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.)
Though fungi frequently defy the rules we humans assign to them, the Alder bracket (Inonotus radiatus) does, amazingly, almost always (note the qualifier) grow on alder trees. Sadly, its presence usually means the tree is on its last legs and the fungus itself contributes to the tree’s death by assisting white rot to form within the tree.
Yet, Alder bracket can be rather beautiful, especially when young, as it produces quite striking orangey-red globules of liquid which sparkle in the sunshine. As it matures, it develops from pale-coloured well-rounded velvet-textured fruiting bodies into the more regular shelf-like shape you would expect from a bracket fungus, and the pores on its underside become more apparent.
As it reaches old age, the bracket become rougher and tougher, the spots which once produced those gorgeous droplets develop into ugly pits, and its delicate apricot-coloured upper surface dulls to a brown so dark it looks black.
On either side of the path to a beautiful old bridge across the brook that runs through Roath Park Pleasure Gardens there stands a tree. Both trees are huge and old and dead but both are the source of life and habitat of choice of many a beetle and bug, and a wide range of fungi. This month, first one tree and then the other has played host to magnificent large clumps of the Giant polypore, Meripilus giganteus.
Their Latin name is most appropriate: Meri means a part and pile means caps and, not surprisingly, giganteus means gigantic, so together we have gigantic caps made of many parts. And they are gigantic! These specimens have reached a combined width of perhaps half a metre but it is not unknown for a single cap to grow that wide. Another common name for this fungus is Black-staining polypore as the pore surface will stain dark brown or black when bruised. Giant polypores are most often found on beech trees and stumps but will also parasitise the roots of various other broadleaf trees, in Britain and much of Europe. If this looks familiar to my North American readers, it’s because a related fungus, Meripilus sumstinei, can be found on your trees.