Last week I went to visit a woodland that was for sale. I wasn’t buying and the woodland was quickly snapped up anyway. I hope it went to someone who will care for its wonderful ancient woodland wildlife, and that the badger sett within it will go undisturbed. Leaving this beautiful snippet of the Sussex Weald, I found some mushrooms growing in an area of grassland alongside more woodland.
We have been inundated with rain in the past 10 days, after a very dry April in southern England. Things are leafing and flowering later than last year, and there have been no spring mushrooms from what I have seen. These were mushrooms that were so plain I really wasn’t sure what they were. I took some photos and posted them on iNaturalist.
They are common inkcaps. I’m not sure how I’ve missed this species before, as this was my first known sighting of them. That wasn’t the final grassland inkcap I was to see in that week.
I have a small garden which is ‘managed’ for wildlife and gentle recreation. We’re currently in the midst of #NoMowMay, an initiative in the UK to let any grasslands grow so flowers can thrive, and all the life that comes with that. It’s not just about flowers, though. I was pleased to see (and nearly step on) a tiny inkcap in the lawn.
There may not be many mushrooms around at the moment but I do have some good fungi-related news to share. In April and May I’m giving fungi talks on Zoom for two London-based charities!
On Tuesday 6th April at 18:30 I’m giving a talk entitled The Weird and Wonderful World of Fungi for London Wildlife Trust. This is part of the Trust’s Great North Wood festival. The talk is going to be focusing a lot on London’s fungal ecology in terms of woodlands, in keeping with the theme of the festival.
You can see more on the Trust’s website. The event is free but donations are welcome. London Wildlife Trust is a fantastic organisation dependent on the support of people who care about London’s wildlife, so please donate generously!
On Tuesday 18th May at 19:00 I’m giving talk for Bell House, a learning charity based in Dulwich, south-east London. This talk is entitled Fungus amongus: common mushrooms in England and will be about common mushrooms you can find in the UK. This will be more about the basic identification of species rather than the myriad avenues you can disappear off to in the world of fungi.
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 week’s encounters with the fungal kingdom (that I know about), are piecemeal. I am still sticking close to home, so no woods or wildernesses, if you even believe in the latter. You might think fungi can only be found in specific places, but we’d all be wrong about that. Let me tell you, fungi are everywhere. We’re the ones who are harder to find.
On a walk at a local estate garden in the Sussex Weald, I found and nominated this lichen-encrusted twig for stick of the week. I’m not sure where the hashtag #StickOfTheWeek started but I think it has something to do with the illustrator @Bernoid.
It’s not common that I personally find any unusual lichens in south-east England. Usually you need to go west to Devon, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland or up north to Scotland. This massive oak tree had a sheath of moss growing on its trunk, which was then home to a colony of beard lichens!
I think these are a species of usnea lichen, species I’m more used to seeing in Ireland and on Dartmoor. I learned from a fellow blogger recently that you are supposed to say ‘on Dartmoor’, because ‘in Dartmoor’ means you’re in the prison. I’ve been to the prison museum and have no intention of being ‘in Dartmoor’ no matter how good to lichens are on its doorstep.
On a lunchtime march from home I re-stumbled upon a gang of velvet shank (Flammulina). I was actually drawn to the site of the first cherry blossom of spring, when I spotted that this churchyard stump was still sprouting shrooms. This is fungus is hard as nails, in terms, because it has toughed it out through the snow and continued to put out fruit. It’s a prime candidate for snowcapped shrooms.
I have some exciting mushroom-related announcements to make in the next couple of weeks. I’m also about to start Merlin Sheldrake’s much anticipated Entangled Life. Have you read it, is it as good as everyone says? Maybe I’ll share some of it in the weeks ahead.
Hi everyone, No usual blogs from me this week as I’m away in the Yorkshire Dales. It’s been very hot here which makes walking more difficult (for me). The evening light has been absolutely sensational, though. Walked the Muker-Keld loop incorporating the Pennine Way in part. It’s such an incredibly rich landscape of natural and… Continue reading Postcard from the Dales→
In Sussex we’ve been treated to snow and ice, followed by a sudden jump in temperatures to something spring-like. For mushrooms, it must be a confusing time. It definitely is for this manshroom.
