Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Mycology’

Epping - 17-8-2019 djg-15

Epping Forest, Essex, August 2019

Unlike most, I’ve welcomed the wet weather of recent weeks in southern England. In August, this means mushrooms. Hopefully not only an early burst in August but a good autumn clutch. ‘The coming of the fungi’ in autumn is an event in nature’s calendar that I would put in the same bracket as the first migrant willow warbler, swallow or swift, or the first butterfly. Autumn is a time of plenty. When mushrooms arrive en masse, we are witnessing a spectacle many millions of years old.

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A weekend visit to family in Essex meant a chance to visit the famous Epping Forest. This woodland is very close to London and is owned by the City of London Corporation (other sites outside London in Surrey and Hertfordshire also belong to them. I think they do a very good job). The Forest shows the scars of this proximity to one of the world’s biggest cities, namely the M25. It was interesting talking to family recently who grew up locally and their reminiscences of putting ‘stop the M25’ posters up in their windows. Epping Forest is also prey to nature writers (guilty as charged, but not published) framing their own ego against this ancient wooded landscape. The Forest and its mycelia feature in Robert Macfarlane’s recent award-winning book Underland, a book from a writer I love reading and admire greatly. However, I must to admit to disappointment in the lighting of a fire in that book. Even more so when I saw a tent and a fire in the Forest when I visited. The two obviously are not linked, but having been an urban woodland warden where fires were lit both in ignorance and violence, it is hugely galling (no pun intended). Leave no trace people, seriously.

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I mentally (and verbally) built up my visit to Epping Forest due to the rain throughout the week. The mushroom boom in my eyes (let’s call it that) was spilling out from every path and Epping Forest’s many visitors were tripping up over them. The early signs upon entering were not good. The ground was battered by recent rain and the sloping nature of the landscape had meant the soil was scarified by the heavy downpours. Mushrooms, washed away. The first wildlife encounter of any note was the above robberfly which I noticed out of the corner of my eye on the brim of my (it needs to go in the wash) sunhat. These predatory flies (not of humans) have had a good summer and I’ve seen more than I ever have before this year. #LifeGoals.

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It was only getting near to Ambresbury Banks (Aims-bury) that the mushrooms were in any way ‘common’. A slug-munched Boletus edulis or cep lay prone at the trackside. Then, half eaten, I found this:

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Moving my little camera around to the right angle, you would never know the cap on the other side was almost completely gone. This is a tawny grisette (Amanita fulva). This was probably the least photogenic specimen I’ve ever found, but with the green flow of woodland behind and a bit of bokeh, anyone can look good.

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Cheered by the sight of a half-eaten mushroom I checked out the swampy dog-poo realm alongside a path. There I spied these beautiful white parachutes (Marasmius) in wet soil amongst bramble twigs. My books are telling me they are Marasmiellus candidus AND Delicatula integrella. A woman passing by on her Saturday jog asked what I was looking at. She said how much she loved spending time in the Forest and that she was moving away soon. She said how important is was for her to see the seasons changing and how different the trees were in different parts of the Forest.

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She’s not wrong. The bizarre pollard areas near Ambresbury Banks are unique. Their pollarding stopped as a local practice some 150 years ago due to a wrangle of Acts of Parliament – who could lop what and where. They are of significance to the whole of Europe (ecosystems are European-wide, people). In some areas holly dominates and things get a lot darker.

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In one of the those areas I found an oysterling (Crepidotus) on a twig and found a nice tree to perch it in for its close-up. The gills look like flames to me and not of the campfire kind. See the darkness of high canopy beech and holly understorey? Creepy. A deer was hiding away here.

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Ambresbury Banks is always worth visiting. This is an ancient earthwork or Iron Age Hillfort, which was likely created by the pre-Roman (-AD43) inhabitants of Britain. Legend has it that Boudicca battled the Romans here in AD61 but people say that about so many hills in London, trust no one. Also for anyone espousing ‘Indigenous British’ as a phrase about themselves as a pedestal for their polticial views, those Britons who built Ambresbury Banks were probably the last group of people who could say that. It is now populated by ancient beech pollards which have no view on Brexit, other than that it may remove their Natura 2000 protections as a site of European Significance. But then again we may not have food and medicine by 1st November.

