Monday, 20 March 2017

Sorting Elfcups

I had the pleasure of joining Sussex Fungus Group once again on Saturday for a spring foray around Sussex Wildlife Trust's Woods Mill nature reserve. It was a treat for me to go round this site, which I visit all the time, with an experienced mycologist: Nick Aplin. A valuable opportunity to find out what I've been getting wrong!

As I've probably mentioned before on this blog, it's difficult to know what you don't know when you're getting into mycology. And this weekend turned up a classic example.

One of my colleagues, Renzo Spano, first spotted these bright red fruiting bodies  on 1 March and they were still putting on a good show, next to the footpath which skirts the south-western side of the lake, when we visited on Saturday.

Bright red cup fungi, but what species?
I identified them immediately as Scarlet Elfcup Sarcoscypha austriaca, a distinctive species featured in the Collins Complete (photographic) Guide which I'd seen popping up all over social media during the preceding couple of weeks.

What the Collins Complete (photographic) Guide didn't tell me what I would have found out if I'd bothered to look in the slightly more weighty Collins (illustrated) Fungi Guide – is that there's another species which looks almost exactly the same as Scarlet Elfcup S. austriaca: the Ruby Elfcup S. coccinea.

Nick explained that the two can be separated fairly easily with microscopy, so I thought I'd have a go. If you google Sarcoscypha you can find some nice accessible blogs which tell you what to look for, like this one on and this one by Michael Kuo. And Liz Holden tells the story of these two species on the Scottish Fungi website.

Armed with this information, I mounted a thin section of the fruit body in water and placed it under the microscope.

Here's an image of one of the 'asci', i.e. one of the long thin sacs in which the 'ascospores' are formed. There are eight ascospores in this ascus. I think both S. austriaca and S. coccinea can have eight spores per ascus, so this doesn't really get me anywhere but it's quite pretty so I thought I'd stick it in. The red stuff you can see are 'paraphyses' - thin threads which give the fruit bodies their distinctive colour.

Nick had mentioned that a key feature of S. austriaca is that its ascospores sometimes appear depressed at the end. I think this might be a depressed ascospore...

Also, the ascospores of S. austriaca sometimes produce 'conidia' (asexual spores) on the ends. I might have found some of these. Not sure.

Finally, Liz Holden suggests that an easy way to tell these two species apart is by looking at the hairs on the outer surface of the cup. She explains that "S. austriaca has hairs that are almost corkscrewed in appearance whereas in S. coccinea they are straight or gently curved at most."

This is what I observed on the outer surface of the cup. Quite screwy?

With all this additional information, I'm inclined to think my first guess was by chance correct, and this is Scarlet Elfcup S. austriaca. But would be good to get that confirmed by someone who knows what they're talking about...

UPDATE 22/03/2017 - have received confirmation from the Sussex County Recorder for Ascomycetes, Nick Aplin, that this "100 % S. austriaca". Go me!

For the record
Date (of collection): 18 March 2017
Location: Woods Mill
Grid reference: TQ21821365
Record previously entered into FRDBI on 1 March as S. austriaca

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Peniophora sp.?

On my trip to Horton Wood on Monday, searching for Spring Hazelcup Encoelia furfuracea, I came across this dried-out, cracked-up resupinate fungus.

I thought it was growing on Hazel, but my winter tree-identification still leaves a lot to be desired.

One of the things I've found difficult, in getting into fungus recording, is it's very hard to know what you don't know.

Starting out with the Collins Complete (photographic) Guide, I'd have been inclined to call this something like Peniophora cinerea (one of the five Peniophora species that gets a mention in the Collins book)...

However, having recently purchased The Resupinates of Hampshire (2017), I now realise there are 17 different Peniophora species featured in that guide; many of which look, well, rather similar.

So I think I'll leave this here, until  I've learnt a bit more about resupinates.

For the record
Date: 13/02/2017
Location: Horton Wood
Grid reference: TQ208127

This is what Spring Hazelcup habitat looks like

Following the return of Spring Hazelcup Encoelia furfuracea to Hoe Wood earlier this week, as I mentioned here, I thought I'd get out and check the other sites round the village where I found fruiting bodies last year.

Scanning the overgrown hazels which border one of the footpaths to the west of the village, I eventually struck lucky with this one. 

Spring Hazelcup E. furfuracea habitat, New Hall footpath, Small Dole.