Today’s post is brought to you by phone pics. I’ve been a bit confused by messaging around lockdown laws in the UK, where it’s unclear if you can do photography at all. It’s just not that important, though. People are suffering beyond my comprehension and in England our National Health Service is under incredible pressure. I’m lucky and I do not take for granted the privilege I have in being able to access the countryside within a few miles of walking.
For the benefit of international readers, in England we’re supposed to only do walks from home or those involving a short journey. I’ve not been to my usual local woods in a while, but I can get to the edges of them or at least some mature, tree-lined avenues within a couple of miles whilst keeping away from other people. The standout fungus during walks this winter has been yellow brain, Tremella mesenterica. It is such a beautiful fungus and so unusual to see something so bright in the dark scenes of an English winter.
There’s a reason so few soil-based mushrooms are found in winter – the ground freezes and most fungal hyphae are unable to move through the frozen substrate. Fungi that grow from dead wood or other material can continue to do their thing. This rather pooed-upon bracket fungus is known in the UK as lacquered bracket. On social media you see lots of American accounts raving about reishis. There is even a website dedicated to the species under that name.
I wrote a little bit about turkey tail last week, and this week’s post is late because I entertained the idea of a turkey tail post in itself but eventually didn’t have the time. I think this is turkey tail. It’s quite a variable species so if you don’t know the basic features, can be confused with others. I’m it that camp.
Jelly ear has to be one of the species people notice first. It was my first ever #FungiFriday post! It looks like a body part, is tactile, non-toxic and grows on a common European tree – elder (Sambucus nigra). It’s also very common in urban woodlands and green spaces, which means it reaches a wider audience.
Quite similar to turkey tail is the Stereum family. This is probably hairy curtain crust (yep) and is very common in these months when rainfall is high and temperatures are hovering between 5-15 degrees Celsius.
On a longer local walk I found this veteran beech tree. It had a massive bracket fungus growing at its waist. This fungus had become very woody in texture, which shows how they can survive cold weather. I’d like to get back to see it when it starts to build up its next layer. You can read more about bracket fungi here.
I got to spend the afternoon wandering around the Adur valley recently. The River Adur runs through West Sussex where it reaches the sea at Shoreham. There are wonderful views of the South Downs, especially from the area I was wandering around. This landscape fascinates me because it was once a much wider and wilder… Continue reading Macro 📷: a ruby-tailed wasp in the Adur valley→
For a long time I’ve been intending to watch Fantastic Fungi, a feature-length film about, you guessed it, fungi. You can watch the film for a fee via the Fantastic Fungi website.
I thought the film was inspirational. In dark times it gave a sense of the deep resilience of fungi and their role in the world. The time-lapse footage is some of the best you will see, from my experience. There is also stunning CGI visualising the interconnectedness of fungal hyphae and the roots of trees and plants. The image of a perished mouse decaying, being recycled by insects and fungi, and then sprouting with plants, will stay in my memory.
Perhaps that’s one of the things about fungi that is so hopeful – it can give a vision for life beyond dying. Death is not an end.
One surprise with the film was the extensive coverage of Paul Stamets, one of America’s leading mycologists. As one person commented to me on Twitter, he was so prevalent in the film it could really have been named after him! He is an incredibly engaging speaker and has achieved fame with his YouTube talks.
Stamets makes a great point about the need to protect old growth woodlands, especially those where he lives in North America. The argument (beyond many, many others) is that they are reservoirs of undiscovered medicines and scientific advancements. There are species going extinct which we have not yet even identified. There are plants and fungi which could change the world, or indeed save it, which are being destroyed with their habitats. Much of this is for logging and clearing land for agriculture.
