It should be pretty easy, one would think, to recognise the various species within the Russula genus, or brittlegills, the bright-coloured little mushrooms that have been popping up vigorously across the country over the past few months. Their vibrant cap colours render them immediately conspicuous among the Autumn leaf litter surrounding the bases of the trees with which they form mycorrhizal relationships. while their shared features make them relatively easy to situate within this wide grouping. All are particularly prone to crumbling and breaking under rough handling and all have white or slightly off-white stems, gills and flesh, often exposed beneath the holes left in their vivid cap cuticles by snacking woodland creatures. Read more...
We have now entered those glorious few weeks in the foragers’ yearbook when the proliferation of brambles across the country is at last yielding its fruits. For the bulk of the seasons, however, Rubus fruticosus can be viewed as little more than an annoyance, an invasive native with barbed, snaking canes that spread across pathways and woodland floors to form impenetrable thickets, snare up by passers-by and crowd out surrounding biodiversity (See ‘Native dominants or botanical ‘thugs’ in woodlands). Or so it might seem. You will have probably noticed the tracks left by moth caterpillars munching on bramble leaves. Any blackberry-picker will also be well aware of the close association brambles seem to have with stinging nettles. Both attract a wide variety of insect life during their flowering months. Deer and small mammals such as dormice, not to mention numerous bird species, are also the beneficiaries in terms of food and shelter of the bramble’s vigorous growth .
Some years back, the blog talked about a 5000 year old ‘mummy’ - called Otzi. Otzi was a Neolithic man, and was found frozen, high in the mountains between Austria and Italy. Careful examination of his body, clothing and possessions gives us some insights into his daily life and diet. Otzi and, we presume, his contemporaries made good use of the plants and natural materials around them. Thus,
- His bow was made from Yew
- Ash provided his dagger handle
- Woven grass and bast for his cloak (bast is made from the fibres of the linden tree)
- goats hide for his leggings and jerkin,
- bear skin for his cap
- deer skin for shoes
- arrows from a wayfaring tree and dogwood
Members of the kingdom of the fungi can essentially be divided into the two basic categories of basidiomycetes and ascomycetes. The basidiomycetes form and release their spores on specialised cells called basidia, which can be found on the underside gills of our more familiar mushroom and toadstool-shaped types, or within the pores of boletes and brackets and suchlike.
Ascomycetes, however, produce their spores in the elongated cells known as asci that cover their spore releasing surface. Each individual ascus can contain usually around 8 spores, like snooker balls in a sock, which then get released out of the end when ready: the word is derived from the Greek for wineskin or sac. Typically we might think of cup fungi, such as the various members of the Peziza genus, like the Blistered Cup (Peziza vesiculosa) depicted here, whose favoured substrates of well-rotted manure or compost heaps lends has led to its alternate common name of the Common Dung Cup. Read more...
In the last post [see related posts to the side], I broadly introduced the Elder Whitewash as an example of a resupinate crust fungus that is typically found growing on elder. At first glance, this particular species might not seem the most obvious candidate from these regular Monthly Mushroom posts to be split into a one-off two-part focus, save for the fact that is so regularly seen yet little remarked upon.
No doubt we’ve all seen it and probably passed it by. Hugill and Lucas in The Resupinates of Hampshire (2019 edition) describe it as “surface rough, waxy when fresh, somewhat fissured when dry. Pure white to greyish white. Very common.” Michael Jordan in The Encyclopedia of Fungi of Britain and Europe writes of its “white, chalky fruiting body tightly attached to substrate, looking like matt emulsion paint or distemper… resupinate with irregular margin, the hymenial (upper) surface having a chalky consistency.” Read more...
They are among the first of our trees to burst into leaf, and any moment now they should be yielding up their perfumed blossoms for cordials, champagnes, fritters or whatever your fancy is. There are those, however, who believe our native Black Elder, Sambucus nigra, to be something of a mixed blessing, best confined to the hedgerow rather than the woodlands. Fast growing, spindly and brittle branched, they spring up in unsightly shrub-like tangles in those nitrogen-loaded hotspots left uncolonised by more majestic species. The featured image is the Elder Whitewash - a crust fungus regularly found on elder .
As John Lewis-Stempel poetically writes in The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood (2018), Read more...
These monthly posts have endeavoured, as much as possible, to focus on a particular mushroom, toadstool or other fungal organism of interest that might be in season around the time they appear online. This means we have now reached a potentially tricky time of year. “March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb”, as the saying goes.
A few weeks ago, when it was still cold and wet, I had considered looking at a number of jelly fungi that I was still finding oozing from damp stumps and fallen trunks, or maybe one of the brackets still hanging on from Winter. Then after the incongruously meekly-named Storm Kevin brought a hail of dead twigs and branches down to ground level for closer inspection, I thought about zooming in to meditate more fully on some of the resupinate crust fungi that I found attached to them. Read more...
There are not many signs of mushrooms about at the moment, as we transition to a time of emergent Spring greens and Monty Don back on telly. Resupinates continue to flourish in the dank places beneath logs, while the remnants of certain brackets persist on trunks and stumps. Nevertheless, aside from a few notable exceptions, like St. George’s Mushrooms or Morels, there won’t be many of the more obviously mushroom-shaped fungi around over the coming few months.