Sunday, 11 December 2016

Rowland Wood in December: Mince pies and Oysters

It was the last conservation work party of the year today at Butterfly Conservation's Rowland Wood reserve in Sussex. A perfect opportunity for some fungus-surveying, while Michael was busy doing some real work: chopping down Birch trees.

I soon started racking-up the species: Small Stagshorn Calocera cornea and Common Jellyspot Dacrymyces stillatus growing on some old de-barked logs next to where we park the cars; Coral Spot Nectria cinnabarina (in its anamorphic state) growing on a stick which was lying around nearby; and plenty of Candlesnuff Xylaria hypoxylon growing up from the decaying tree-stumps round about.

At the side of the track, next to the gate to Rowland Wood, the remains of a curious-looking mushroom caught my eye.

I've never seen anything like this before. I think it's a White Saddle Helvella crispa: there wasn't much left of the cap, but the ribbed stem seems quite distinctive.

I got a few more species under the conifers on the western side of the track which runs into Rowland Wood.

Consulting with the Collins Complete (photographic) Guide, I convinced myself that these oysterlings growing on dead conifer wood were Elastic Oysterling Panellus mitis. They were notably stretchy when pulled apart, and rather slimy – which fits with the description of them having a "gelatinous surface".

Now I come to Google "Panellus mitis", it seems there are relatively few (if any) records of this species in Sussex. So I may have been too hasty in my field identification. And I'm rather regretting not getting a specimen (or any better pictures). Doh!

Growing in the needle litter under the pines, I found False Chanterelle Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca. This species has cropped up on a number of Sussex Fungus Group forays this year, so is starting to look familiar, with those repeatedly forked gills.

These were nearby Glistening Inkcap Coprinellus micaceus growing up from a bit of buried dead wood. You can see the tiny white 'micaceus' granules here, which give the mushroom its scientific name, so I think I'm safe calling it C. micaceus.

After stopping off to say hello to the conservation volunteers, at a moment which just happened to coincide with teabreak and the production of not-one-but-two tins of delicious mince pies (and a gingerbread cake), I wandered over to an area of Birch coppice at TQ51511500.

Mince pies!

The birch here was cut a year or two ago and the logs have been stacked around the edge of the coppice compartment – providing lots of dead wood for the fungi to enjoy.

Michael pointed out this Yellow Stagshorn Calocera viscosa growing underneath one of the log piles. (I think from a rotting tree stump, but I should have taken a proper look.)

I pulled one up to have a look at it and was suprised at the tenacity with which this tough little fungus clung onto the substrate.

It surprised me that it has such a long and rubbery 'root'.

On one of the old Birch logs, I saw quite a few of these:

I took them for another species of oysterling at first, and got all excited when I saw the fuzzy upperside as I thought they might be Woolly Oyster Hohenbuehelia mastrucata which the Collins Complete (photographic) Guide describes as 'scarce'. But now I've had a chance to think about it, I think they're young Splitgill Schizophyllum commune a species which I found very close to here back in February. Still very nice to see.

On the same log pile, I thought this might be Beech Jellydisc Neobulgaria pura var. foliacea. (But now I'm wondering if it's Exidia plana.)

Finally I headed for the Big Beech, to see what it had in store for me this month.

These oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus sp.) were growing underneath the main trunk of the fallen Beech. I think they're the classic Oyster Mushroom Pleurotus ostreatus but I'm not 100 percent sure it's not one of the other Pleurotus species.

While I was down there I also noticed this large pile of sawdust which, although not of any particular mycological interest, deserves a mention. It seems something has been carrying out some major excavations of the Big Beech. My money's on wasps.

Pile of sawdust under the fallen trunk of the Big Beech.
There were more oysterlings – different to the ones I'd seen earlier.

These ones had a dry cap with a slightly wavy margin and a short, tapered stipe. I'm thinking they might be Bitter Oysterling Panellus stipticus.

There were also lots of little outcrops of what-I'm-calling Purple Jellydisc Ascocoryne sarcoides on the side of the main trunk. (Although I think you might need microscopy to confirm Ascocoryne identification.)

And another resupinate black brain-y thing. Again, not sure if this is Beech Jellydisc Neobulgaria pura var. foliacea or Exidia plana.

