Thanks in part to following favourite author Robert Macfarlane (@RobGMacfarlane) on Twitter (he tweets a daily word) and in part to working through naturalist extraordinaire Dr Mary Gillham’s archives, I’ve been learning a lot of new words so I thought I would share the occasional one here. To start the stone rolling, we have marcescent, an adjective, which the Oxford Dictionary defines as ‘withering but remaining attached to the stem’. This is particularly noticeable during autumn and winter, as the leaves of some trees wilt and fade but remained attached to their branches. Some palms continuously retain a marcescent ‘skirt’ of dried fronds, and the term is, apparently, also used to refer to those species of fungi that can dry out but subsequently be rehydrated and continue to shed spores.
Sadly, I don’t see a lot of fungi in my local parks and nature reserves, and I’ve found this year that other events have clashed with the fungi forays organised by the Glamorgan Fungus Group so I haven’t been out with them much either. However, I have been taking photos of the fungi I do find and so, in honour of today being National Fungus Day here in Britain, I thought I’d share these photos of Turkeytail (Trametes versicolor).
Turkeytail is one of the most common bracket fungi and you can find it growing on dead logs and fallen trees in almost every forest and woodland but what I love about this fungus is its incredible variation. With colours ranging from beige, yellow and orange through to green, brown and even blue, each bracket is a work of art.
How lucky am I? In the short space of just two weeks, I’ve been privileged to see two different types of Bird’s-nest fungi (the post about the Common Bird’s-nests is here), both with eggs in their nests. This second lot are Fluted Bird’s-nest fungi (Cyathus striatus; Cyathus from the Greek kyath, meaning cup-shaped, and striatus to indicate the striated or ribbed sides).
Fungi expert Pat O’Reilly (on his First Nature website) likens the reproduction of these fungi to a game of Tiddlywinks: I wrote about their ‘eggs’ in my previous post but Pat’s description is much the better read, of course.
Although these fungi are probably common, both their preferred habitat (of rotting logs in shady woodlands) and their excellent camouflage make them difficult to spot so they are rarely seen. As you can probably imagine, I was very excited when told their location by a friend and then to see them for myself. Many photographs were taken!
Ten days ago I spent the day bioblitzing with my friend Hilary at Amelia Trust Farm (with their permission, of course). Hilary volunteers there so was keen to see what we might discover around the grounds.
The habitats were a mix of woodland, arable fields, and flower and vegetable gardens, though we kept to the various footpaths, only looked at the fields from the fence lines, and didn’t venture far into the vegie patch. As previously, Hilary surveyed the plants and I did everything else. For a late summer’s day, in a site full of noisy families, I thought my total of 59 species was respectable enough. Here are some of the things I spotted …
How cool are these?
Of course, you’ve guessed it – I’m not talking about eggs in the nests of birds with feathers: these are fungi, but one of the most amazing types of fungi I know. And this was the first time I’d seen them with eggs in the nests and, indeed, it was the first time I’d seen them before the eggs were exposed. And there must have been hundreds of them, all growing along the planks of wood around a raised garden bed.
This is the Common bird’s-nest fungus (Crucibulum laeve) and I think you can see where it got its common name. It starts off looking like small blobs of yellowy orange fur, then the furry membrane falls off to reveal its inner cupcake-shaped fruiting body and that’s where the eggs sit. Of course, they’re not eggs at all: the scientific name for them is peridioles. They’re effectively capsules full of spores that are activated when rain drops hit them, causing them to ‘leave the nest’ and begin the germination process. (If you’re as fascinated by these as I am, you can read more here.)
I braved the rain showers and intermittent rumbles of thunder for a wander around Cefn Onn Park, in north Cardiff, last weekend. I hadn’t been there for quite a while and, after the recent rains, I had an inkling there might be some fungi around. I was right! There were actually rather a lot of crusty, brackety, slimy, smutty and generally mushroomy things to be found. (No, I’m not going to ID them – I just enjoyed seeing some fungi again.)
Reading John Wright’s excellent book A Natural History of the Hedgerow and ditches, dykes and dry stone walls (Profile Books, London, 2016) has led me to look at the countryside with slightly more knowledgeable eyes, at least when it comes to field boundaries.
Not only does Wright’s book provide a superbly researched history of the hedges, dykes, ditches and dry stone walls that divide up the countryside, it also provides detailed information on the plants, birds, invertebrates and animals that inhabit Britain’s hedgerows, as well as including practical details on how the various boundaries are constructed and maintained.
Now, when I go out on my rural rambles or I’m being transported through the countryside by train, car or bus, I can recognise where hedges must once have grown by the broken line of mature trees marching across a field, I shake my head at the neglect of the hedgerows on so many farms (though I can appreciate the sculptural beauty of ancient hedgerow trees), I can spot where farmers have removed existing boundaries to create huge open fields, and I can appreciate how well-maintained hedges add an extra dimension to the landscape.
Wales and England now have legislation in place to protect hedgerows that meet certain criteria but it would be good if all hedgerows were protected and if more was done to ensure existing hedges were also properly nurtured and maintained.