Another week and it’s another spider post. This time, it’s a spider that also likes posts. One evening a couple of weeks ago I had logged off from work and went out into the garden to look at something other than an email. It was a warm evening and the sun was dipping below the… Continue reading Macro 📷: the fencepost jumping spider→
I know that this blog has focused a lot on spiders this year. My spider knowledge is basic and these posts, their photos and required dip into spider ecology (arachnology) helps me to improve that knowledge. I recently purchased a spider ID guide (Britain’s Spiders by Bee, Oxford and Smith) and it’s helped me to… Continue reading Macro 📷: the zebra in the room→
Get ready for bad mushroom photography. But first I wanted to link to this interesting Mushroom Hour podcast with Learn Your Land, that I listened to this week. Some very thought-provoking ideas around landscape conservation, belonging in the landscape and our own impact as individuals. Here’s an example of one of the Learn Your Land YouTube videos:
Back to the bad fungi photography.
In December, I was sitting at my desk, working from home, when I turned around and saw a mushroom growing behind me. This was quite unexpected. The mushroom was growing from the soil of a houseplant on a cabinet behind me.
The plant itself had spent the summer outdoors, so I expect the spores of the fungus have landed on the soil while outside. You can see that the stipe (or stem) has split, probably due to rapid growth and the heat coming from the nearby radiator.
Here is that same mushroom possibly a couple of hours earlier. It moved incredibly quickly through its fruiting stages.
That wasn’t to be the end of it. The following day I noticed more shrooms appearing at the edge of the pot.
This shroom family also moved fast. I think they’re a species in the very big brittlestem or Psathyrella family.
Didn’t I promise you the pics would be bad?
It’s probably not great having mushrooms growing in your house, and I fully expect a barrage of comments about how my house is going to fall down now from builders. All in all, however, I was quite pleased with the tropical scene on those dark midwinter nights.
One day last week I noticed a small clutter of, well, things on the garden fence. From a distance they looked like a smudge. At closer viewing they were tiny spiders all bundled together.… Continue reading Macro 📷: spring spiderlings→
I visited the family home last week and, despite heavy rain most of the time, managed to spend an hour papping the inverts in the garden. The garden has good views of London’s ever-changing (and IMO, degrading) skyline, not that the inverts much care. The view is a bizarre localised battleground, with neighbours trying to… Continue reading Macro 📷: gearing up for London’s planthoppers→
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.
Dartmoor is renowned for its moorland and rocky hillscape in Devon, south-west England. It’s famous for its graphite outcrops or ‘tors’ which dot the landscape. It’s a very wet place, another reason why it’s so boggy. All in all a tremendous place for lichens and other moisture-loving organisms like mosses.
One of the most famous places in Dartmoor is a small area of woodland called Wistman’s Wood, a National Nature Reserve near Postbridge. This well-loved wood is home to scraggly oaks dripping in moss and lichen. These are also exceptional places for lichens. The wood itself is known for its misty scenes, with the trees clinging on to the moisture in the air. That is only a good thing for lichens and mosses.
This bubbly-looking boulder lichen was growing on the approach to Wistman’s Wood. The threads in the lower right-hand part of the image are hairs from sheep or cattle which have squeezed past the rock.
Another boulder held a spidery community of foliose (leafy) lichens.
Here is a rather nice example of a lichen-covered boulder in the river Dart. This is a female mandarin with her ducklings. This was in June and while rain isn’t unusual in Dartmoor in summer, you can see it has been warmer around the time of the photo because the mosses are blackened and dessicated.
The lichens in woodland like Wistman’s are found on rocky substrates and the branches of the trees. It’s interesting that these boulders are at great density in this woodland but not the same in the wider landscape. That is probably because the wider landscape has been cleared of woodland and then the boulders left behind, for livestock grazing. Woodland was cleared from Dartmoor long ago, mainly during the Bronze Age, from what I know.
This photo won’t display in portrait, but it’s an oak trunk covered in epiphytes – lichens, mosses and ferns coating the bark. This is the British and Irish equivalent of rainforest, or Atlantic oak woodland.
Dartmoor’s oak branches are rich in beard lichens, I think this is a species of usnea.
