Tree lungwort lichen in western Ireland ๐Ÿ„

Since 2013 I have been visiting a small area of ‘Celtic rainforest’ I know in Co. Mayo in Western Ireland. It’s hard to find much ecologically significant woodland in Mayo, a place of vast peat bogs, wetlands and where the woodlands are largely low diversity plantations of spruce and larch. Nine years ago I found one woodland on the map and asked my parents if they wouldn’t mind dropping me off there. In March 2022 I had about 30 minutes to check in on this real gem of an oak woodland.

I don’t want to give the name of the woodland openly because it is incredibly sensitive and is already experiencing the impacts of anti-social behaviour (fires, litter, human waste… not that you would head straight there to mess it up!) but if you want to know the details you can contact me via email for info (unlockinglandscapes@gmail.com). It’s one of the special Western Atlantic oak woodlands which the western edges of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland are known for. This woodland is rich in ancient woodland plantlife and is also good for fungi, as you might expect due to the long-term stability of ancient woodland species communities.

Upon entering I spotted the little red traffic light of a scarlet elf cup in among the moss. This is a species which thrives in damp and shady woodlands near water.

The woodland here is close to a large lough so it is never short on moisture.

I was astonished to find this naturally-occuring terrarium on the woodland floor. Someone had chucked a jar here and the mosses and other plantlife had colonised it.

Anyway, I was here to check for an uncommon lichen in the UK & Ireland – tree lungwort, Lobaria pulmonaria. It’s a massive lichen that can be found in these ‘Celtic rainforest‘ habitats. The Woodland Trust say it’s an incredibly rare habitat.

After a few minutes of searching where I had found it back in 2017, I saw this. It is a seriously impressive species.

I was so pleased to find the tree lungwort again. It’s unlike similar organisms we find in the UK. It makes far more of its fungal elements than other lichens through its size and spread. Remember: in lichens, fungi provide the physical structure and fruiting mechanism (usually a cup-style spore shooter), while the cyanobacteria or algae are able to photosynthesise and harvest energy from the sunlight.

The oak trees in Celtic rainforest provide habitat for plants as well as lichen. There are often modest ivy vines trailing the trunk, as well as other epiphytes such as ferns and mosses:

Another thing I noticed was oaks leafing on the 31st March. This may be the earliest I have ever seen oak come into leaf, but the race between ash and oak is certainly a contest. The old saying of “If the oak before the ash, then we’ll only have a splash, if the ash before the oak, then we’ll surely have a soak” doesn’t quite play out from my experience. The very warm March we’ve experienced in the British Isles has possibly more of a role to play in this than traditional benign weather or climate patterns might.

One thing I learned from observing the other communities of tree lungwort were that the lichen seemed to prefer younger trees. I didn’t observe any on more mature specimens of oak. There didn’t appear to be a lot of oak regenaration but then again there was no danger of overgrazing due to the quite isolated nature of the woodland, its lough-side location and livestock being nowhere near.

Another lichen I observed was one of the pixie cup lichens in the Cladonia group but I couldn’t tell you the exact species.

There were many candidates for #StickOfTheWeek, so much so that there wasn’t even much of a stick to look at!

Thanks for reading

Further fungi

#FungiFriday: scarlet elf cup

On social media in recent weeks one of the dominant fungi photographed has been a bright red cup fungus. This species is one of the most visually stunning, standing out like an elf’s sore thumb in a winter wood. I’m talking about scarlet elf cup.

I visited an area of woodland I have featured many times here, but a place I haven’t been to this year. I don’t know why, it’s close to home but usually requires a car journey because it’s awkwardly difficult to walk to. It’s a mixed ancient woodland with a stream running through it and heathland on its upper slopes.

In the UK heathland is a sandy habitat dominated by heather and pine. In terms, dry lowland heath is rarer than rainforest.

This woodland is managed with the support of volunteers. I don’t know the people who do the good work there but they clearly spend a good amount of time building what I know as dead hedges. These are barriers or piles of cuttings, branches, twigs and sometimes logs. They are there mainly to protect sensitive areas of soil where ancient woodland plants grow. It’s to keep people on the paths, which is best for the health of a woodland overall. These dead hedges also happen to be excellent habitat for wildlife like fungi.

From my experience in the woods and by looking at other people’s photos, I would say scarlet elf cups are happiest in damp, shaded areas. I would even say they are so keen on dampness that alongside streams and rivers is usually a good place to find them. This was a bit of a way from a stream but it ticked all the other boxes. You can see here that it’s growing from a small stick.

This is a nice example of this gorgeous fungus (not something you hear often enough). They grow on something similar to a stem but are a different set of fungi to the usual stipe-based mushrooms. Cup fungi are ‘ascomycetes’ (ask-oh-my-seets) and are spore shooters. ‘Basidiomycetes’ are spore droppers, most of them being the gilled mushroom types.

This area probably had hundreds of scarlet elf cups growing in this long stretch of dead hedge. It will be good habitat for lots of other species as well, including invertebrates and sometimes they’re big enough for small birds like wrens to nest in. The specimen above was snug as a shroom in a trug.

From what I know it’s an edible species, but I wasn’t about to clean out all these fungi from their wild habitat. I had mushrooms in my fridge that were a couple of days close to their best!

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms