Saturday, 24 June 2017

Copping out

I went to visit a new site today: Broadmare Common, just south of Henfield in West Sussex.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover an intepretation board on my arrival, explaining the history of this area of common land. From the 17th century to the early 20th century it was an industrial area for the digging of clay used to make bricks. It's now managed by the Henfield Conservation Volunteers for people and wildlife to enjoy.

The common boasts a reasonably extensive area of wet woodland and many small ponds, so I thought this might be a good spot to find some fungi during this dry month of June.

There's lots of this sort of thing, so I was glad I had my boots on.

I found a few different ascomycetes and bracket fungi growing around the ponds, plus loads of myxomycetes (slime moulds) from the genus Stemonitis, which I'll come back to later. But it was at the edge of this pond that I found my one and only mushroom for the day.

It was a small, pale and delicate mushroom, growing on what I assumed to be a willow twig. It was very near the edge of the pond, where the ground is probably permanently wet.

I wouldn't normally attempt to identify a little thing like this, but in several respects it seemed quite distinctive, so I thought I would have a go.

The cap was topped with a neat little tan umbo (pointy bit). The cap itself was pale, translucent, and pleated forming radial ridges. Underneath, the gills were a darker mousy brown; the colour was visible through the translucent cap cuticle, giving the cap the appearance of being mousy brown to about 2/3 of its radius. The gills appeared to be free: attached to the cap, around the stipe; not abutting the stipe itself. The stipe was the same translucent white as the cap cuticle, and tan coloured right at the foot of the stipe, above the white mycelial strands which anchored the mushroom to its twig.

I started off down completely the wrong track, thinking it was a Bonnet mushroom one of the Mycena or Marasmius species. But the brown gills meant it must be something different. I eventually realised that this mushroom belongs in one of the Inkcap genera. I'd been fooled by that pale margin, without the slightest hint of deliquescing inkiness; but not all Inkcaps deliquesce, of course.

I flicked through the Collins Fungi Guide, looking for species matching mine which would be found on twigs.

Coprinellus subdisseminatus seemed like an excellent match, but I thought I'd best check its microscopic features against the description in Funga Nordica, to be sure.

This is where I've got stuck. The genus Coprinellus seems to comprise a lot of really rather similar mushrooms. And I wasn't sure I'd managed to find any of the things I was looking for down the microscope.

The first thing I noticed, aside from the brown spores, were these spherical things. What the heck were they?

After much poring over the keys in Funga Nordica, I came to the conclusion they might be 'velar spherocysts' – round things which are found on the cap of some Coprinellus species. 

They did seem to occur primarily in the cap (which I should possible refer to as the 'pileipellis'):

According to Funga Nordica, only some species of Coprinellus have 'velar spherocysts'. C. subdisseminatus is one of the species which is "without velar spherocysts". So I guess my mushroom isn't that after all...

The problem that I had then is, in order to ascertain what species of Coprinellus my mushroom actually is, I needed to get a good look at the cystidia (weird structures which can be found on the surface of the mushroom no one knows what they're for).

There are different names for the cystidia, depending where they're found on the surface of the mushroom. In Coprinellus mushrooms, it seems the ones you need to look out for are:
  • cheilocystidia - cystidia on the edges of the gills
  • pleurocystidia – cystidia on the faces of the gills
  • pileocystidia – cystidia on the surface of the cap
  • caulocystidia – cystidia on the stipe
Funga Nordica also talks about 'sclerocystidia' but that word's not in the glossary and I have no idea what it means.

So, I found some stuff.

There was this:

I guess those rolling-pin type shapes could be pileocystidia.

There was also this:

I have no idea what that is, but it's very pointy.

And I thought I could possibly detect some cystidia here:

... and here:

But, in conclusion, finding cystidia on tiny Coprinellus mushrooms is really hard and I still have no idea what species this is.


For the record
Date: 24/06/2017
Location: Broadmare Common
Grid reference: TQ216150 (site centroid)

Monday, 12 June 2017

Do my eyes deceive me?

Quick mooch around the woods after work today and was pleased to find a mushroom which looked new-to-me.

When I looked closely, there were a few of these mushrooms scattered over a patch a metre or so wide, and a couple growing in a little clump. But most of the others were looking very old and dried up.