Some of the less flamboyant lichens, but probably more common, are these pore lichens. I think pore lichen is an American name, which isn’t used in Britain. I don’t really care and am always frustrated with the rigidity by which species recorders approach these issues. We need common names to encourage more interest in nature. I know Tyrannosaurus rex is a popular name, but Latin names do not capture the imagination in the way that common names do. Stinkhorn, anyone?
As someone who grew up in a city, cemeteries were some of the first places I began to notice wildlife. I think they are special places also because their atmosphere is so different to the rest of the built-upon or managed landscape. At Widecombe-in-the-Moor, there is one of the best lichen cemeteries I know. Not that they’re dead, they’re well and truly alive and kicking.
This cross is a dream. There are foliose and crustose lichens, and it hasn’t been tidied up by the cemetery managers (I don’t. The air quality is also excellent in this area, allowing for more species to find a place to live. Below is a selection of the species I found growing on gravestones in this cemetery:
I couldn’t let this woodlouse get away without being included along with these frosty fruiting cups.
Above is a really cool insect, a downlooker snipefly! I’ve also found this species on lichen-encrusted boulders in Western Ireland, a similar climate and landscape type.
The village of Widecombe has a large sycamore growing on the edge of the green. This tree shows why scyamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) is a good wildlife tree, because it can provide habitat for lichens.
It looks like a perfect place to sit and cotemplate the amazing lichens you can find in Dartmoor.
This week it’s a continuation of #LichenJanuary. It’s a time of year when winter is at its deepest, more grey than snowy in southern England. In towns and cities lichens come to the fore. If you’re looking for something to take your mind of the wider world this month, lichens are your friend.
The other day I had the idea to post on Twitter asking for people to share their lichen photos from around the world. In a time when we are unable to travel anywhere and people are suffering, it felt like a positive thing to do:
After a little while, people from all over the world began to post their photos. Over night UK time there were a series of posts from Japanese lichen lovers. It is one of the most incredible things about social media and the Internet, that someone can post in Japanese and the software does a decent job of translating it. A couple of the Japanese tweets included Cladonia lichens, what in English we generally refer to as cup lichens:
And here someone posted: ‘my home lichen’:
My interest in lichen originates from my Irish roots. There is a track at the foot of the Ox Mountains in Mayo, western Ireland, that I have walked many times with my family. It is surrounded by old boulders and bogs, all drenched in lichens. Some of the species I got to know there were reindeer lichens, Cladonia portenosa.
Reindeer lichens seem to get their name from the fact their structure is like reindeer antlers. They are also known to be grazed by reindeer where they grow in Scandinavia. I believe they are also used as for dyeing cloth and as a delicacy in posh restaurants.
One Cladonia that catches the eye is Cladonia floerkeana, also known as devil’s matchstick lichen. Seriously, anything red is devilish?! I like the name lipstick lichens, and I will be calling them that.
These lichens were growing on top of the Ox Mountains (what are really hills when it comes to height). They are covered by boglands on the plateau. Mayo is a place with very high levels of annual rainfall, making it perfect for these moisture dependent organisms.
The lipstick lichens were growing on top of a boulder, while others could be found growing among vegetation in the bogs. I can’t wait to go back there and see what I can find. Here is an image from a few years earlier, when I didn’t own a macro lens. It gives a sense of their habitat.
There is a farm near to where I live now in Sussex that has its own populations of cup lichens. I have noticed in recent years how fencing posts which are not treated with chemicals can important habitats for lichen, moss and fungi. The cup lichens above are very happy with their current abode.
These lichens seem to be noticed more than any other. They look splendid holding onto droplets of water in their cups, and their very nature of reaching upwards draws them to our attention. They are the quintessential ‘pixie’ cup lichens.
I came back from a walk yesterday and, customarily, went straight to wash my hands. Looking in the mirror, I noticed something small dangling from my hair. Having just been on a walk my nature senses were fine-tuned and I realised it was an invertebrate. Looking more closely and removing it from my hair with care, I realised it was, one – alive, and two – a jumping spider.… Continue reading Macro 📷: the oak jumping spider returns→