrooms, after a fair amount of rain, were bursting forth from the soil, fresh and bright, ready for their close up. As usual I was wrong. There was pretty much nothing, not that I managed to make it into the best areas, it’s quite a trek. I did find some fungi though, a cluster of giant brackets that are there all year round:

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This is probably artist’s bracket or something similar. They live on decaying wood in living or dead trees. They are an important controllers of tree species and contribute therefore greatly to tree diversity in woodlands. Unlike what you might think, their presence does not always mean the tree is dying or that they are harming the tree.

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Birch polypore is a nice example of a tree-controller, a species which is commonly seen on birch. It has a fantastic scientific name – Piptoporus betulinus! It’s also known as razor strop, probably because people once used it to sharpen their knives (which were a day-to-day essential) in the way that you might use a piece of leather. That connection between people and fungi is one I think it’s sad we’ve lost. I wonder, is this still a living connection anywhere else in the world today?

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Bracket fungi, Bavarian Forest

Bracket fungi are something we’re losing from the wooded landscapes of Europe largely from the explosion of forestry in the past 100 years and an intensification of woodland management. The oldest woodlands I’ve ever been to (I know that doesn’t mean much) were covered in dead or decaying trees with large brackets. The Bavarian Forest, as seen above, was a fine example.

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Red belted polypore in the mountains of the Romanian Carpathian

One reason why we have less brackets is because large trees have not been left to live their lives to the full and beyond. Most trees in forests have a target age and size, bracket fungi are a pest in those places, not that most trees would ever get to the age where substantial brackets could develop.

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Red belted bracket in the White Carpathians, Czech/Slovak border

In the intensively managed woods of places like Czechia, it’s only a fallen tree stump that will give a home for a bracket.

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Białowieża Forest in north-eastern Poland

Possibly the most bracket-rich landscape I’ve visited is Białowieża Forest in Poland, famed for its ancient stretches of woodland and rich diversity of tree species, said never to have been logged. Not even by the Nazis invading in the Second World War.

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A small-leaved lime (I think) in Bialowieza Forest, north-eastern Poland

From experiences of visiting these rich woodland landscapes, a sign of brackets is often a symbol of a healthy ecosystem. The brackets are softening wood inside of trees which make a greater range of habitat niches for other life.

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Saproxylic invertebrates (those which live in or depend on dead or decaying wood) are the most threatened species group in Europe. Many of these insects have important, dove-tailing ecological relationships with fungi. The stag beetle is a nice example, a species which is born with its own fungus used to decay wood in its wood-boring larval stage (we’ve all been there). Woodpeckers are also dependent on this wood-softening created by bracket fungi.

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Old-fashioned forestry practices in the Romanian Carpathians

I read this week that furniture behemoth IKEA have been linked to illegally felled beech woodlands in the Ukrainian Carpathians. They are selling products in the UK made from timber felled with a licence approved by the FSC but which is in fact thought to be illegal. IKEA has been here before, not least for accusations of using timber from ancient woodlands in Karelia, a region in northern Russia. For the recent Ukraine story, please watch the excellent (and witty) Channel 4 report here:

The Carpathians are a mountain range that cut through Europe, fizzling out in Czechia, reaching their most epic heights in Romania. They are one of the most incredible landscapes Europe has to offer. They also cross through the Ukraine, where the high beech woodlands are some of the oldest in Europe. Recently some of these woodlands were designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site. As so often is the case, outlying areas can be prone to exploitation through illegal forestry operations.

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In 2015 I visited the Romanian Carpathians. My friend and I hiked out of the Transylvanian town of Sinaia and into the mountains. There we witnessed the logging of beech trees using horses. It was amazing to see, and something far more ecologically kind to a woodland, rather than using heavy machinary that destroys the soil (and all the fungi in it). We can only presume this was a legal operation. However, illegal loggingin in some of Romania’s most important woodlands has become so serious that rangers and woodland protectors have been murdered for attempting to stop it. The EU has to do more, as it did in protecting Bialowieza Forest from ecologically-illiterate forestry.