There were still a few mature Porcelain Fungi Oudemansiella mucida hanging on two months after they first started to make an appearance. And a nice fresh Hairy Curtain Crust Stereum hirsutum.

Finally some Mycenas which I was tempted to ignore. I wondered if they might be Angel's Bonnet Mycena arcangeliana and am trying to decide if they smell like "iodine", but hampered by not really knowing what iodine smells like. Apparently the smell is more noticeable in dried specimens, so I've got one sitting on the radiator as I type.

For the record
Date: 11/12/2016
Location: Rowland Wood
Grid ref: Big Beech is at TQ514150
Entered into FRDBI: 12/02/2017

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Horton Wood on a dry December day

Quick stroll to Horton Wood this morning. Wasn't expecting much in the way of fungi, as I gather the season starts winding down at this time of year. But there were a few things about.

These mushrooms were all growing from a sizeable chunk of dead wood lying around on the woodland floor. Out in the woods I managed to convince myself they're all the same species, but I don't know what I based that theory on as they look pretty different in the pictures.

I took a specimen of the mushroom in the foreground of the second picture. Here's the cap up close:

Obvious features are:

  • Cap dry and mousy brown
  • Gills creamy-beige, spotted brown, rather distant and I think they'd be described as sinuate.
  • Stipe cream, changing to brown towards the base

I think it's somewhere near the Mycenas, but I'm not going to hazard a guess at species.

A little further on, some more mushrooms growing emerging from a dead wood substrate, mixed in with Candlesnuff Xylaria hypoxylon.

I didn't get a specimen of these as most of the fruiting bodies were getting rather old and leathery, and the fruiting body in the foreground looked a little on the young side. It wasn't much more than a centimetre across.

Features I observed included:

  • Dry, yellow-orange cap
  • Yellow gills, which looked fairly crowded on the young fruiting body
  • Yellow-brown stipe with a ring (the stipe didn't seem particularly fragile)

Wondering if this is Funeral Bell Galerina marginata. But I'm not sure.

Then another slightly non-descript mushroom. This time growing in tight clusters.

Features include:

  • Grey-brown cap
  • White-cream gills with white cross-veins growing over/between the gills.
  • White-cream stipe

Yup, you guessed it. I don't know what this mushroom is either.

Finally something a little more distinctive.

I think this is Peeling Oysterling Crepidotus mollis. The stretchy cuticle peeled away cleanly from the cap.

I  recognised this black (so very black) fungus from a previous Sussex Fungus Group foray. It is... peculiarly black.

When you get it under a hand lens or stereo-microscope you can see masses of tiny black round fruiting bodies (perithecia).

They have quite interesting spores. I think this is Chaetosphaerella phaeostroma.

On the way back, growing next to an overgrown hazel coppice stool, next to the path which runs from Horton Wood to New Hall Lane, I came across these white mushrooms.

  • Cap - white-cream
  • Gills - white-cream and decurrent, although tending to peel away from the cap near the stipe, as the fruit body dries out.
  • Stipe - white-cream
  • Smell - mushroomy

Not sure what these are either at the moment. Some kind of Funnel Clitocybe?

For the record
Date: 3 December 2016

Location: Horton Wood, Small Dole
Grid reference: TQ208127 (site centroid)
Entered into FRDBI: 12/02/2017

Friday, 2 December 2016

A trip to Kew

I joined the British Mycological Society earlier this year. Mainly because it seemed like the cheapest way to get access to the journal Field Mycology which I'd been told is full of essential information for an aspiring mycologist such as myself. But also because I quite fancied the idea of joining a 'learned society' and finding out what it takes to be a serious mycologist.

The joining process was slightly daunting. The membership form requires the names of two existing members who 'propose' you. Or else you have to supply a brief curriculum vitae giving details on your interests in mycology, and I wasn't sure whether a CV stating, "I don't know much about mycology but I'm very interested," would really cut the mustard. Luckily, Sussex-based mycologists Martin Allison and Vivien Hodge were willing to vouch for me as a "suitable and desirable applicant", and with their names on the form I soon received an email notifying me that my membership request had been accepted.

So it was that I came to be invited to the British Mycological Society's Autumn Meeting and AGM on Saturday 26 November.

I wasn't going to go. The talks sounded rather heavyweight. The titles included words like "phylogeny"; and I didn't know what "phylogeny" means. But the idea of going to a meeting at the Jodrell Laboratory at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, seemed, well... cool. So I sorted out some tunes for the journey and headed for the M25.

