A fortnight ago, we headed down to the National Botanic Garden of Wales (NBGW) for their annual Wales Fungus day event. In spite of a poor forecast, as always there were several interesting talks and events laid on, including their displays of locally found fungi.
Since our meadows have continued to produce a diverse range of waxcaps over the last 2 months, I thought I’d pick a sample for the NBGW fungi table display as I’d done a couple of weeks earlier for the autumnal Carmarthenshire Meadows Group meeting.
It is quite amazing to me how these nationally rare, at least in the whole of the UK, colourful mushrooms, have been thriving and multiplying ever since our land management has changed in recent years, and these photos give another idea of what one can find in a quick walk around our fields at this time of the year.
We opted to take the slower, back route up the mountain to the NBGW, since we’ve just acquired a couple of e-bikes, and wanted to check out the hilly back road terrain (more on these once I’ve worked out how to take good photos from our forays). As a result, we passed an amazing colony of Fly agarics, Amanita muscaria, just beside the road and carefully picked an enormous pristine example to add to our own mushrooms.
Notice the edible Cep bolete mushroom, Boletus edulis, below right – Bruce Langridge later explained that these are often found growing in the same site as the poisonous Fly agarics.
This glorious red and white mushroom turned out to be one of the stars of the display at the NBGW, below, and none of the fungi experts present seemed to recall ever seeing one as big. Bruce Langridge, the NBGW’s director of interpretation and guiding light behind the interest in fungi at the NBGW is indeed the man responsible for establishing a National Fungus day, now held annually across the UK. He was delighted to see our waxcaps, since the Garden’s own meadow waxcaps had largely finished fruiting.
In an interesting chat with Bruce and a research student who’s about to begin a project to see if he can grow waxcaps “artificially”, I mentioned that I wondered whether slugs might play some role in the germination of their spores. To date no one has been able to culture waxcaps. It’s known that they thrive in mossy turf, but simply taking the spore laden mushrooms and putting them into a new area doesn’t seem to work. We speculated why this might be. My own thought is that perhaps the mushroom spores need to pass through a vector like a slug and that the spores are activated in some way by passage through the slug’s gut.Back home, a bit of research discovered that it’s been established that both ferns, lichens and liverwort spores can all pass through a mollusc’s intestine and be viable and germinate afterwards, thus allowing the potential for spreading a species over a wider territory. Click here and here for more. Such gut transmission and priming of seed for germination is well known with many plant seeds, and if ever proven with slugs and fungi could be considered to be another example of endozoochory, a new word for me, meaning seed dispersal by being carried within an animal in some way. It would be interesting to know if this is why waxcaps have done so well in our fields. Although the huge slug population which for many years existed here, is still currently in drastically diminished numbers.
A fortnight after this Wales Fungus day, and nearly 2 months after the first wave of orange red Fibrous waxcaps, Hygrocybe intermedia, appeared around the turn of August, we still had some vibrant examples (above, probably Spangle waxcap, Hygrocybe insipida, ) which had recently appeared for the garden visitors who bravely chanced a trip out a day after the wettest 24 hour period we’ve had since last year’s named storm Callum hit us. 69 mm of rain had fallen in 24 hours, leaves littered the yard and paths, but fortunately our hilly site means the rain rushes away quite quickly, and the sun shone benignly for Sunday, although a chilly Easterly wind had picked up.
Even more unusual for our visitors, was the crop of mushrooms which have appeared on our mossy croquet lawn this year. At least 7 species, but the highlight for 2019 has been the number of Earthtongue fungi, above. There are several different species of these in the UK, (Geoglossum and Trichoglossum being the most common genera) which are quite tricky to tell apart, but all are considered rare. Click here for the best guide to identification I could find. They contribute to how highly rated a site is for fungi diversity, so increasingly our “impoverished” land seems to be moving into being a grassland fungi hotspot. Earthtongues are some of the last grassland fungi to actually push their fruiting bodies above ground, and in contrast to many waxcaps, the black tongues also survive for several weeks, in spite of the occasional frost which has already affected us.
Like many other grassland fungi, these would quickly be driven out of the mossy turf by any conventional lawn treatments aiming to create a more uniform weed and moss free green lawn, which we’ve never used here. Click here for more on grassland fungi ecology in a good review (by Griffith, Jones and Easton). In future I’ll set the lawnmower blade a little higher as we head into late summer to try to encourage these even more.
This year there are hundreds of these Earthtongues appearing on our croquet lawn, adding an eerie touch to the garden as we approach Halloween.
Three still mornings, breathless as I take my seat,
Beneath the angled front, the dark tongue, a stationary spear,
Licks, probes, darts, yet unmoved, or moving, at the very margin
Cannot split this molten Molden gold, this priceless fleeting cape,
Spread light, above this land.
Burnished, wrought, and beaten by some hand invisible.
Amber studded, sun kissed hems, and four dimensionally lit,
The prancing Wagtail danced, bobbing her approval.
I’m lost, eye and mind and soul lapped
Deep beyond the molten golden swirling pools and waves,
Which wash above, and back in time.