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Ancient beech and spruce woodlands in the Carpathians

We are dependent on fungi and woodlands to make our world inhabitable. There need to be core areas of woodland which are allowed to follow cycles which are not interrupted or undermined by economic activity like intensive forestry. We can play our part in conserving things from afar by knowing who we are buying products from and where they originate from. That said, it’s not made any easier for the woodland or the consumer if ancient beech woodlands are being converted to fold-out chairs under a Forestry Stewardship Council certificate.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungy Friday 3rd July 2020

At last the rain has arrived. But did it bring a deluge of the mushroom kind? On a lovely clear evening after work I went to the woods to find out.

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Even in dry times there is one fungus that will not desert you. Artist’s bracket is a bracket fungus in the family Ganoderma. It gets its common name from the fact you can draw on the sporey underside of the fungus, usually something like noughts and crosses. I’ve seen these fungi get to be huge but in most places they are usually broken off by human hands.

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They have the ability to renew themselves, though, as this one above has begun to do. I read somewhere that this fungus produces 30billion spores an hour. Suppose I’ve taken a few home with me then.

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After rain like we’ve had in the past week in southern England, you don’t dream of bracket fungi. Or do you?

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Walking along a path in an area of open woodland my eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw this massive dryad’s saddle sprouting from a dead sycamore tree. This area has been hammered by the combination of no rain and heavy footfall impacting after clearance work of sycamore has taken place, so I wasn’t considering the possibility of fungi being present.

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This is a fungus to find at this time of year. Due to its size, it will often find you. It’s an edible species but probably not at this stage. I’m writing this rather bleary eyed because I’ve spent the past couple of days researching the cultural heritage of oak trees for a talk I gave this week. Little did I know that dryad actually means ‘oak tree nypmh’, rather than simply ‘wood nymph’. The idea is that a nymph, or woodland sprite, or fairy, would sit on this bracket and hurl abuse at passers-by.

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I was looking down at some moss on the woodland floor when I discovered these baffling, miniscule mushrooms. They were about the size of a grain of rough sea salt. On their caps were these spikes, at first thought perhaps another fungus or mould growing on top.

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It just made me realise how much we can miss, these were some of the smallest fruiting bodies I’ve ever seen. I have no idea what they are.

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Next door was something a little larger, probably a bonnet of some kind. I don’t have the knowledge to get any closer than that. Again, this wasn’t much bigger than the weird fruiting dudes alongside it.

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After a good couple of hours searching, it was time to head home. Dramatic clouds built over the heath, perhaps with more rain to feed the fungi. We shall see.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi Friday 26th June 2020

For some reason I decided to write a weekly Fungi Friday blog in 2020. It might have been the worst possible year to attempt this. It’s true that fungi peaks in the autumn but some of the more gentle, milder and wetter months of the year can give fungi an earlier chance. Not so in 2020, as this blog has complained for the past few weeks, it’s been very dry in southern England.

A recent storm didn’t reach Sussex but did pass through London and seems to have given fungi there a boost.

I could blame a global pandemic for the difficulty in finding fungi this spring and summer, but the dryness has been the main problem.

There are only so many dry (literally) blogs you can write about the lack of the thing you want to write about. This week I thought it would be a chance to cover a species that is one of the best known in the world and actually forms the largest organism on Earth. It’s also ‘feared/hated by gardeners’. I seem to use that phrase a lot in this line of unpaid work. What’s the species? It’s honey fungus.

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The mycelium of honey fungus

Every time I take a photo of these ‘boot laces’, I always intend to file it somewhere easy to find. That never happens so above is a low-res phone pic of a honey fungus mycelium (the fungal network of hyphae, a root-like structure that forms the living, physical structure of the organism). This can often be found underneath the bark of a tree that has fallen down or that has died due to the impact of honey fungus. These ‘boot laces’ are also what represent the largest life form on Earth. That’s a humongous fungus, some 2384 acres in size.

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An Armillaria oystayae specimen is the biggest organism in the world (not this one)

That species is Armillaria oystayae but it’s not the case of a mushroom or toadstool over 2000 acres in size – can you imagine how much that would stink when it began to decay? Because that is only the apple on the tree, whereas the mycelium is the living and breathing fungus itself. The fungi above had moved in on a tree that had been harmed by development, with likely damage to the roots, making the tree vulnerable. No one described the developers as pests in that instance. One suggestion was for the tree to be felled just because the fungus was present. That’s a terrible idea.