I'd braced myself for some awkward loitering before the talks commenced. But as I stepped through the doors of the Jodrell Laboratory, I was greeted by the sight of a table top book sale. The British Mycological Society library was selling off surplus books. And what a pleasure it was to peruse this treasure trove of mycological tomes.

I narrowly resisted purchasing this one by John Ramsbottom, which might have the most gorgeous cover I've ever seen.

My eye was then drawn to this book: FUNGI And How To Know Them, by E. W. Swanton. The title was immediately appealing, as it sounds like exactly the sort of book I wish would be published now. (Peter Marren's Mushrooms has come close, but is a little light on biology and ecology.)

Flicking through the introduction I noticed E. W. Swanton wrote this book in Haslemere, where I grew up, as he was the curator of the Educational Museum, where I received my first introduction to the world of mycology! I had to have this book.

I also invested in a copy of British Boletes by Geoffrey Kibby, which I hope will give me the confidence to attempt some more Bolete identifications (they've all tended to look rather the same to me this year).

Anyway. I should tell you about the talks. They were fascinating! Although I'm not very well equipped to relay them in detail.

Beatrice Senn-Irlet spoke first about the work they're doing on fungi distribution, ecology and conservation in Switzerland. Beatrice explained how records of fungi (held by, alongside other sources of environmental data, are used to drive predictive species distribution models highlighting geographic areas which may be important for fungi conservation.

I liked Beatrice's comment that, "It's worth collecting the data, we can do quite a lot of things with them." an inspiring message for all us field mycologists.

Beatrice also described work that's been done looking at neomycetes (translation: new fungi), many of which may present threats as invasive or potentially invasive species. One example she talked about was Favolaschia calocera which is spreading rapidly across the globe. It first appeared in Britain in 2012 and has since spread to several sites in Devon and Cornwall.

The photos Beatrice showed were absolutely gorgeous I'd never seen anything like it.

Favolaschia calocera 38204.jpg
By Michael (inski) - Favolaschia calocera (38204), CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
But concerns were raised about the damage it may be doing to woodlands, having recently observed its effects in Cornwall where recent storms have brought masses of damaged wood down from the canopy.

Reflecting on the matter of neomycetes spreading so rapidly across our increasingly globalised and changing planet, another member of the audience noted that "some of these species are going to cause a lot of problems and some of them will be refugees." He asked, "How do you tell the difference?" There didn't seem to be a simple answer to that question.

Next up Tuula Niskanen spoke to us about Cortinarius and the work she's been doing on the taxonomy of this genus.

Tuula's talk made me feel OK about being rubbish at identifying Cortinarius. She explained that, in the Cortinarius, "most of the morphological characters are continuous". That means it's very hard to see, from features you can observe, where one species stops and another one starts.

DNA barcoding tools and databases are according to Tuula "awesome" in genuses such as this which are very confused, and she's been working hard on sorting out the taxonomy. But even with the insights that DNA can provide, Tuula's view was that you need to try and be practical and keep the old names where possible. Not least because "old names are really hard to kill".

Tuula picked out a couple of species she reckoned field mycologists could have a go at:
  • C. alboamarescens – a teeny tiny white Cortinarius with really small spores, which tastes bitter if you lick the cap (not recommended for Cortinarius novices, as other species of Cortinarius are deadly poisonous)
  • C. glaphurus – a two-coloured, dry, Cortinarius with a brown cap and white stem, turning to blue/purple near the cap. And it smells of cedars.
They still sound pretty tricky to me.

Unfortunately (according to Tuula anyway, and she seemed to know what she was talking about), there are no good field guides to Cortinarius and no good keys. In any case, the continuous nature of the Cortinarius makes them rather unsuited to traditional dichotomous keys.

Tuula explained that there are around 400 species of Cortinarius in Britain and she reckoned, with a couple of years training (going out with an experienced mycologist who is familiar with the Cortinarius) there are around 100 species that you can identify in the field – you just need to know which characters to look for.

It seems, with Cortinarius at least, there is no substitute for going out with someone who knows what they're looking at.

Following that, Ricardo Castilho talked about the survey work and analysis he's done looking at Amanitas in the Iberian peninsula.