The first thing I noticed was the deep depression at the centre of the cap.

It was growing up through leaf-litter and I decided I'd better dig it up for a closer look, revealing this tough, fibrous and twisted stem, rooted in the ground. At the base, white mycelia disappeared into the soil.

Stem and cap are a tan colour, with dusky pink gills.

I was pretty sure these features put me in the realms of the Laccaria The Deceivers. The key to the Laccaria in Funga Nordica is only three pages long. Joy!

One of the features the key asks me to look at is the 'basidia'. This is a new term for me: basidia are spore-bearing structures, as illustrated by this handy image from wikipedia.

This is really hard! Especially when I haven't got any stains yet, which means everything just looks white. But I think the blurry structure in the middle of this photo might just be a 4-spored basidia.

I also checked out the spores, which look pleasingly spiky and spherical, like this:

Am reasonably confident all this takes me to The Deceiver Laccaria laccata.

For the record
Date: 12/06/2017
Location: Horton Wood, Small Dole
Grid reference: TQ208127 (site centroid)

Record entered into FRDBI 06/09/2018

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Sordid White

I passed these mushrooms on my walk to work. They were growing in a grassy area, under trees, and next to an old stump. There were a few little clumps poking up through the grass, in a patch a couple of metres wide. They weren't far from my office, at Woods Mill, so I decided I'd go back at lunchtime for a closer look.

Preliminary investigations revealed a dusting of brown spores on the caps beneath the uppermost mushroom.

This put paid to my first theory that they might be Fairy Ring Champignon Marasmius oreades – because they evidently don't have a white spore print.

The most striking feature of these mushrooms was their growing habit: sprouting up in a clump and strongly fused together at the bottom. The other thing I noted was their brittle stems which made an audible snapping sound when even slightly bent; and no ring around the stems.

Flicking through the Collins Complete (photographic) Guide that I now try and carry around with me wherever I go, I couldn't immediately see any candidates which matched what I was seeing. But then the photographs in that book are almost all taken looking down upon the cap, which doesn't give you much to go on when trying to match other features such as the gills and stem.

I took a specimen and resolved to investigate further, after work.

Once home, I took my copy of Mushrooms by Roger Phillips off the shelf and flicked through it, looking for something to match what I'd seen. When I got to this page – the Psathyrella – I reckoned I must be pretty close.

Feeling cocky, I then turned to Funga Nordica, to see if I could key out my mushroom. But I got stuck trying to determine if it had pleurocystidia or not, as I wasn't sure what I should be looking for.

I did have some success measuring the spores. I think these are about 8 microns in length.

And – not very easy to see when they're just mounted in water – but I think these are cheilocystidia growing along the gill edge. Their skittle shape, which you may or may not be able to make out in this photo, is described as 'utriform' in mycology-speak.

I didn't quite manage to get through the keys to the Psathyrella they include some tests I can't do because I haven't got the right kit (e.g. ammonia). But I think my mushrooms are a good match for Pale Brittlestem Psathyrella candolleana.

I was unsure at first because Funga Nordica describes the cap as "dark reddish brown, becoming ochraceous brown, at maturity fading to ochre with yellow, grey, purple or violet tinges" and I don't think my mushroom is any of those colours! However, it goes on to describe the cap as "hygrophanous, drying sordid white or grey". Well, I guess you could describe the cap as "sordid white". Although that seems an extraordinarily odd description for a colour. The colour of Miss Havisham's dress, perhaps, after all those years shut up in her mansion?

I couldn't see any trace of a veil, but I think these mushrooms were a couple of days old by the time I got to them, and the recent heavy rain could have washed this away. I noticed the fresher caps have a slight sparkle to them, when you get them up close; I don't know if that's indicative of anything. And the margin is faintly striate.

The habitat and time of year also seems right for P. candolleana, as Funga Nordica describes it as occuring "in rich deciduous forests, parks and gardens on or around stumps...; spring to autumn."

So, P. candolleana seems quite likely. But I wouldn't like to say for certain as Psathyrella seems a more complicated genus than the field guides would have you believe.

For the record
Date: 07/06/2017
Location: Hoe Wood
Grid reference: TQ217136