With sweeping colour comes sweeping air, fresh mornings stretching into shortening days. Leaves take their tumble to the ground, quickly accumulating, cloaking the land. Light becomes more vivid and concentrated, forming fingers and floods, rich and luminous. The weather chops and changes; crisp and dry one minute, damp and sodden the next, with showers of mist and murk in-between. Animals busily prepare for the coming of winter, with larders filled, hidden sanctuaries readied. Fungi reveal themselves, brazen and bold. Autumn… is a fascinating season!
I came across this attractive fungus – Plicatura crispa – on some beech deadwood when carrying out some tree work over winter.
Plicatura crispa is a saprotrophic or ‘recycler’ fungus, meaning that it breaks down deadwood. Fungi are the only group of organisms that can break down lignin in wood and without them we would be buried under many metres of woody debris. They also play a vital role in driving the carbon cycle, releasing nutrients that they don’t require back into the immediate environment.
I later found out that this particular species was included in Bruce Ing’s 1992 provisional red list of fungi for its rarity, but a later evaluation by Shelley Evans for the 2007 red list showed that the species had increased its range significantly and was therefore not included in the revised red list. Reasons for its decline and sudden resurgence are unknown but some believe it could have been down to lead pollution.
A collection of different fungi I have came across recently…
• Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)
This common edible mushroom looks, smells, and tastes like oysters. With virtually no stalk, this mushroom’s oyster-shaped caps usually grow in layers on dead deciduous wood.
• Razor Strop Fungus (Piptoporus betulinus)
This fungus grows almost exclusively on birch trees and when mature has a texture similar to polystyrene. It was once used for sharpening razor blades, hence it’s common name.
• Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)
The fly agaric is an attractive fungus but don’t be fooled by its looks – it is poisonous and known to cause hallucinations, violent stomach upsets, uncontrollable muscle spasms and could be fatal.
It was once used as a fly killer – hence the name. Small pieces of the fungi were added to a saucer of milk to attract flies which came to feed from the saucer and were killed.
• Earthball Fungus (Scleroderma citrinum)
Another fungus which is poisonous! Similar in appearance to a warty potato. It grows on the ground, usually in woods in leaf litter or on mossy soil.
• Hoof Fungus (Fomes fomentarius)
This large bracket fungus attacks mainly birch but occasionally beech and sycamore. It lives on trees long after they have died, changing from a parasite to a decomposer.
The pale leather-brown flesh can be used for lighting fires (it burns very slowly).
Spotted a few things today whilst at Hawthorn Dene (and later at Ormesby Hall).
• Small Copper butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas)
I observed this small butterfly basking in the sun at the start of the day. It was quite distinctive with its bright copper-coloured forewings flecked with brown spots.
• King Alfred’s Cake fungus (Daldinia concentrica)
Legend has it that King Alfred, when in hiding from the Danes, once burnt some cakes by failing to take them out of the oven. These fungal growths, which look as if they have been burned, are a reminder of his poor cooking and hence are nicknamed ‘King Alfred’s Cakes’.
Apparently the fungus can be used as tinder for lighting fires (the inner flesh, once dried out, lights very easily).
• Drinker Moth caterpillar (Philudoria potatoria)
Found this rather large caterpillar amongst some Himalayan Balsam, which I later identified as that of a Drinker Moth.
It gets its name from the caterpillars habit of drinking large droplets of rainwater or dew from the grass stems on which it feeds.
• Solomon’s-seal (Polygonatum multiflorum)
At the eastern end of Hawthorn Dene there is an open expanse of magnesian limestone grassland that is home to many species of wild flower. It was here that I noticed this particular wild flower standing out amongst a cluster of bluebells.
• Dryad’s Saddle fungus (Polyporus squamosus)
I noticed this fungus when driving past a clearing near the car park at Ormesby Hall.
It was quickly identified by National Trust rangers as Dryad’s Saddle, a very large shelf mushroom with a pale fawn upper surface flecked in brown.
It grows on dying trees and tree stumps and gets its name from the fact that it looks like a saddle sticking out from the side of its host tree.