Ricardo had a fairly sobering photograph of a toxic mushroom mixed up with a basket of edible Amanita ponderosa, for sale in a local market somewhere in the Iberian peninsula. His point being, "bad taxonomy can kill". I was starting to get the message that taxonomy is WAY MORE EXCITING than I'd ever imagined it would be. You can read about Ricardo's work here.

Jill Kowall, in her talk entitled "Liverworts to the rescue!", explored the relationships between heather, liverworts and mychorrhizal fungi. Jill's laboratory research and field work has shown that the presence of liverworts and their associated mycorrhiza can promote more vigorous growth in heather. Jill suggests that these findings could have important applications in heathland restoration.

Over the lunchbreak, Martin Bidartondo offered a short workshop on reading phylogenetic trees. So now I know what phylogeny means. It's evolution, stupid!

There was the business of the British Mycological Society AGM after lunch. The first AGM I've ever been to where somebody complained it wasn't long enough. Even with the cracking pace, it was clear that the British Mycological Society has had a busy year.

Of most interest to me personally was mention of the new online Fungal Records Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI). I had heard whispers that a new fungus recording system was in the pipeline, based on the iRecord / Indicia toolkit developed by the Biological Records Centre. I have a considerable amount of involvement with iRecord / Indicia through my work at Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre, so I've been keen to find out how the toolkit is being deployed to support fungus recording. I was pleased to learn that the new FRDBI site is now operational, although access is currently restricted to previous FRDBI users while they check the site is fully functional. I've requested a new user account, so I look forward to submitting my (hopefully not misidentified) records, as soon as they let me at it.

After the AGM, Sietse van der Linde from Imperial College talked about the research he's been doing on ectomychorrhizal fungi in European Forests. This talk pretty much blew my mind. Working in collaboration with a network of 'research forests' across Europe, Sietse has been mapping mycorrhizal fungi across Europe's major forest types: Beech, Scots Pine and Norway Spruce. By taking soil core samples through the forest floor and running DNA bar-coding on the fungal hyphae growing in association with the trees' root tips, the project has begun to map the distribution of fungi across these forest sites, based not on observations of the fruiting bodies (as field mycologists would traditionally do) but based on where the mycorrhiza are growing. This introduces a new problem, as the DNA of the many of the fungi Sietse is finding do not match up with the DNA profiles that exist on record of known and described fungal species. That means projects such as this have to deal in 'operational taxonomic units' as well as traditional 'species' concepts. What Sietse is finding is that his distribution maps based on presence of mycorrhiza don't necessarily match up with the recorded distributions based on field observations of the fruiting bodies. I sense there is much here to be learned about fungal ecology and distribution.

Pepijn Kooij then introduced us to the world of fungus-growing ants. Pepijn describes his work much better than I ever could in this blog. But, in summary: ants are amazing, fungi are amazing put the two together and evolution starts to seem pretty darn incredible.

Next up was Filipa Cox discussing the distribution of fungi in Antarctica. Filipa referenced an hypothesis proposed by Lourens Baas Becking, which I'd never heard before and rather liked: "Everything is everywhere, but the environment selects". Her research showed that Antarctic soil fungal communities show similarities to the distant Arctic.

Last, but definitely not least, came Pierre-Arthur Moreau, with a lively romp through nearly three hundred years of taxonomic wrangling in the genus Morchella: the true Morels. At one time thought to number as few as three distinct species, taxonomists have now described around 70 species worldwide, many of which are thought to be restricted to a particular continental range. I'm afraid it leaves little hope for the amateur field mycologist hoping to identify any morels she stumbles across. But very interesting, nonetheless.

With many thanks to Martin Bidartondo for organising such an interesting day.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Kidbrooke Park

The Sussex Fungus Group met at Kidbrooke Park on Sunday, a private site just outside Forest Row and grounds of the Michael Hall Steiner Waldorf school, where we were joined by Brad Scott of the Forest Row Natural History group.

The fungus kingdom laid on an intriguing show for us throughout this large and varied site; although many of our most interesting finds were very small. Too small for the taking of satisfactory photographs with my compact camera.

Stepping out onto the expansive lawn, we came across a lovely patch of Golden Spindles Clavulinopsis fusiformis, with a few Scarlet Caterpillarclubs Cordyceps militaris mixed in. It was a treat to see their slim bright fruit bodies poking up throught the mossy turf.

