Sunday, 10 April 2022

Patience and time

BMS Spring Fungus Study Week: a view of the workroom

I've had my mind set on fungi this week at the British Mycological Society conference and Spring fungus study week in Cranfield, Bedfordshire.

I sent a few tweets from the conference, here

Our tutors for the fungus study week were Thomas Læssøe and Jens Petersen, authors of 'Fungi of Temperate Europe' (currently on sale at Summerfield Books and elsewhere); so of course I couldn't resist getting my copy of their magnum opus signed.

Jens Petersen gave an interesting talk at the BMS conference on fungus identification keys – good and bad! – and the opportunities presented by 'artificial keys', which guide the user towards an identification using the most easily-observable characters (rather than a strictly taxonomic approach), plus the benefits of modern publishing, incorporating ample use of images and colour.

You can see this approach in action, in stunning technicolor, in the 'fungus identification wheels' in Læssøe and Petersen's books. The wheels are downloadable for free over on their MycoKey website:

VERY EXCITINGLY (!) Jens also showcased some keys to species that they have been working on. Draft versions for some groups [in Danish] are available for testing, over on the Svampe Databasen website (here) – accessible via the "Identification Circles" link on the menu.

Jens said they're hoping to publish the keys in Danish in 2023, with English translations to follow (perhaps in 2025?). Gonna have to save up some spending money for that!

I've not had much to do with spring fungi over the years, so Spring fungus study week proved to be a good opportunity to put 'Fungi of Temperate Europe' to the test, tackling some tiny things I'd usually walk on by. 

(Incidentally, Geoffrey Kibby talked about 'wob's, short for 'walk on by', in his presentation on Cortinarius. Not that he was suggesting Cortinarius are wobs, quite the contrary! If you find some nice fresh Cortinarius showing off their enigmatic characters, then you might want to have a crack at them using Geoffrey's latest book: The Genus Cortinarius in Britain. Old and weathered Cortinarius though... they're wobs. Geoffrey's advice: forget them, they're not worth spending your time on.)

Anyway, back to the tiny things. Like, what's growing on this stick?

... or, more specifically, what's that black stuff you can see on the right hand end there? Under a hand lens, I could make out some small fuzzy round fruit bodies.

The fungus identification wheels guided me quickly to 'non-stromatic pyrenomycetous fungi' and from there to 'non-stromatic, unitunicate, dark pyrenomycetous fungi'. Lasiosphaeris hirsuta s.l. seemed like a good picture-match, so the next step was to check the spores.

Chris Yeates, who also spoke at the BMS conference about his epic Fungi of Yorkshire project, gave me some useful tips on getting spores out of these tiny things...

A few fruit bodies (perithecia) under the dissecting microscope.

Using a dissecting microscope, I cut open a fresh-looking one and scooped out a tiny bit of the insides – that gelatinous-looking stuff – with very fine tweezers. I think I was lucky to find some live perithecia on my first look, cos all the other ones I looked at later were dry and empty inside (i.e., dead), in which case the whole endeavour becomes fairly impossible, I gather.

Transferring the 'stuff' onto a microscope slide with a drop of water and a coverslip on top, I was able to get a look at it under 40x magnification. And, voilà! I managed to find a big fat ascus and mature ascospores:

The 'Fungi of Temperate Europe' book isn't designed to get you all the way to a species ID with these kinds of things, but by now I had a good idea of what I needed to be googling. 

I found a paper by Miller & Huhndorf (2004) – "A natural classification of Lasiosphaeria based on nuclear LSU rDNA sequences" – illustrating differing ascospore morphology for Lasiosphaeria species.

My collection fitted within their 'group D' for ascospore morphology; so, combined with the overall morphological characteristics, that seemed to make my collection a good match for Lasiosphaeris hirsuta

That was one of only about three species I got to an ID on this week. 