Spring Hazelcup E. furfuracea fruit bodies were just emerging from one of the vertical branches.

So that's fruit bodies re-found at two out of three sites where this species occurred last year.

I went on to check the straggly hazel tree where I first found Spring Hazelcup E. furfuracea, in January 2015, but found no sign of it there.

I did, however, find another little outcrop of Spring Hazelcup E. furfuracea growing on one of the old coppice hazels in Horton Wood, here:

Spring Hazelcup E. furfuracea habitat, Horton Wood, Small Dole

Not bad for an afternoon's work.

For the record
Date: 13/02/2017
Location: New Hall public footpath, Small Dole & Horton Wood, Small Dole
Grid reference: TQ20851311 & TQ20801272
Entered into FRDBI: 15/02/2017

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Guess who's back!

I've been periodically returning to the sites where I found Spring Hazelcup Encoelia furfuracea last year to see if I could find any further sign of this charismatic little brown fungus. The fruit bodies disappeared entirely after fruiting and I wasn't sure if they'd come again; 2016 seemed to be a particularly good year for them with my finds around Small Dole and Nick Aplin's find at Tilgate Park, Crawley.

I've seen no sign of E. furfuracea since early spring 2016. Until today! On a quick walk through Hoe Wood with Vivien Hodge, I found these emerging from the same dead Hazel branch where I found them last year. It's back!

Spring Hazelcup Encoelia furfuracea in Hoe Wood, 12/02/2017
I found it here on 20 February last year, so they've re-appeared at a very similar time of year.

This can only mean one thing: time to resume the Small Dole Spring Hazelcup Survey! So far I've found this species at three locations around the village; it seems to favour standing dead Hazel / neglected Hazel coppice. Am keen to see if it crops up anywhere else.

Worth keeping an eye out for it at other sites in Sussex as I believe it's only been recorded in a handful of places in the county.

For the record
Date: 12/02/2017
Location: Hoe Wood [private site]
Grid reference: TQ21821350
Entered into FRDBI: 12/02/2017

Saturday, 21 January 2017

The old oak tree

It's been a frosty week in Small Dole and the ground was frozen solid as I headed off for a jaunt this afternoon. There was not a single mushroom to be seen.

On the fallen bough of this oak tree, I caught a climpse of an old crust fungus, so I thought I'd take a closer look.

It seemed like some considerable time has passed since since the break, as much of the upper section had lost its bark. Swathes of orangey-brown crust fungus covered one of the limbs, in tiered rows with ruffled edges looking well past their best: one of the Crusts, a Stereum or Hymenochaete species, but I wasn't sure how to determine which it is, especially with it being so old.

On one of the higher limbs, where the bark had fallen away, I spotted a fresh streak of crust fungus and thought this might give me a better chance at an identification.

The hairy upper surface and smooth, orange-coloured underside makes me think this is Hairy Curtain Crust Stereum hirsutum. 

Several of the limbs, where the bark was still attached, were covered in a smattering of these.

Looking in the Collins Complete (photographic) Guide, it seems likely these are Brown Cup Rutstroemia firma. They're attached to the substrate by a shortish stem (yup checked that) and grow gregariously on dead branches of deciduous trees, especially oaks and Hazel.

I liked them.

Having now totted up three species on this old oak bough, on this still-frosty January day, I thought I'd see how many more I could get.

There was this knobbly Phellinus type thing, which I'm not even going to attempt to identify...

 ... which may or may not be the same species as this.

Also quite a lot of this:

It was interesting to see the difference in growing habit between the upper and lower surface of the bough: they definitely know which way is up.

I'm going to take a punt on that one being Split Porecrust Schizopora paradoxa.

Moving from white to black, I'm pretty sure the black, jelly-like flaps attached to this oak twig are Witches' Butter Exidia glandulosa.

And this black mat was very striking growing over a mossy substrate.

Looking at it under the stereomicroscope, there's very little 'structure' to it. It's just a mass of jet-black threads.

I think these may be the hyphae of Chaetosphaerella phaeostroma, which I've had in Horton Wood before.

Pretty happy with that little haul.

For the record
Date: 21/01/2017
Location: Horton Wood, Small Dole
Grid reference: TQ2078612801 [grid reference is for the fallen oak bough]
Entered into FRDBI: 12/02/2017

Mid-winter mushrooms in Horton Wood

A couple of trips to Horton Wood on 28 December and 14 January turned up some nice looking mushrooms, albeit none of them particularly easy to identify.