Moving under the conifers at the edge of the lawn, Nick Aplin pointed out the equally small Conifer Conecap Baeospora myosura growing among the litter. We also came across a patch of spiky puffballs and I was interested to know whether it would be possible to identify them from visual characteristics. Following some debate about their spikiness, it seemed no one was sufficiently confident to settle on an ID in the field, so Nick took a specimen for determination.

Puffball of some kind, Lycoperdon sp.
We also came across an Agaricus mushroom of some kind. There are several species like this which look alike, so Ted Tuddenham took a sample for determination.

Agaricus sp.

A little further on, under a line of Beech trees, we came across a troop of Buttercap Collybia (=Rhodocollybia) butryracea.

Buttercap Collybia (=Rhodocollybia) butryracea, blending in.

It's their greasy caps which give them their name.

This is a common mushroom which I feel I should recognise if I meet it again, so I stopped to get a good look at its features. It's interesting to see how the cap colour changes, depending on how old and dried out it is:

Buttercap Collybia (=Rhodocollybia) butryracea
Returning to the theme of small things, Nick found a most incredible little pink Mycena growing on dead fern debris. He took a specimen for determination, but I'm going to throw caution to the wind and say based on some cursory Googling – they could have been Mycena pterigena. Well worth looking at these photos of M. pterigena as they give you an idea of just how small and pink these little beauties were.

In the same patch of leaf litter Nick also found Slender Club Macrotyphula juncea Pipe Club Macrotyphula fistulosa*, which I wouldn't have clocked as a fungus at all, if it hadn't been pointed out to me.

A little further on, my field notes say we found a "weird little white thing looks upside down". Again, too tiny to photograph. Nick identified this as a young example of Plicaturopsis crispa. They looked rather like the second photo down on this page, here.

Walking through the mixed woodland we got a reasonable haul of mushrooms. As well as the obligatory Honey Fungus Armillaria mellea and Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria, we found various little brown jobs from the Bonnet Mycena, Webcap Cortinarius, Milkcap Lactarius and Pinkgill Entoloma families.

Nick suggested it would be worth getting a look at the spores of the Entoloma we found growing in damp woodland with Willow Entoloma Politum – under the microscope. So I have. They look like this:

Entoloma spores. 1000x magnification.

Our route took us past this stunning iron-rich stream...

... and on to an old fallen Beech tree which we all fell upon – fascinated by the diverse community of fungi and myxomycetes growing here.

Sussex Fungus Group in action.
As well as the now-familiar Porcelain Fungus Oudemansiella mucida, we found a stunning display of Oyster Mushroom Pleurotus ostreatus.

And a beautiful Olive Oysterling Sarcomyxa serotina.

Jelly fungi were also out in force doing their bit to cleave the bark away from this deadwood hulk.

Beech Jellydisc Neobulgaria pura
Purple Jellydisc Ascocoryne sarcoides
And Small Stagshorn Calocera cornea was there, taking advantage of the exposed wood.

Even the Wrinkled Crust Phlebia radiata looked gorgeous in its own wrinkly way.

Sulphur Tuft Hypholoma fasciculare peeped out from the rotting heartwood, at the broken end of the trunk.

And tucked underneath the main trunk, these golden mushrooms were putting on their own perfect display.

They looked like they could be Golden Scalycap Pholiota aurivella or a similar species; Nick took a specimen for determination.

I also found the remains of a myxomycete, possibly a Stemonitis species, which I'll try and identify this week, if I get the chance. And over the whole trunk, Woodwart Hypoxylon species swarmed.

On our route back to the cars we found a solitary waxcap, Snowy Waxcap Hygrocybe virginia, which didn't look snowy at all – more like a splash of milky tea. As well as Slippery Jack Suillus luteus and this patch of Clouded Funnel Clitocybe nebularis.

We saw a few more tiny mushrooms as we wandered back across the lawn, including a few False Chanterelle Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca, growing underneath a large conifer. But by now time was pressing, so we didn't linger long.

With thanks to the Michael Hall school for allowing Sussex Fungus Group access to survey this fabulous site and to Brad for making sure we didn't get lost.

For the record
Date: 06/11/2016
Location: Kidbrooke Park (private site)

All records to be submitted by Sussex Fungus Group / Nick Aplin.

* Correction to original posting 08/11/2016