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In all fungal seriousness there were actually a pleasant number of ‘shrooms around this Iron Age propaganda ditch. Spindle shank (Collybia fusipes) was bubbling up nicely at the roots of beech trees, likely nibbling away at their wood under the soil. Bridges of beech are likely to be built across those ancient earthworks in the decades that come, if you get my drift(wood).

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For photography brittlegills (Russula) are one of the most annoying. I have seen grey squirrels pull them from the soil and chew their gills down like some turbo corn-on-the-cob eating contest. Slugs also love them. Thankfully for you I found this Russula largely un-squirreled with some pleasant bokeh to be had in the world above. I lit the gills with my phone torch.

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Another sign that autumn is not actually here yet was the state of the Amanita mushrooms. Two years ago I found many, many of these beauties near Connaught Water in the holly woods (nope, not that Hollywood) and they were in the same state. If I’ve learned one thing from mushrooms it’s:

You can’t hurry poisonous fungi

There is no basis of fact in that. Not that it matters nowadays. Fake ‘shrooms.

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When you see so many Amanitas pretending to be beech nuts, you know autumn is tickling your toes. Winter is snoring.

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This cheery chap was reaching out from under a ghastly bit of deadwood to say good afternoon. I’m not sure of the species and it will require a bit of rifling through the field guides to get a general idea. Answers on a postcard in the comments box please.

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A beautiful morning in Epping Forest but what did fungi teach me? If you just walked in and found everything you ever wanted in fungi terms there would be no fun and you wouldn’t learn anything. Also, appreciate every chance you have to spend time in these special places and try not to make a campfire. Next up: Autumn.

Thanks for reading.

Explore my wood-wide-web

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SHW 23-25-1-18 djg-20

Unlike most annual reviews, this post shouldn’t include any reference to seismic political events which we are all likely sick and tired of. Instead, it’s a run through of some of the interesting mushrooms I’ve papped in the past 12 months. It also ends up being a seasonal review more than anything, because fungi is found mostly in the gentler bits of spring and the October-November phase before the cold weather snaps down. Expect references to camera equipment and a smattering of photography jargon that even I don’t understand.

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January, February and March 2018

There have been two things that have changed the nature of my fungi photos in the past year, one of them being the purchase of a compact camera. At the end of 2017 I bought a Canon Powershot G7X MII, a little camera that has allowed me to take photos of mushrooms in ways I couldn’t before.

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This is because of the camera’s small size and the screen that flips round so I don’t need to lie down on the ground. Most of the time it’s actually impossible because some of the smaller mushrooms (usually the most interesting and unique) are down in amongst other debris and you need a small camera in there.

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Another bonus is how light the thing is, though it has a bit of weight about it, it can be taken anywhere and charged off a USB. This means you can bring out a powerbank to charge it in the field or when trekking and you don’t need to spend £60 on batteries.

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Above are some of the early pics I managed to get with the Powershot in and around Sydenham Hill Wood in south-east London. I took the photos in raw format and refined them (just colours, exposure, sharpness and a bit of cropping in Adobe Lightroom) to bring them closer to natural life.

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Whatever you think of the photos, you’ve got to say they’re really sharp and as good as most Digital SLRs. I would say that if you don’t have a ‘decent’ camera and you want something light, portable and uncomplicated, it’s a great option.

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However, one problem is the camera is so light it fell out of my pocket and I didn’t have it insured! I hope the person who found it is very happy with it. Anyway, back to the mushrooms.

July

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Early summer months are a time of bracket fungi on trees and sudden eruptions of inkcaps after rain and milder temperatures. Hot dry weather is not good ‘shroom time.

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It is, however, a time to appreciate the rock solid brackets that climb up the trunks of veteran trees.

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This hollow beech tree at Slindon on the South Downs is a fine example of a veteran tree, characterful and fungus-clad. I have to admit to not having a passion for bracket fungi of this kind, but I do know that these species enter through a wound in the tree and establish their mycelium (network of fungal fibres) and produce a fruiting body, in this case the bracket you can see above, and pump their spores into the air.

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One of the true highlights for people who forage wild food is the summer glut of chicken of the woods. This fungus is hard to miss and simple to identify when in good condition. It is mostly found on oak, though I found my first specimens on yew in 2018. Chicken of the woods on yew should never be eaten because of the poisonous nature of the tree. I’ve never eaten this fungus but a friend said that she got too excited about finding it ate too much of it last summer. A case of being bloated rather than sick. May-June is the prime time for this beast.

