#FungiFriday: a grave situation

Fungi Friday 4th December 2020

In Sussex we have now inched out of a national ‘lockdown’ and into more localised restrictions on hugs, walks and purchases. Not that fungi (if it could) cares a jot about any of these psychological blockades. They have enough on their hyphae feeding the world’s woods, trees and forests. I will admit that after seeing the mushrooms fading away into a typical ‘mush’ in my local woods (not actually mine) I had sweated on this post. Again, not literally. Temperatures are loitering around the five degrees Celsius mark (I learned this week that Celsius was an actual person) which means frost and therefore frozen fungi. Fungi are 90% water which means they can only really produce fruiting bodies above ground – it can be quite toasty in the soil, where they can remain active socialising with tree roots – when it’s warmer than this.

One thing I have noticed is that fungi are lingering longer in grasslands. Last week I saw inkcaps in golfing greens. Recently I passed a local cemetery and spotted some white mushrooms in the grasslands. On closer inspection I could see these were a white species of waxcap. Waxcaps are rare mushrooms which are largely dependent on ancient grasslands or those which are stable, i.e. not regularly ploughed up or disturbed. Among the white mushrooms I saw some stonking red ones – which iNaturalist helped me to ID as scarlet waxcap. I am put off identifying this family of shrooms because it is not always straightforward, a bit like webcaps, of which there are thousands of species, even in the nature-depleted UK.

These are gorgeous mushrooms. Cemeteries are a great place to find these fungi because the grasslands are sometimes as old as 300 years or more, do not suffer from the use of chemicals, and the lack of footfall out of respect, means the grasslands are soft and accommodating to species trying to move through them. There are lots of projects to monitor grasslands for waxcaps, such as this project from Plantlife and the very interesting charity Caring for God’s Acre.

My best find was this keeled-over meadow waxcap, fanning its gills like some feral peacock. It may have been the frost that has caused it to pose like an ancient tree, but it will probably help with the spread of its spores.

As you can see, waxcaps are incredibly beautiful fungi. If you see any on your travels please do submit species records to Plantlife or your local Wildlife Trust. You can also take a photo and submit it to iNaturalist or iRecord depending on your preference. Better still, inform the people who own the land – ‘do you know you have rare wildlife living on your land?’ – and ask them to take this into consideration when managing it.

Here’s a wider view where you can see just how big the meadow waxcap is! Those surrounding trees will not be great for the waxcaps due to shading, so for their benefit tree planting should be avoided and cutting of the grasslands is a priority.

It wasn’t just waxcaps though, I found something more suitably Gothic growing alongside a grave.

This is a species in a group known as the goblets! What a great name. I need to get myself a goblet.

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms

The Sussex Weald: the glowing neon church

Ebernoe - 8-11-2019 blog-6.jpg

In memory of Joseph Reilly

Ebernoe, West Sussex, November 2019

At Ebernoe I enter the yard of a church with neon algae glowing on the brickwork. In among the graves meadow waxcap mushrooms grow, one with its cap curled up and over like a pale petalled poppy. โ€˜The church is open but the handle is stiffโ€™ reads a sign on the door. I turn it and enter inside. That cold stone church air hits my skin, no one else is here. At least no one human.

There is a bird in here. It flies across the aisle and lands on a hanging lampshade, rocking with the force delivered by its flight. Then it moves to one of the windows clinging to the iron frame that separates panes of glass. Itโ€™s a blue tit. I wonder how long itโ€™s been in here, perhaps overnight. I think for a few seconds of what to do and walk to the church door. I pull it wide open, moving away to give the bird space. Within seconds the little blue tit flies through the open church door and back out into the woods where it belongs.

I sit on the bench and experience silence but for the dripping of water on the roof. There is a peace in here that I only ever seem to find in places like this. In the stained glass windows images of Jesus Christ, stories depicted that I don’t remember from childhood. The glass’s vibrancy is at odds with the dark and glowering morning that has crept in over one of sun-drenched hedgerows and beech trees lit like fires. I write a word of thanks in the visitor book and make my way back out into the churchyard.

Explore the Sussex Weald