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Fresh fruiting bodies of honey fungus on an ash stump

Honey fungus is renowned for its parasitic potential. Armillaria oystayae is a ‘pest’ for foresters. I would argue that honey fungus, and other species like it, is simply living in a nature-depleted world where ‘naturally-occuring’ species diversity has been destroyed by industrial monocultures in farming and forestry, and development that does not take account of the landscape it is replacing. They are also just trying to survive and taking advantage of niches which are presented to them.

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A plantation cleared on a hillside in Czechia – soil will be lost to erosion as the roots of the trees die and tension is lost

If fungi have been on Earth for 1billion years, they have evolved in a much more species-rich biosphere, rather than one we dominate now, which, in the case of Western Europe, is suffering from a loss of ancient semi-natural woodland and the associated habitat mosaics and species. In this case I mean there are fewer trees and less dead and decaying wood, the latter of which is a vital ingredient in a functioning and biodiverse ecosystem. Honey fungus, just like us humans, needs food and somewhere to live. It just so happens that honey fungi eat where they live and what they live on. Sometimes they also kill it. Sound familiar? Just ask Planet Earth.

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Honey fungus on the raised rootplate of a fallen tree

The most common species of honey fungus that occurs in Britain is Armillaria mellea. In actual fact it’s an indicator of ancient woodland, which means that people can’t use xenophobic language around ‘alien invasion’ to explain why it could be a problem. An ancient woodland indicator is used to show us that it is over 400 years old in Britain and Europe. In my view, this is just another species which highlights our own ignorance – we think we can control nature and that anything which doesn’t stick to the script must be destroyed or is a pest. Covid-19 is teaching us in a tragic fashion that we were wrong about that.

It’s true that honey fungus has parasitic tendencies and therefore can kill trees through a process of starving it of nutrients, rather than the supportive biological process of providing the tree with things it can’t get (a mycorrhizal relationship). But as a tree inspection professional once said, trees are not a safety issue until we show up.

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Young fruiting bodies of honey fungus in the ancient woodland landscape of the New Forest

One thing that appears to work in honey fungus’s favour is its edibility. However, from what I know it’s only something that can be eaten in moderation and it does cause stomach upsets in some people. It’s definitely not a way of ‘getting rid of it’ from your garden, because the mycelium is there as well. And no one defeated an apple tree by eating all its fruit.

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What can you do if you find it at the bottom of a tree? The only advice I have is not to panic and do something that causes more damage. The next step is to learn to love fungi and appreciate that trees die too, and fungi is there to help create space for more life. Beyond the loss of a much-loved tree, the main problem is our own rigid views of how the landscape lives and dies.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi Friday 19th June 2020

I headed to the woods again this week to see how the Amanita from last week’s post was faring. There had been almost no rain again until that point. The woodland floor was crunchy and dry. It never feels good seeing a woodland like that.

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I was surprised to see that the mushroom hadn’t advanced. It was still encased in its bone-dry veil. I had a closer look to see if it even was a mushroom and found that it was actually attached to the soil through fungal roots. It was a learning point – I thought that even without water a mushroom can advance. Evidently it’s very difficult and sometimes they can’t.

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It’s worth saying that fungal fruiting bodies (usually ‘mushrooms’) are 90% water. The photo above shows a woodland stream (‘gill’ in the Weald). It has been an exceptionally dry spring.

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A good indicator of how much potential there is to find fungi can be seen in bracket or polypores on trees. This is probably hairy curtain crust which is looking as sorry as you’ll find it.

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Despite the super-dry conditions I did find more fungi. It was one of the most common species in the UK – sulphur tuft.

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These are places where fungi can fruit in these conditions. The inside of a decaying oak tree stays cool and damp, especially with holly surrounding to create shade and thus cool.

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You can see how hungry the local slugs are. To humans this is a poisonous species, so don’t be a slug. Even though these had been heavily munched, it’s nice to see a shroom. Rain has come in the past 24 hours, so it will be interesting to see how things might change in the next few days.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi Friday 12th June 2020

At last, this week some rain arrived. I headed to my local woodland to see if any mushrooms had taken the bait. I went there with a slender hope of seeing anything because it has been so dry this spring.

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Common cow wheat

It was pleasing to see special woodland plants such as common cow wheat, another of those species which is not actually so common anymore.

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Juniper haircap moss

The bryophytes also looked more lush and watered after a day of rain in the past week.

