Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A Mouldy Lunch

Now here's some mould I WANT to see on my lunch break: Slime mould!

With all this warm, damp weather we're having, I couldn't resist popping over to Hoe Wood at lunchtime for a quick poke around.

First up, a nice lunchtime treat: Dog's Vomit Fuligo septica

Close by, a lone drop of Wolf's Milk Lycogala sp.

This next one's a new one for me: Mustard-yellow sporangia on a darker stalk.

A look down the microscope shows those sporangia are like teeny-tiny afros, held in a conical cup which gradually widens from a dark brown / amber stalk.

After much Googling and perusing of Bruce Ing's Myxomycetes of Britain & Ireland, I think I've got the identification down to one of two species: Hemitrichia clavata or H. calyculata.

From The Myxomycetes of Britain and Ireland, An Identification Handbook, by Bruce Ing

The deepness of the cup is one of the key features that separates these two species. But the cup on the specimen I'm looking at looks like it's somewhere in the middle of the two diagrams.

I tried to get a look at the capillitium (i.e. the threads of that afro) under the microscope, but it's pretty hard when you have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHAT YOU'RE DOING. 

I did manage to observe this branching structure, which Ing's species description suggests might be indicative of H. calyculata. But I can't make out any of the other identification features.

I think that probably leaves the species identification too close to call. But I'll take some comfort from the fact that, according to Bruce Ing's book, these two species were not separated until the work of Martin and Alexopoulos in 1969.

Last up, an easier one (I believe), Coral Slime Mould Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa.

It's a pretty little thing.

For the record
Date: 22/06/2016
Location: Hoe Wood, Small Dole [private site]
Grid reference: TQ2113

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Magic Crystal Mould?

In this damp corner of a Sussex woodland, clinging to the dead wood littering the floor, lives an organism.

It looks like this:

And under the microscope you can see it has this irregular, slightly branching form:

The surface appears powdery and almost crystalline, like one of those magic crystal trees you might have got for Christmas when you were a kid. I guess these are spore-bearing structures of some kind.

I smeared that powdery surface across a microscope slide and got a whole load of this:

Elliptical things... Spores?

In conclusion: I have no idea what this is.

(I have spent several hours trying to make it some kind of Fuligo species – a type of slime mould – but they mostly have round spores.)

For the record
Date: 18/06/16
Location: Horton Wood, Small Dole
Grid reference: TQ208127 (site centroid)

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Nice weather for slime moulds

Thought I'd go and see if there was anything going on in the woods today, with the warm wet weather we've been having.

I found another slime mould.

That log in the foreground providing some prime slime mould habitat.

It was a distinctive mustard-yellow colour and growing in clumps, reminiscent of Sideshow Bob's hair.

After some judicious Google image searching and reference to The Myxomycetes of Britain and Ireland, I'm reasonably confident this is Arcyria obvelata.

The yellow, drooping and loofah-like sporangia (structures which holds the spores) are identifying features of this species, which the book says is very common throughout the British Isles.

And here's one of those sporangia under the microscope. Definitely looks like a loofah!

For the record
Date: 12/06/16
Location: Horton Wood, Small Dole
Grid reference: TQ208127 (site centroid)
Recorded entered into iRecord

Wolf's Milk

Back in Sussex

To Horton Wood in search of a fungi fix. Didn't see any mushrooms or brackets to write home about, but I did see something on this decaying birch log.


I had the Collins Complete (photographic) Guide with me so I started flicking through it and soon found a possible match: "Lycogala terrestre plasmodium stage is a rather spherical pinkish buff ball; found on dead wood, usually in clusters". A slime mould.

The guide has just two pages on slime moulds, mentioning a few of the most frequently encountered species, so I googled "Lycogala terrestre" to see if it might be easily confused with anything else. That's when I discovered the common name of this slime mould is Wolf's Milk. And I read somewhere that the young fruiting bodies are filled with pink plasmodium, i.e. a kind of biological pink slime.

To be honest, that made me really want to poke one. So, here I am, poking it:

(I'm not the first person to upload a video of myself milking a slime mould. There's also this clip with noticeably higher production values.)

Back at home I looked up L. terrestre in my other books. The Collins (illustrated) Fungi Guide doesn't cover slime moulds, which is fair enough as slime moulds are not fungi and belong in a different kingdom entirely. Michael Jordan's Encyclopedia of Fungi does include L. terrestre, in a short section on myxomycetes, and notes it is often mistaken for L. epidendrum. But it didn't leave me too much the wiser regarding how to confidently separate the two species.

At this point I concluded I should really get my copy of The Myxomycetes of Britain and Ireland by Bruce Ing off the shelf.

This incredibly informative tome includes keys to all the species of Britain and Ireland. But I don't use it much as it's written in very technical language which I find difficult to follow.

Again, I managed to narrow the identification down to one of these two species:
  • L. epidendrum – "the combination of red plasmodium, dark grey aethalia and grey spore mass separate this species in the field."
  • L. terrestre "the combination of pink plasmodium, pale aethalia and pink spore mass separate this species in the field."
Hmm. OK. Let's take this slowly.

COLOUR OF THE PLASMODIUM well, I think it's pretty clear from the poking footage that the plasmodium is a salmon-pink colour. Indicative of L. terrestre.

COLOUR OF THE AETHALIA (i.e. colour of the blob) looks like they start off pink, in the plasmodium stage, and then turn grey. Indicative of L. epidendrum?

COLOUR OF THE SPORE MASS I guess this means the colour inside the mature, grey, blobs. I had a look and they're grey all the way through (with a texture like a fine Belgian truffle). Indicative of L. epidendrum.

Well, this is confusing. It can't be both, can it?