August

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August can be a very wet month in the UK. In 2017 it was rainy and cool and in the mushroom world autumn happened in August, with a much weaker season over the typical October-November period. I visited Epping Forest in August 2018 to see if there was any repeat of 2017, but there was a very modest fungal showing. This was due to the extreme heat between June and July with very little rainfall in southern England. It’s an example of how climate change will effect our ecosystems and the species within them.

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This is not the moon landing, it’s a giant puffball! These monsters grow in grasslands and were once used as footballs. Though I don’t eat wild mushrooms I know it can be used to make puffball burgers. It’s one of those mushrooms that makes you think, what is the point of it? I suppose it has been kicked and thrown around for so many millions of years that its spores have spread widely and it’s become an evolutionary success.

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One fungus that does well in August and people struggle to cope with is oak bracket (though this specimen was on a veteran beech tree). This was an evening trip after passing it in the pouring rain on a group walk in late July. It’s one of the most photogenic shrooms and is full of macro possibilities! The above pic is taken with a wide angle lens.

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Using the macro here brings out the beads of water as the fungus exhudes the excess water from its pores. Can you see the figure reflected in the droplets? I’ll be back to visit the beech tree this fungus grows on next year.

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The closer the connection you develop with wildlife through observation, the more important the seasons become. Man-made climate change is messing with that but I still see the arrival of Russulas (brittlegills) as a key indicator of summer’s end and the first specks of autumn.

September

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Walking 5 miles on the South Downs Way in early September I was delighted to find a patch of boletes growing under an old yew tree on chalk. I had my now deceased compact camera to hand and snatched this photo. This elfish mushroom is probably Scarletina bolete. It has orangey-red gills and absolutely stinks. One upturned specimen was beginning to smell like a decaying animal.

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I managed to sneak in a visit to the New Forest in September, a place so good for fungi it’s illegal to forage it. I found this bracket mushroom growing on a pine tree on heathland. It looks like a certain political figure, but I mean that as no insult to this amazing natural phenomena (the fungus, not the human).

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August and September is a good time for the members of the Boletus family, home to the much sought after and munched Boletus edulis (otherwise known as cep, penny bun, porcini). The boletes are a diverse group. I think the mushroom above is a suede bolete. It looks like a biscuit sitting atop a rhubarb stalk.

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A strange find was this parasitic species called powdery piggyback fungus (brilliant name), growing on the gills of blackening brittlegill.

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I thought these were horn of plenty at first, but they also just look like straight-up dog poo.

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Cairngorms - September 2018 djg-2Towards the end of September I visited the Cairngorms and Perthshire in the Scottish Highlands. At Balmoral before a group hike I found what I think is Boletus edulis at the shore of Loch Muick. There are two sides to every shroom. The one with the sun, rain and loch behind is one of my fave pics of the year and was found, taken and left alone within the space of about 30 seconds. You can plan for all the amazing pics you want, but when it comes to mushroom portraiture (lol) you have to be ready at all times.

 

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In some Perthshire woodland outside Pitlochry my friend and I found some jelly babies, a first for me.

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Yellow staghorn was cropping up fairly commonly in September. This bunch was on a stump which gave the opportunity for my friend Eddie to help with the composition. Another favourite from 2018!

October

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One of my new playgrounds in 2018 was Ebernoe Common, a National Nature Reserve managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust. I had two full days over the autumn to explore Ebernoe (responsibly!) with my DSLR and macro lense. The mushroom above was found after about 5 minutes of searching one area that is quite open and heathy. The summer drought meant that mushrooms were not as abundant as perhaps they would have been after a wetter season and the ground here was very dry. This is taken with a macro lens and is lit with a small LED side light, alongside a lovely break of warm autumn sun.

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I find macro photography to be meditative. Looking at such a fine level of detail on what is usually a stationary object is very calming. One thing I have noticed is that when you look closely at a mushroom you often find other life. In the photo above I was trying to get a pic of what I think is bleeding bonnet and only when checking the photo on my camera spotted the springtail crossing its cap. Springtails are invertebrates that are found in soil and damp, shady parts of woodland. They are key to a woodland ecosystem as detritivores (they recycle stuff), and part of healthy woodland soil. By that I don’t mean soil good for ploughing or food growing but as part of the natural make-up of soil which includes fungi, bacteria and invertebrates.