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This stunning drinker moth caterpillar was chilling (literally) on a boardwalk. I moved my fellow redhead to safety before it got squished by evening strollers.

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My special summer patch was free of fungi, it may be another month before anything comes up there.

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The mycelium of green elfcup

Just like last week, green elfcup was evident in those beautiful blue-green stains on bits of fallen wood.

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I was quite startled to spot this growing out of the buttress of a tree. I think this might be rooting shank, a species which is often found at this time of year. It’s a signal of summer.

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The slugs are obviously hungry at the moment because much of the fungus had already been eaten. The slime trails below are the smoking gun.

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Nearby I saw what I thought was an old tennis ball. Upon closer inspection it was in fact a mushroom making its way up into the world.

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This is almost certainly a member of the Amanita family, home to fly agaric and the death cap. It could be tawny grisette. You can see it is appearing from a veil. There is the typical Amanita patchiness to the remnants of the veil. I did wonder if this might even be Caeser’s mushroom. I will try and check back in a few days if it can last that long.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi Friday 5th June 2020

This blog has now entered into its sixth month and the real-time fungi action hasn’t really happened, as this one will illustrate. Last week I went for an optimistic jaunt to my local ancient woodland/plantation/heathland to see if anything had popped up. I was astonished, not that there was very little to see, but at how dry the woodland was.

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It should come as no surprise that I only found one fruiting body, growing out of a bit of deadwood, which would already have some moisture inside the decaying wood. My footsteps were so loud as I walked across the leaf litter. But then we have just had the sunniest May and one of the driest springs on record. Across the south of England warnings have been in place about the high risk of fire. Very disappointingly but not surprisingly, fires are ravaging heathlands as I type. At least some of these are because of visitor impact, either arson or things like disposable barbecues.

I went for a second mushroom hike – that’s how dedicated I am to this series – and found that an area of more wet oak woodland also had almost nothing appearing. I found so little that I didn’t even get my camera out and instead just used my average phone camera. Sign of the times. The best I could muster was the porcelain fungus above, growing from a beech log that had rolled into the dried out gill. Last winter I saw that stream overflowing.

It would be wrong to say that there is no fungi, because fungi is the life we do not see. This stick, looking a bit like a blue whale or a squid, is made green by green elf cup. This is the work of the mycelium, the true living part of the fungus.

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In autumn small green fruiting bodies will appear as above. This was taken in October 2019.

If you need them, you can always rely on a bracket fungus in the dry season. This is artist’s or southern bracket, what most people will generally call by its Latin name Ganoderma.

I found these blushing brackets (I think) on the path, they were crisp and dry. This species begins pale, blushing red and then turning to black.

This is an area of woodland that is quite good for fungi, compared to the wider condition of the wood. It suffers from a huge amount of trampling. Please see what I’m about to say as objective comments on the physical state of this place, I am not attacking the land managers. Last autumn much of the holly in this area was cut and left. The aim was almost certainly to allow more light in to replenish the woodland floor. The brash, as it’s called, now covers where most of the fruiting bodies appear, and the holly will not break down soon enough for those fruiting bodies to appear again in perhaps the next five years.

In a previous job we would undertake thinning of holly and dead hedging to protect areas from trampling. The majority of pubicly accessible woodlands in southern England have fairly high levels of footfall, dog walking and the nitrogen enrichment that comes from dog waste. I mention this because I worked in a woodland which was only 20 acres in size but which had 100,000+ visitors annually, with probably around 50,000 dog visits. Holly was absolutely key to protecting soils from erosion and the creation of news paths, and protecting birds and other wildlife from disturbance.

Removing holly on this scale can result in the opening of areas to unintended impact where it could infact have the reverse effect desired. More light will come in to replenish the woodland floor, but more feet will come too and the soil will suffer, along with everything that needs it. Basically everything. I write this absolutely knowing that I provide some of those footsteps, but they are kept to desirelines and I do not have a dog that I allow to run free in these areas. Dog walkers will tell me that children have the same impact.

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The blusher, found in this area in July 2019

The holly creates a microclimate which in hot dry periods such as this, means that soil retains moisture and fungal fruiting bodies can do their thing, a thing that is a key part of the reason a woodland is there in the first place: reproduce, break down organic matter, feed the trees that need them, and recycle organic matter into new soils.