Turns out I'm not the only one who's confused. I also found this thread where a bunch of myxomycologists are debating whether L. terrestre and L. epidendrum are really two separate species, or illustrative of natural variation within a single species. 

This is where taxonomy gets fun, or frustrating, I suppose depending on your point of view. 

For the record
Date: 11/06/16
Location: Horton Wood, Small Dole
Grid reference: TQ208127 (site centroid)

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Belts and Brackets

Fungus observations from LAPLAND

From Sweden we headed for Finnish Lapland and spent a night in Lemmenjoki national park. There's an old forester's cabin by the river Härkäkoski which you can rent for €60 a night. This is the view from the sauna:

Looking up the Lemmenjoki River from Härkäkoski, Finland.
It's about a 10 km hike out to the cabin from the car park near the Ahkun Tupa campsite where you pick up the key. There's a well-marked trail through old growth pine forest and it was here that we spotted this striking bracket fungus.

Bracket fungus. Lemmenjoki national park, Finland.

I think it might be a Red-belted Bracket Fomitopsis pinicola seldom recorded in Britain (although one was found recently in Sussex). The Collins Complete (photographic) Guide says it's a common species in Scandinavia.

Apparently I should have held a match to it the Red-belted Bracket Fomitopsis pinicola has a resinous covering which melts in heat. Shame I didn't know this at the time, as for once I actually had matches with me. Another thing to add to the list of fungus-hunting paraphernalia!

Eye of the Taiga

Fungus observations from LAPLAND

Muddus national park, Sweden. Credit:

Continuing on our adventures in Muddus national park, Sweden, and heading west from Nammavárre to the waterfall at Muddusagahtjaldak the path traverses a long dry ridge. We stopped here to rest our legs. 

As I sat, pondering whether I actually like the Daim & salt liquorice chocolate I'd bought by mistake (Answer: "Surprisingly, yes."), my eyes fell upon a most inconspicuous fungus sitting right beside me.

It had the look of a bracket or crust fungus, with a thin and slightly wavy margin, leathery texture and concentric patterning in shades of beige and brown. But the round cap was growing up through the leaf litter on a stem, like a mushroom.


A glance at the underside confirmed its identity as some kind of polypore. (The photograph doesn't show it terrifically well, but you can just about make out the pores which cover the underside:)

I had to wait until I got home to find a likely identity for this little curiosity. It matches well with descriptions of Tiger's Eye Coltricia perennis which the Collins Complete (photographic) Guide describes as an "unusual mushroom-shaped polypore comprising a thin-fleshed cap and short stem". And the Collins (illustrated) Fungi Guide says it's found "especially in sandy acidic habitats and with pine". Sounds about right! Although there are other Coltricia species which occur in Scandinavia, which aren't in my British field guides...

Friday, 10 June 2016

False Friends

Fungus observations from LAPLAND

My fungus misidentification skills have been abroad! To Lapland the land of the Sámi and the vast, wild expanse of the taiga: the boreal forest that stretches across Norway, Sweden and Finland to Russia, and beyond.

First stop was Muddus national park in Sweden, a huge area of old growth forest, lakes and marshes which has been protected from the effects of commercial forestry – first by the glacial landforms which made the area upstream of Muddus's spectacular waterfalls and canyons unsuitable for logging, and later by the work of conservationists who secured national park status for the area in 1942.

Muddus national park, Sweden. A place so magical the waterfalls look like wizards.

Arriving in Muddus at the end of May, after the snow and before the mosquitos, we were greeted by temperatures over 25 degrees. Being situated in the arctic circle, around 66 ° North, the sun never really sets at this time of year – so the hot days were followed by balmy evenings which seemed to go on forever. 

Me in Muddus around midnight.
Many habitats are marvellous in Spring, but I have never before experienced one quite so enchanting. Happily, the park is crossed by well-maintained paths and boardwalks, so there was no cause to worry about any Babes in the Wood -type scenarios.
Babes in the Wood - 7 - illustrated by Randolph Caldecott - Project Gutenberg eText 19361.jpg
The babes in the wood who, with hand in hand, went wandering up and down. (SPOILER ALERT: They died).

My first fungal encounter was with this toadstool, growing by the path. Observing its distinctive wrinkly cap and paler stem, I announced confidently:

"This is a Morel! They're a delicacy in France."

Toadstool in Muddus national park, Sweden

As the days of hiking through the taiga wore on, I noticed that these toadstools occurred regularly along the sandy, drier sections of the path. They began to seem familiar. I wondered what they would taste like fried in butter.

Fortunately I know better than to trust my mycological knowledge. As soon as we were back in the land of people and mobile phone reception, I turned to the internet for information which might confirm my identification...

These were not Morels! They were False Morels (a Gyromitra species) – DEADLY POISONOUS!!!

I hesitate to put a species name to them as there are probably more Gyromitra species in Scandinavia than are known to me, with my British field guides. But the habitat and 'jizz' match closely with descriptions of False Morel Gyromitra esculenta, said to be "very poisonous".
Imagine then my confusion upon seeing this now familiar fungus lining the shelves in Kiruna supermarket, on tins labelled "Murklor". A quick rummage around in Wikipedia (assisted by the awesome power of Google Translate) suggests that "Murklor" is a collective term for Morels and Morel-like species. However, the list of 'ingredienser' has Gyromitra esculenta my poisonous friend as the chief ingredient.

Further trawling through Wikipedia has revealed that, although potentially fatal if eaten raw, Gyromitra esculenta is a popular delicacy; in Scandinavia, not France as I had originally proclaimed. But they must be prepared carefully to reduce their toxicity and, even then, food safety experts seem divided over whether they are actually safe to eat.

I'll stick to just enjoying how they look.

Another one. In Lemmenjoki national park, Finland