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Before the clocks went back in October I managed to visit The Mens in West Sussex (another special ancient woodland managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust) while the evening light was still there. For most woodland photography it’s vital to have a camera or lens that can deal with low light. The ISO needs to be able to go beyond 1600 without being too grainy I think. Luckily I have a camera that can do that. I also like to take photos at an aperture like f11 which gives more detail and a better depth of field than something like f2.8. Though wider apertures like f2.8 can give lovely isolated mushroom images. That’s photo jargon I know but it makes a huge difference when in woods.

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One way to get around this is to use artificial lighting. Sometimes a phone torch is good enough. The translucence of many mushrooms means that lighting can create all kinds of possibilities. The bonnet mushrooms above where photographed in very low light with cloud cover above the woodland canopy. I used a little LED light to bring them out against the dark woodland background.

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The detail my camera’s sensor combined with the macro lens can produce is amazing here – to the left of the frame you can see spores being released from the gills of the mushroom. Amazing! On the right-hand side you can see them dropping out of the gills, eventually carried away on the air flow.

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I was really pleased with how this one came out, the moss ‘sporophytes’ add an extra element through their accidental lighting! You wonder where the idea for lampshades came from…

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An October visit to Dartmoor gave the opportunity to explore the oak woods that make the south-west famous among those who care about Celtic rainforest. Dartmoor is known for its moorland but it also has extensive areas of ancient woodland. Some of this woodland is so boulder-strewn that there isn’t actually much in the way of substrate for fungi to spring from in the way it does in the Sussex Weald, for example.

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No mushroom season is complete without a fly agaric. We found some real beauties under some birch trees in a small slither of more typical beech woodland.

November

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Porcelain fungus is one of the most photogenic species due to the translucence of the gills and the slimey cap that catches the light so sweetly. It also fruits at a time when leaves are still on the trees, helping to produce the bokeh (light circles that blur in the background) where the light does get through. The most beautiful mushroom images are often taken from below in my opinion.

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Compare the above photo taken on the same tree early in October, compared with the more wintry version above that.

The tree host here is a fallen beech that is my go-to for photos. You can see some of the diversity in this video:

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A species I was interested to find was split gill fungus. It has a quite hairy exterior and grows like a bracket or polypore on dead wood. This one wasn’t easy to photograph and I’m not over the moon about the pic, but the bokeh in the background is nice. It was on the tree in the video below, another fallen beech:

Another part of the Sussex Weald that I visited is St. Leonards Forest in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It’s a core part of the ancient wealden landscape in southern England. I walked about 8 miles in search of peak-season shrooms:

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These oysters had a look of the sun rising over a green hill, much like the emoji! I think they’re olive oysterlings.

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Yellow staghorn was going strong into the late-autumn. I used a side light to bring this one out in amongst the beech leaf litter.

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Fallen beech trees are becoming a theme here. This jelly fungus was common, as can be seen in the previous videos as well.

December

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December is a month of snow-white mushrooms for me. If it’s a cold month and there’s too much frost, the mushrooms will perish. December kept on message with recent years and was fairly mild all the way up until Christmas which meant some shrooms could fruit.

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Bramble stems often have oysterlings attached to them. At first they look like little white nothings but when you look at the gills, they’re beautiful.

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It’s also a good time to look for slime mould. Though not in the Kingdom of Fungi, slime mould is equal parts beautiful and disgusting. This is probably dog’s vomit fungus, Fuligo septica, famous for how it eats everything in its path:

I mentioned earlier those rogue springtails photobombing fungi pics.

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During the Christmas holidays expectations for shrooms are low but I go for walks regardless obviously. Above is a fungus that is a bit of worry for gardeners, it’s silver-leaf fungus, a species that usually suggests a tree is dead or dying. It was harmless on this already dead tree. A much bulkier springtail was taking interest in it, perhaps.

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My final fungal pic of 2018 was this lovely little bonnet, umbrella-like as it peeped out from the bark of a veteran oak tree.

Thanks for reading, wishing you many mushrooms in 2019!

p.s. insure your equipment!

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