Another one was Valsa salicina on Salix. I had to have several attempts at the microscopy, over three days, to convince myself that this was what Chris Yeates and David Hawksworth had said that it probably was, when they had a quick look at it. But I got there in the end!

Morphology of the Valsa salicina perithecia. The white stuff where the perithecia are emerging is... distinctive?

The spores weren't so interesting on this one. Just big fat sausage-shaped things, held in 4-spored asci.

... But one of the joys of fungus study week is marvelling at everyone else's collections as well (like this Atyheniella adonis) so that provided plenty of additional entertainment.  

With thanks to Carol Hobart and Peter Smith at the BMS for all their efforts organising the week, Pat & Keith Cavanagh for organising all the survey sites, and our tutors Thomas Læssøe & Jens Petersen. A very enjoyable week.

I feel if I put my mind to it, with a bit of patience and time, I could get into tiny funguses on sticks.


Jens explaining that crusts are just really impossible sometimes.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Tackling earthtongues

Back in November, I popped back to that East Sussex cemetery where I found all the waxcaps in October (here), and –⁠ as well as waxcaps –⁠ I encountered a load of earthtongues. I've never managed to summon the courage to try ID'ing earthtongues before, but figured it must be time I had a go...

Resources used: 

  • The updated Key to Earthtongues 2019, by Irene Ridge with thanks to Mal Greaves and David Harries (DRAFT), accessed here:
  • Identikit key to 'Geoglossum' 2017, by Malcolm Greaves, accessed here:
  • Earthtongues in the UK: a note on their status with particular reference to recent studies of the genus Microglossum (version 7) Pembrokeshire Fungus Recording Network 2019, by Gareth Griffith, David Harries and Brian Douglas.
  • Taxonomic divergence of the green naked-stipe members of the genus Microglossum (Helotiales) 2017, by Viktor Kučera & Michal Tomsovsky, accessed here:
  • Fungi of Temperate Europe by Thomas Læssøe and Jens H Petersen
Let's go! 

Collection #233: a hairy one

You can see the hairs on the stem under a hand lens.

In this squash you can see the thin, dark setae.

In this squash you can see the asci with 8 ascospores inside.

And this image of the spores at 400x magnification shows them being 15-septate.

I think this is sufficient to call this one Trichoglossum hirsutum.

Collection #234: a squamulose one

This one has a scaly stem.

I thought I was seeing loads of hyaline spores, which really confused me, because I couldn't get to a sensible answer in the key... 

... but I got some advice on the BMS Facebook Page (here), and Malcolm Greaves explained that Geoglossum fallax produces masses of pale asepate spores which later become dark and septate.

Also Mandy Dee mentioned about the paraphyses being embedded in a brown matrix, which you can see in this squash:

So, I think I can call this one Geoglossum fallax, with some confidence.

Collection #232: a green one. Ooh!

I know enough to know this is one of those Microglossum ones.

I think there's a paraphysis here, in the centre of the image. It's mounted in water and I fancy I can see the green pigment - darker towards the tip.

And I had a go at measuring some asci.

The note on 'Earthtongues in the UK' talks about there being a number of green Microglossum species. There's a key in the paper by Viktor Kučera & Michal Tomsovsky, mentioned above. So I thought I'd have a go with that - working with this collection and the one below.

 Collection #231: another green one (the same? let's assume it's the same...)

I got a spore print from this one. 

I think the combination of Asci <105 μm long and ascospores around 15–18 × 4–5 μm gets me to Microglossum truncatum. But I'm not super sure about that!

Collection #239: a brown one

I think this is another Microglossum. 

Very hard to see mounted in water, but I think I spotted some straight paraphyses. (Would this be easier if I was using a stain? Not sure what's best to use with ascos...?)

And here's a shot of the spores from a copious spore print. 

I am feeling a bit lost with the literature with this one, as the olive-brown Microglossum species are still 'taxonomically active'. Might need to get some more help!

