Monday, 5 December 2016

Strange case of the buried brain …

Scarlet Berry Truffle (Paurocotylis pila)






It is always nice to find something new even if at the time of finding it you didn't realise it was going to turn out to be a new county record; which is exactly what happened recently whilst hunting for Sussex fungi with good friend Colin Knight.

In its native range of New Zealand, the brain-like P. pila grows under Podocarpus and has evolved to imitate the plant's fruit. Its spores are dispersed by large birds, which eat the fallen fruits and are cunningly fooled into also eating the fungus. Taxus baccata, the tree species under which the fungus was discovered, and Podocarpus fruits are rather similar in appearance and are both bird-dispersed. It is therefore quite possible that P. pila has found a parallel ecological niche halfway around the world. Apparently there are many Antipodean fungi that have co-evolved with large birds to be truffle-like and imitate fruits but there is already evidence that these same species are evolving 'back' to be non-truffle-like following the extinction of many of these species, such as Dinornis the Giant Moa.

P. pila is a scarce find in Britain with currently only 35 records listed on the British Mycological Society’s Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI), with most of these coming from northern England and Scotland. The above images show a selection of the specimens we located emerging from the bare soil. In addition, Nick Aplin of the Sussex Fungus Group has kindly supplied a photomicrograph of the large spherical spores.

My thanks to Colin for finding it in the first place and to Nick for much of the information above and for providing the definitive identification.

References:

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Anatomy ...

Hare’s Ear (Otidea onotica)






Favouring deciduous woodlands, although occasionally located beneath conifers in mixed woodland, O. onotica often fruits in small clustered groups. Notwithstanding its modest size, where present and observed in good light, its beautiful pink-tinged, yellow-orange colour and distinctive ear-like form makes this a relatively easy fungus to detect. However, despite this and although fairly widespread throughout Britain and Ireland, O. onotica is an uncommon find in its woodland home.

The above images from a mixed deciduous woodland …

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 606, fig. p. 607.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 311.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 364, fig. c.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 324, fig. p. 325.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Alien invader …

Devil’s Fingers (Clathrus archeri)






















The aptly named Devil’s Fingers, only rarely seen in southern Britain, is a striking species, which reached Europe from Australia or New Zealand at the start of World War I (1914). It was first recorded in Britain from Cornwall in 1946.

Like the Common Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) and the Dog Stinkhorn (Mutinus caninus), C. archeri emerges from a partly buried, gelatinous, egg-shaped, volva. As the ‘egg’ ruptures, the fruiting body rises and expands and is typically comprised of 4-6 starfish-like red arms, with a sticky, dark greenish-brown gleba [fleshy spore-bearing mass of certain fungi] spreading along the inner surfaces; designed to attract flies which are the agents of spore dispersal.

As global warming advances this exotic species may become more common in Britain. One thing is for sure, its appearance and rancid smell guarantee that it will not go unnoticed for long …

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 448, fig. p. 449.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 304.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 339, fig. f.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 244, fig. p. 245.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Parasol ...

Parasol (Macrolepiota procera)





M. procera, the Parasol mushroom, is a large saprobic basidiomycete fungus with a conspicuous fruiting body resembling a parasol once fully expanded. Two forms are currently recognised. The nominate form, var. procera, is illustrated above. M. procera var. pseudo-olivascens, was defined in 1987 and is generally found under conifers; it differs visibly in developing olive stains on the cap surface. They can be found in woodland clearings and in grassy areas adjoining woodland, growing singly or in small scattered groups; also occasionally in permanent pasture and in stable sand dunes as well as, although less frequently, on disturbed ground such as in gardens and allotments. They are common in southern Britain and Ireland, though less common in northern England and Scotland.

The above specimens are examples from a Sussex woodland clearing; the largest located having a cap diameter of 24cm …

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 66, fig. p. 67.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 362.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 127, figs. c and d.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 80, fig. p. 81.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Phleogena ...

Fenugreek Stalkball (Phleogena faginea)



P. faginea is an infrequent to rare find in Britain with currently only 286 records listed on the British Mycological Society’s Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI). The images above are from a small colony I recently discovered in West Sussex on 6th November 2016; the fruiting bodies being located within the cracks between the bark of a living oak tree. Possibly overlooked due to its small size and nature, the NBN Gateway suggests this is predominantly a southern species.

Certainly one to look out for if you like them small …

References:

Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 338, fig. p. 339.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Middle-earth …

Green Elfcup (Chlorociboria aeruginascens)



C. aeruginascens is a widespread and common ascomycete fungus whose non-fruiting presence is evidenced by the conspicuous blue-green mycelium stained timbers. The beautiful cup-shaped fruiting bodies, generally 2 to 5mm across, are far less frequently encountered. Mainly fruiting during the autumn-winter period, it is always a pleasure to find fresh specimens of this tiny fungus ...

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 604, fig. p. 605.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, pp. 92-93.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 377, fig. g.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 308, fig. p. 309.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Life at the bottom …

Literally …




Many organisms perform a vital role in the nutrient cycle, particularly in assisting with the conversion of animal dung into humus. The organisms featuring most prominently in this role are insects, mainly flies and beetles, and various species of fungi.

Cowpats are home to a host of micro and macro fungi, but one of the early colonisers of cowpats, moving in as soon as there is a surface crust, is the tiny disc-like ascomycete fungus Cheilymenia (= Coprobia) granulata. They appear as flat or shallow concave discs, typically 1 to 2mm across and 0.5 to 1.5mm tall; yellowish-orange when fresh but drying darker; sessile; usually in groups and sometimes occurring in huge swarms. The fertile [upper] surface is bright orange, smooth in the centre but granular near the rim. Although probably overlooked by most people, this colourful ascomycete is a very common sight on animal dung throughout Britain and Ireland.