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Grey spotted amanita, July 2019

I wonder, do woodland managers ever think about fungi through anything beyond leaving dead trees to stand and logs to rot down on the ground? Does anyone consider the need for microclimates within woodland to ensure a mosaic of micro-habitats? Again, this is not an attack, just observations and pointers from my own experience.

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An oysterling on a birch branch in this area, July 2019

When I began in woodland management (the account of one of my first days is the post visitors seem to read in their droves to on this website) I did not consider fungi as I do now. Seeing as fungi has such a crucial role to play in our woodlands, sooner or later we need to ensure that in dry spells such as these there are safeguards, like holly, to support fungi.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi Friday 29th May 2020 via November 2011

This autumn it will be 9 years since I first began photographing fungi. I want to share how I found a passion for these incredible organisms and show the first photos I ever took of fungi.

I owe thanks to several people for tuning me into the world of mushrooms. David Warwick, who led fungi walks for volunteers and the public for London Wildlife Trust at Sydenham Hill Wood, shared his knowledge with his fellow volunteers and helped me to gain an interest. That was where I learned about fungi and, over 7 years, had the opportunity to watch them pop up and fade away across the nature reserve.

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Turkeytail

The biggest thanks of all go to Ashley White who was the Project Officer who managed the Wood when I was a volunteer. For anyone who has ever volunteered, you will know that the person who leads you is as important as the thing you’re volunteering to do. Ashley inspired many of us to follow our interests in many areas of conservation and ecology.

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Velvet shank

My first real attempts to photograph fungi took place in November 2011 during a volunteer day. I used a Nikon D60, a 10 megapixel camera (the equivalent today is double that) that I was given as a birthday present in 2008. I had no editing software and the photos here are as they were taken in the camera, which you can probably appreciate.

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Sulphur tuft

One of the more memorable images that I contributed to London Wildlife Trust was this happy bunch of sulphur tuft. This species is probably one of the most common in the UK. It’s toxic but charming to look at. I respect its ability to show up in the street and in all manner of other locations.

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Bonnet with a droplet on top

Photography has always been a way for me to learn about much more than cameras. To identify the majority of species of fungi, you’ll need to undertake all manner of experiments that I am way too lazy/skilled enough for. I want to spend as much time outside in the company of the things I enjoy photographing. Too much time is already spent indoors. All these are excuses, I know.

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Parachute

I think one of the most interesting things about fungi are their diversity. This doesn’t just mean there are a lot of species (over 120,000 accounted for on Earth, probably more than 1,000,000 in reality). It also means they appear in all kinds of places: leaf litter, holes in trees, the ground, the pavement, sometimes even inside your house. That’s not really what you want.

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Brittlestems out of focus

After autumn volunteer days I would seek out fungi anywhere I could find them. I had begun to notice some growing down in the leaf litter. As you can see from the photo above, it’s difficult to take photos on the ground without a reticulating screen. Mine was fixed which led to classic images such as the above. These are brittlestems. Over the years at the Wood I would notice this family of mushrooms popping up in damp patches under leaf litter.

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Fairy inkcap

Many of the mushrooms in an urban woodland like Sydenham Hill Wood are common species that can pop up after a decent amount of rain. These fairy inkcaps are often found at the base of steps. The steps in the Wood were constructed by volunteers using wooden sleepers, planks for the edges and then filled with gravel. These mushrooms like steps so much I have even found them growing in Clapham Junction station on steps! For those who don’t know, this was once one of the busiest railway stations in the world. Thousands of people rush up and down these stairs every day.

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What’s not to love?

For all the negativity around nature conservation in Britain – and for me all contact with nature in the UK fosters a relationship with conservation – fungi gave me a sense of nature’s attitude of I will show up where I want, when I want. For anyone who has ever felt constricted by the physical environment we are forced to live in, nature is always looking to re-align it. As with fungi, it just takes time.

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A miniscule fairy bonnet on a piece of mud

Fungi says to me (not literally) that life does not stand still. Fungi are a part of life processes which have no end. Fungi are always building and feeding a new world whether we like it or not. Perhaps that’s what seeing those fairy inkcaps on the steps of Clapham Junction station taught me. We may be extinguishing a beautiful diversity of life on Earth, first with large, charismatic animals. But nature is complex, unknowable in its entirety, and it will never stop.

Thanks for reading. Have faith.

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