Saturday, 6 November 2021

Return to Southwick Hill


Last year during lockdown I took a trip to Southwick Hill (blog here) to look for grassland fungi on this Downland site on the edge of the city of Brighton & Hove. It looked promising, so I returned this week with members of Sussex Fungus Group to undertake a grassland fungi survey, with permission from the National Trust who look after this site.

The first mushrooms we came across were (I think) Fools Funnel Clitocybe rivulosa. It has a sort of powdery ('pruinose') covering on the cap, which gives it a slightly different look to various other beige mushrooms we saw today.

We got a nice set of beige waxcaps:

The intervenose gills are a key feature of Toasted Waxcap Cuphophyllus colemannianus.

I thought these very-beige Snowy Waxcaps might be Cuphophyllus virgineus var. ochraceopallidus.

These white specimens looked more like classic Cuphophyllus virgineus var. virgineus.

And this collection had the unique scent of Cedarwood Waxcap Cuphophyllus russocoriaceus.

We also found a couple of BIG beige mushrooms. I think this one is Slender Parasol Macrolepiota mastoidea, based on the texture on the stipe and the presence of a thin ring which it was possible to slide up and down the stipe. But I must admit I'm not 100% sure what the separating characters are between this species and other 'Parasol-like' species, such as M. excoriata.

The mushrooms weren't all beige. We also found some fresh young Yellow Fieldcaps Bolbitius titubans (I wrote a blog about my first encounter with this species, here).

There was a brown Entoloma, with a kind of silky sheen to the cap, which I was very tempted to call Entoloma sericeum and leave it at that.

This rather dried-out yellow-brown coloured bonnet had me stumped at first, but I think it's Brownedge Bonnet Mycena olivaceomarginata. My Mycena book (by Aronsen & Læssøe) talks about the gills being "basally interveined in age", which they are — very much so — here. 

The gills look almost deformed — is this how Mycena olivaceomarginata normally looks, or is something else going on here? It's got the brown edge to the gills anyway.

Next up, not a genus I'm very familiar with, but I think this is a Melanoleuca species. I could do with some more guidance on this one, there seem to be lots of quite similar-looking Melanoleuca species? I find these ones hard to get excited about, if I'm honest.

When you get to the part of the site where the A27 runs under Southwick Hill, there is an area of shorter grassland which looks like its been more tightly grazed by rabbits. This seemed to be the richest part of the site, in terms of the diversity of grassland fungi. As well as Snowy Waxcap C. virgineus and Cedarwood Waxcap C. russocoriaceus here, we found some non-beige waxcaps!

Blackening Waxcap Hygrocybe conica s.l.   

Spangle Waxcap Hygrocybe insipida (noting the reddish top to the stipe). Very smol! About 5mm across.

Meadow Waxcap Cuphophyllus pratensis. Unfortunately it looked like somebody had trodden on these shortly before we got to them, but they're still showing that fresh apricot-orange cap colour nicely.

We were rather puzzled by these fragrant-smelling grey-brown mushrooms. Now I'm wondering if it's Spotted Blewit Lepista panaeolus... (I'm waiting for it to give me a spore print.)

Photo by @apeasbrain.

I'm drawing a complete blank on the next lot of beige mushrooms. I think I was beiged-out by this point.

This patch of Meadow Coral Clavulinopsis corniculata was very nice to see.

Elsewhere on the site we came across a few patches of yellow spindly-club-type things. I think these are one of the yellow Clavulinopsis species (perhaps Apricot Club Clavulinopsis luteoalba, but I think they're microscope jobs to be sure).

We also saw the remains of various puffballs. I thought perhaps the tall ones were old Meadow Puffballs Lycoperdon pratense and the smaller round ones a Bovista species (you can see the remains of an outer case on the specimen on the right). But I'm not sure if I've got enough for a species-level identification here.

And, an added splash of colour! An orange rust fungus on Salad Burnet. Perhaps Phragmidium sanguisorbae?

For the record

Survey date: 6 November 2021

Records will be entered into iRecord in due course.