This was the week when fungi made a comeback in the form of windblown sticks.
I used to do post-storm checks in an oak woodland. It was a really enjoyable task, which may come as a surprise to hear. One benefit of all the damage to trees was seeing what previously was only seen by birds and squirrels in the canopy. By this I mean lichens and other fungi attached to windblown wood.
We’ve just had one of the worst storms in thirty years hit the UK, with the first-ever red warning for parts of SE England and the strongest gust on record at the Isle of Wight – 122mph. It has long been predicted that climate change would create more intense weather and the scientists are being proven right. This is at the same time that some of the more reactionary British MPs are seeking to use Brexit tactics to attack plans to protect people from the climate crisis.
From my experience, one of the big ‘losers’ in stormy weather in SE England is the beech tree (Fagus sylvatica). Beech is a ‘poor compartmentaliser’, meaning it isn’t particularly good at preventing fungal decay or rot from spreading to other parts of its anatomy. Oak is better evolved to deal with this.
This was a thought I had on Friday (18th February) as the winds whipped up around outside. I thought of all the beech trees in the Sussex Weald and Downs, exposed on their respective ridges, and how vulnerable they can be.
On Sunday, a visit to the National Trust’s Nymans (so woke, bro) revealed a beech to have suffered. Nymans sits on an exposed ridge, with fantastic views across the Weald (to the Ouse viaduct) and the South Downs. One path was closed and in the distance a beech tree had fallen across it. Taking a detour round and looking at the damage, there was clear evidence that it wasn’t just the storm that was to blame – fungal decay had softened the tree up.
At some point earlier in the tree’s life, decay had entered the tree’s core, leaving it open to this kind of collapse. I’ve posted about something similar previously:
Also at Nymans, a magnolia tree (which I mistook for an ash until I checked the buds) had succumbed. The roots had snapped and the tree had fallen across a path.
As you can see from this photo, the fungal decay was dominant in the tree’s core. This is probably about 30-40% of the tree’s inner wood close to the roots. The decay had spread to the roots, which is probably what caused them to fail. Tension, which holds the tree up, is lost when the roots give way and thus the tree falls.
This is where the treasure is found. When the branches that were once high up meet the ground, interesting lichens and fungi can be seen for the first time.
At Nymans there were plenty of little sticks with beautiful lichens on show (you may be able to tell these are phone pics). You can look at #StickOfTheDay or #StickOfTheWeek on Twitter if you want to see more of these.
My best find of this kind was a piece of decaying oak wood that I spotted the night before. I saw in the dark this glowing thing under a hedge, underneath an oak tree I knew was in decline. I picked them up and stored them away to be photographed the following day.
This was a stunning collection of foliose (leafy) lichens and a species of Trametes fungus, likely to be turkey tail. It perfectly illustrates the importance of decaying wood in trees, whereby the ‘dying’ wood becomes a source of nutrition and, indeed, a home for the fungi and lichens. Deadwood (saproxylic) insects will be inside the wood helping to break the wood down further. It’s what woodlands across Europe are losing due to the ‘coniferisation’ of plantations and the lack of space to allow woodlands to do their thing. Storms included.
The photo above took off when I posted it on Twitter. So much so that it made its way into the strange world of Weed/Marijuana-Gaming Twitter. Sorry to disappoint those in that netherworld, but I hadn’t even considered that someone might “smoke it” until I saw those replies.
Thanks for reading.