Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A dearth of fungi?

No, not really. The fact that I haven't noted many fungi this autumn doesn't mean they aren't there. It is something to do with observational limitations: when I used to do a lot of birdwatching I was unlikely to be aware of wild flowers; if a person is looking for insects they are probably going to overlook mosses - and so on. There seems to be only so much that we can take in. The exception is when someone deliberately sets out to record everything within a small area. 

So, I have only looked at a few fungi recently and photographed even fewer. Some had been trodden on, some were decomposing, some were so lacking in obvious interest that I couldn't be bothered.

On a grassy bank in Byfield this toadstool was one of a loose cluster of similar specimens. I am annoyed with myself for not having examined it properly. I should have turned it over to look at the type and arrangement of the gills; I should have felt the surface of the cap to check whether it was slimy or not; a piece should have been broken off to see if it changed colour on exposure to the air and the smell should have been noted - all these things would have helped with identification. But it was raining. What a wimpy excuse! (But see footnote.)

Pleurotus ostreatus beneath a wooden structure.
Byfield, Northants. 11 November, 2014
A short distance away stood a wooden 'fort' for children to climb. I peered underneath (I keep an eye on the maintenance) and there was a fungal growth on the timber. It was, without doubt, the well-known Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus. Delicious it may be, but it isn't the sort of thing you want on structural timbers.

Coprinus micaceus beside the playing-fields
at Byfield, Northants. 14 November, 2014

A few days later my attention was drawn to a cluster of toadstools around an old tree stump. This is Glistening Ink-cap, Coprinus micaceus. It is another of those fungi which, though edible, no-one seems to bother with. It looked rather like a cluster of toadstools illustrated in a child's fairy-tale book.

A familiar fungus, looking like a discus lodged in a tree trunk, was present in Stefan Leys Pocket Park. It is Coriolus (or Trametes) versicolor. Sometimes the con-centric rings are more distinct, but these were neat specimens.

On this occasion I did the sensible thing and looked at the underside of the cap. Along with my shirt-sleeve it can be seen that, instead of the gills with which we are all familiar from common mushrooms, there is a mass of randomly distributed pores.

Lycogala epidendrum? Stefen Leys Pocket Park
Daventry, Northants. 8 November, 2014
Finally an oddity, for if I am right this is a species called Wolf's Milk Fungus, Lycogala epidendrum. It shouldn't be called a fungus at all for it is a slime mould, and the structure photographed shows its fruiting stage. It could be Lycogala terrestre but this tends to have a pinkish colour. On the assumption that it was a true fungus I wasted a long time going through my various books - until the penny dropped.

The world of fungi (and slime moulds) is a very strange one and mycology is a fascinating pursuit but you can be assured that I intend to spend very little time studying these organisms. It is just a bridge too far.

Footnote added 20 November   

On a further visit to Byfield I found further specimens and was able to do what I should have done earlier. Nevertheless, after examining the gills, sniffing, etc I am still not convinced. The best bet now is one of the so-called 'Cavalier' toadstools such as Melanoleuca grammopodia. To be honest I don't, and will probably never, know


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