Fungal Foray

For the last week or two we’ve been seeing some fabulous fungi photos on social media, from around and about Worcestershire. We’ve never really gone out specifically in search of fungi, but spurred on by mushroom envy, we set out for Monkwood. Monkwood has been a favourite place for butterfly watching in the past, but we’d never been out of season, so it was interesting to see it at a different time of year. The wood itself of course looked totally different, the trees resplendent in their autumnal colours.

We’d barely stepped out of the car before we realised there were mushrooms and toadstools everywhere (apparently there is no scientific difference between the two of these, people just tend to call the poisonous ones toadstools and the edible ones mushrooms). There were fungi growing out of the ground, from dead wood and from living trees. Single specimens and bigger colonies were everywhere.

As complete novices we took photos of everything with a view to identifying them when we got home. Thankfully there are some very helpful people on https://www.ispotnature.org/ who identified all but the blindingly obvious ones which we managed ourselves. Unfortunately we hadn’t realised that to identify a lot of the fungi, you really need to take photos of the stem and the gills underneath, not just go for pretty photos of the cap. So a lot of the fungi we photographed couldn’t be fully identified. We’ll know better next time. Despite this we (well mainly the kind people on iSpot) managed to identify 13 species. Not bad for a first attempt.

We saw several types of bracket fungus – fungi that form shelf-like ledges usually growing out of wood. We only managed to get 2 identified to species. The first is this Turkeytail, which fans out from branches or logs, with concentric rings of different colours.

Next is the brilliantly named Hairy Curtain Crust. This grows in more varied wavy shapes, with the upperside distinctly hairy.

Some of the fungi grew up in short spikes rather than forming the more typical cap. This one growing out of dead wood is called Candlesnuff Fungus, but also know as Stag’s Horn.

This next one is called Crested Coral and looks just like a piece of marine coral that has somehow found its way into the middle of a woodland.

We spotted 3 types of jelly like fungus, in varying colours. The Purple Jellydisc is pretty much self explanatory.

The Crystal Brain Fungus doesn’t look particularly brain-like, but I do like the name – maybe because it reminds me of the Indiana Jones title!

This Yellow Brain Fungus is also known as Witches’ Butter and was indeed a beautifully buttery colour. This specimen was too small to really look like a brain but apparently when they are bigger they get more brain-like wrinkles.

On to the more “traditional” looking mushrooms. This one is called the False Death Cap – apparently unpleasant tasting but not totally poisonous like the real Death Cap. We have no intentions of trying any of the mushrooms though – not worth the risk when our identification skills are still in their infancy!

Next up the Common Puffball or Devil’s Snuffbox. It’s a small round mushroom, which as it ripens develops a hole in the top through which the spores puff out. The latin name is Lycoperdon, which comes from Lycos for wolf and perdon for breaking wind – hence another name – Wolf Fart Puffball.

The next one is a Trooping Funnel. They start of with flat caps which gradually turn funnel shaped. They can occur in large groups or Troops and can form fairy rings.

We did come across one very large Fairy Ring (or Elf Circle or Pixie Ring) of mushrooms (not sure what species) in the wood. It must have been at least 5 metres in diameter, the mushrooms growing around the perimeter. It was too big to get in a single photo, the best I could manage was this section of them growing in a line.

Next up a pretty little cluster of Sulphur Tuft. These are apparently a common sight on decaying wood, often forming large tightly packed clumps.

While many of the fungi seem to have devilish names, this next one has gone the other way – the Angel’s Bonnet, is a dainty little thing growing on dead wood.

The final fungus is the one that most intrigued us from the social media photos we’d seen – the Green Elf Cup. We’d seen photos taken in Monkwood the week before of really stunning bright green elf cups, which is why we’d chosen this wood for our first fungal foray. Sadly we couldn’t find the same cluster, but we did spot this small group of them. Not quite as vivid a green (in fact looking more blue here) as we’d seen online, but lovely to find all the same.

Hopefully this will be the first fungal adventure of many and we’ll get better at photographing and identifying them. I’ve loved finding out all their names. Fungi names often seem to have mystical connotations – elves, fairies, devilsĀ  and death seem to feature strongly. Fungi are present in a lot of old folklore, being associated with both positive and negative spirits.

Although we spent the morning hunting for mushrooms, this Speckled Bush Cricket had climbed an old stump and was crying out to be photographed. I was surprised to see such a fine specimen so late in the year, a reminder of the summer gone.

One Year or a Thousand

This isn’t one of my usual posts with pretty photos of moths or hedgehogs. Instead I’ve got photos of bits of plastic decomposing, or not, in our garden. This may not be the most aesthetic post, but it does touch on something we should all be concerned about. We subscribe to a few groups who send us magazines and I am also partial to the occasional wildlife or the odd foodie magazine. Many of these publications arrive in single use plastic covers. With everything in the press and on our minds of late over the use of these plastics, I was particularly pleased, when a year ago, our magazine from the Butterfly Conservation charity arrived with the following note:

Our magazine was wrapped in a bag made from biodegradable or compostable potato starch. Why can’t all magazines come like this?

So maybe I need to get out more, but I thought it would be really interesting to see just how long it would take for this starch bag to decompose. I decided to put the potato starch bag outside and document its hopeful decay. Old lab habits die hard though and I felt the need for a “control” subject, so fished a real plastic magazine bag out of the bin and placed it next to the starch bag for comparison. So here we have on the left a traditional plastic bag and on the right the compostable starch bag from Butterfly Conservation.

I laid them side by side on the patio, weighted down with stones. Of course the starch bag should really have gone in the compost bin to degrade quicker, but then I wouldn’t have been able to monitor it. This way I could compare how the starch bag changed while the plastic magazine bag remained the same.

Initially I was a bit over-optimistic and planned to photograph the bags every week, expecting rapid change. Clearly these things take longer, especially when just sitting on a concrete patio! So after 3 weeks there wasn’t much change, apart from various bits of crud having landed on the bags.

By May this year though there were the first signs of decomposition of the starch bag in the top right corner.

By September, the starch bag was really starting to break down, whereas the plastic bag on the left looked pretty much the same.

By November, a year since I put the 2 bags out, the starch bag has almost completely disintegrated. The plastic bag on the left looks pretty much the same as it did when I laid them down originally. Cleaned up the plastic bag on the left would still be very much recognisable, the starch bag on the right is barely there.

They say a regular plastic bag takes anywhere between 10 and 1000 years to decompose (depending presumably on which “they” did the research). The thought that a plastic bag that was used solely to cover a magazine that we read once, then discarded, could still be here any time up to 1000 years from now, is fairly horrifying. If Butterfly Conservation can distribute their magazines in biodegradable starch bags, surely there can be no excuse for any other magazine not to be doing the same?