I wondered if I might be able to identify these big white ones, photographed on 28 December.

They seemed quite impressive in stature.

Obvious features here are the white-cream cap and the felty buff-coloured stipe; strongly decurrent gills; and the fact it's growing up through leaf litter (mostly Oak). Oh, and there are two of them.

I think that means these mushrooms match the field characteristics of Trooping Funnel Infundibulicybe geotropa. But there are similar-looking species, so I'm not sure I can say it's definitely that.

On my visit on 14 January, these two pink-ish mushrooms also caught my eye.

My first thought when I noticed their white flesh, rather brittle gills, and coloured caps – was that they might be Russulas Brittlegills, but the form of the cap and that little nubbin (or 'umbo') on top suggests something different.

(Martin Allison has since told me there's an easy way to separate Russulas from Mycenas, which is to break the stem Russulas have a brittle stem, whereas in Mycenas the stem is fibrous. But if you can arrive at an identification without damaging the living fungus, that is of course preferable.)

On the way home I had a flash of recollection of the chunky lilac mushroom I'd seen on a trip out with the West Weald Fungus Recording Group in October, and it occurred to me that this could be one of those pinky-lilac Mycenas either the Lilac Bonnet Mycena pura or the similar-looking M. rosea.

After my last encounter with M. pura (or M. rosea ?), I chatted with a couple of local mycologists who told me that a robust and chunky pink Mycena like the one I photographed in The Mens would fit with their understanding of the species concept for M. rosea. But they were aware that other mycologists consider that all Mycenas such as these should be treated as variations of M. pura. Indeed, the Collins Complete (photographic) Guide notes that M. rosea "is considered by some merely to be a pink form of M. pura" – so it seems like identifying these mushrooms to species level involves something of a judgement call on whose authority one should follow.

I'm tempted to gamble on these mushrooms in Horton Wood being M. rosea, and see if anyone cares to challenge me...

Also on 14 January, I came across this clump of mushrooms – slightly past their best – growing from a dead wood stump. The stump was fairly well-rotted, so I couldn't tell what species it had been; but something deciduous.

I had meant to get them under the microscope to see if I could get to a species identification, but I must confess that after a busy week I remembered this morning that these two mushrooms were still in a box in my rucksack. Upon opening the box I came face to face with some very well-fed looking maggots, so I have given up on species identification and relocated the mushrooms, and the maggots, to a quiet spot behind the garden shed.

I'm not even sure what group those mushrooms would fall into. Perhaps the Pluteus? But I've never seen Pluteus growing in a clump like that.

Any suggestions?

For the record
Date: 28 December and 14 January
Location: Horton Wood, Small Dole
Grid reference: TQ208127 (site centroid)
Entered into FRDBI: 12/02/2017

Monday, 9 January 2017

Elastic Oysterling?

Was back in Rowland Wood yesterday so thought I'd grab a specimen of that Oysterling I found growing on pine brash last month.

Here's where it was growing.

Here's what it looks like.

And here's my specimen.

The key to the Panellus species in Funga Nordica takes you to two species with whitish or buff fruit bodies: P. stipticus and P. mitis.

I've seen P. stipticus – the Bitter Oysterling – before, at Woods Mill (photos here). One of the features that Funga Nordica lists as separating the two is "gills abruptly delimited from the stem" in P. stipticus and "gills not abruptly delimited from the stem" in P. mitis. Well, I wouldn't say it jumps out at you exactly, but when you look at this photo I got of the underside of P. stipticus...

Panellus stipticus - for comparison. Specimen from Woods Mill, as described in this blog post.

... the gills do look like they terminate more abruptly at the stem – compared with my slightly blurry photograph of my current specimen, in the photograph above.

When you try peeling away the skin on the upper surface (the 'cuticle') of my specimen, it does this:

Stretchy, right? The stretchy layer is also quite sticky underneath. Funga Nordica lists "elastic" flesh, with a "gelatinous layer" as a particular feature of P. mitis.

I think it's looking good for this being Elastic Oysterling Panellus mitis. But can anyone confirm?

I was hoping to confirm it has white spores, but I laid out my specimen to get a print and it's just dried up without dropping any spores. Boo.

For the record
Date: 08/01/2017
Location: Rowland Wood (near the entrance gate)
Grid ref: TQ515147
Entered into FRDBI: 12/02/2017