The key to identifying to species level the various species of Cheilymenia and Scutellinia (the other main group of eyelash-fringed disc fungi) of which there are close on 50 known in Britain and Ireland, is by microscopic examination of asci, spores and any hairs or 'lashes' that cover the infertile surface.

I have to say they remind me of sliced carrots ... !

References:

O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on Earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 372.
Skidmore, P. (1991). Insects of the British cow-dung community. Shrewsbury: Field Studies Council. Occasional Publication No. 21.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 344, fig. p. 345.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Fungal jungle ...

Ebernoe Common, West Sussex

Where your fungal fantasies come alive ...






Ebernoe Common is a superb example of a habitat which has been almost completely lost from Sussex - a wood pasture, where cattle are allowed to roam freely within the confines of the woodland feeding in the glades and under the trees. The Sussex Wildlife Trust has restored this centuries old practice to the reserve so that once again the delicate balance of trees, flowers, insects, fungi, birds and other species are thriving.

Fungi are a crucial part of the ecosystem, helping some tree species to grow, and others to decay, returning nutrients to the soil. Over 1000 species have been recorded here including many that are nationally rare. A small selection of images from this season are figured above. These include (i) Upright Coral (Ramaria stricta), (ii) Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa), (iii) Hare's Ear (Otidea onotica), (iv) the notorious Deathcap (Amanita phalloides), and (v) what I believe to be Common Bonnet (Mycena galericulata).

Ebernoe Common is an internationally important site, which is designated as a National Nature Reserve (NNR), a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area for Conservation (SAC) under the Habitats Directive. This means it is illegal to knowingly remove living material, which includes fungi, unless you have specific permission to do so for research purposes.

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on Earth. Llandysul: First Nature.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins.
Sussex Wildlife Trust (2012). Ebernoe Common - Nature Reserve Guide. Woods Mill, Henfield: Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Now you see me …

Zoned Rosette (Podoscypha multizonata)



Although widespread in southern England P. multizonata is an uncommon fungus and one which is not regularly recorded; possibly, in part, also due to its superb camouflage as illustrated in the images above. It is associated with ancient woodland, a habitat that has sadly declined in Britain and throughout Europe, where it is parasitic on the living roots of broad-leaved trees, especially oak. Nearly 50% of the European population of P. multizonata occurs in the UK. It is a UK BAP priority species.

The above images depict one of three specimens recently discovered …

References:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 550, fig. p.551.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 303, fig. d.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 288, fig. p. 289.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

One for sorrow, two for joy …

Magpie Inkcap (Coprinopsis picacea)

West Sussex ...





Although generally found as solitary specimens, C. picacea can also be found in well-spaced small groups. Although relatively frequent in the south of England, where they are mainly found amongst the soil and leaf litter of deciduous woodland, particularly beech, they are a rare find elsewhere. There is certainly something rather special about finding a pristine specimen of this beautiful fungus, or even better, a small group standing upright amongst the leaf litter of their woodland home …

References:

O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on Earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p.253.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, pp. 258, fig. p. 259, c.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 218, fig. p. 219.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

It's life Jim but not as we know it ...

Welcome to the world of slime …






Although their appearance might suggest that slime moulds are fungi, they are neither fungi nor moulds; though they often form spore-bearing structures that resemble those of true fungi. Most slime moulds are generally deemed by taxonomists to be protists; the oddities of the natural world that don't seem to fit in with the rest of our global taxonomic grouping system - though this classification is still open to some debate.

Although
 many species fruit on decaying wood, they do not form penetrating and absorptive masses of hyphae in the woody
 substrate. Instead, slime moulds form structures called
 plasmodia, which are naked masses of 
protoplasm [a colourless material comprising the living part of a cell], which can move about and engulf particles, in an 
amoeboid-like manner, in order to maximize the nutrients they can draw from their food source. The plasmodia creep about over 
the surfaces of resources, consuming bacteria, fungal spores, plants, protozoa, and small particles of non-living organic
 matter. This continues until the plasmodia convert into spore-bearing
 structures. They are strange and wonderfully varied in colour and form and have names to conjure with such as Wolf's Milk Slime Mould (Lycogala epidendrum) and Dog Vomit Slime Mould (Fuligo septic).

Nice ...

Weird but definitely wonderful ...

References:

O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on Earth. Llandysul: First Nature, pp.78-79.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, pp. 334-335.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Fungal disorders …

I'll start by admitting I am a complete beginner when it comes to mycology. What I do know is that fungi and their various allies can be extremely difficult to identify to species level. Despite this, fungi have always fascinated me and, ever ready for a challenge, I’ve recently started looking at them more closely and taking a few pictures - at least they don't fly off like my normal subjects.

I’ll start with an easy one …

Porcelain Fungus (Oudemansiella mucida)




O. mucida is a widespread and common beech wood species. Appearing in late summer to late autumn it is typically found on rotting beech trunks and fallen branches where it grows in clusters. It is semi-translucent, slimy and white in appearance. When O. mucida is found on a beech tree it usually outcompetes other fungi nearby by means of a powerful anti-fungal agent called strobilurin. It is saprobic [deriving its nourishment from nonliving or decaying organic matter] or weakly parasitic to living beech trees. While it has a strong connection to beech, it has also been found growing on oak on rare occasions.

More at:

Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 200, fig. p.201.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 116, fig. a.