The Sky speaks.
Is this the same imagination, breaking time and place?
The grey quilt moulds the sounds and trapped beneath,
There’s no escape.
A rare and constant rumble, links those tarmac treads,
Echoes round the misty whitewashed cwms,
Tracks left to right, then fades behind the beech topped castle mound.
Where corraled cattle stand, ghostly still, silhouetted black,
Dawn circled, in some primal safety ploy
Upon this ancient fortress top.
The crossed swords in the distant sky disturb. Threaten. And autumn’s first
Dawn starling rush scatters, aimless and disorientated.
Where are the white robed men? The ancient noble bards
Long since departed, to read these runes?
Is there no hope? The feathered crow, black, not now gilt edged
Solitary atop the dying larch, watches,
Warms and, turned away, is gone.
A blood inked written sky,
The even lines spread wide, horizon bound.
What is this heavenly text? Then there, to speak, three dark mouths open,
Black lips part and golden spells emerge, but distant, far too far
Away for me to catch these cloud-borne clues.
Before the white suits come to take us all,
Before the dying shepherds leave this green, green grass
To serried needled ranks, the oak’s curled leaves are shed.
Protein poor. Tannin tough. Lignin light,
Such carbon fuelled excess inadequate,
The fine lined Heralds, Hairstreaks, Hebrew Characters all,
All thin though feasted, for feast they must,
Yet failed, inside their cocooned tombs.
The thin earth heeds these red sky warnings.
Now’s the time, the Earth answers,
With tongues. Black and hard and hairy, death’s prophets
Between the hard white hammered cast iron hoops.
The moss stuffed acorn littered turf is punctured.
The leather tongues don’t care.
Will cope with such poor pickings.
Rare degraders of autumnal shells.
These lipless tongues contrive to
Whisper. Frugal, fungal faint.
“Lean down. Stoop and feel our mouthless cold, cold breath while you can.
Listen, hear. Look, see.
The spiders fear an unseen rumoured web,
Vast and trapping life, beyond sky’s limit.
Your world hangs fragile,
On a stretching,
We need no lawyers, have no rules,
And when it snaps,
We’ll inherit and rot
Now impossibly erect, and stiff
Halloween greets the tongues, this wet grey dawn.
Still standing, sentient and sentinel.
The living and the dead, millenially linked.
But silent now, their lingual language lost,
Snatched yesterday, away. Blown West,
Spore laden spume,
On chilly, wind whipped air.
Click here, to listen to the fascinating story of the Mold gold cape, a new discovery for me, and it seems from recent conversations, to many of our friends. It dates back thousands of years, and featured as one of the top artifacts from the British Museum’s collections chosen by Ian MacGregor to illustrate his “History of the World in 100 Objects” series and book.
Click here, and here for more on the Celtic origins of Halloween, and their ideas about blurred links between the living and the dead, the light and the dark.
I’ve never seen Earthtongue fungi. I find the work in the garden and the unusual heavy rain we are having is clipping my desire to wander.
One of your lovely photographs that made me chuckle about the difference of life over her and over your way is your picture of the large, bright red Fly Agaric mushroom that you were delighted to add to your collection. I don’t think anyone over here would have cared, they would have been so pleased to collect the ceps!
An interesting idea about the spread of fungi. I wonder how long the mycellium of fungi can survive in the underground stage without producing fruiting bodies? Amelia
Thanks for the commets – Interestingly regarding which mushrooms people would pick over here compared with France, when down at the NBGW, one of the mycologists reminded me that Fly Agarics have a history of usage in Scandinavian countries, particularly after being recycled through native Shaman’s urine! For their CNS altering properties of course.Might they even have been a prelude to Viking’s going beserk ?? .. Within a few days all of the Fly Agarics had disappeared from this site, so either lots of other people were taking them to show people, or maybe they’re being used for less than straight culinary purposes…
Re how long fungi can survive, or even take to mature, before they produce fruiting bodies, that’s an interesting question, which I guess given our dearth of knowledge about such things, is probably unknown.
However in the case of the earthtongues, the part of the croquet lawn where they’re now growing, was, when we bought the property, beneath an old dutch barn, with a one foot deep layer of ancient muck/straw. We began clearing this site (probably?) about 25 years ago, no grass seed was sown, it just very quickly colonised the built up shale/soil which had been used to level the site where the barn was erected. Last year was the first time I saw any earthtongues, and then only 2 or 3, so in the case of these fungi, it clearly takes a long time for them to establish, though of course that isn’t the same as saying how long they’d been there before fruiting!
I had always thought of the Fly Agaric as a mortel poison. After a bit of research it seems its properties have been well known wherever it grows, even the name of tue-mouche in France, Seemingly all you need to do is put some milk in a saucer and add some chopped up Fly Agarics. The flies are attracted to the milk but absorb the chemicals to fall, senseless (but happy?) into the milk and drown.
Thanks Amelia – I heard by chance this week a programme pointing out how the UK was pretty much the only country in Europe not to currently have a museum on folk lore, and this sort of information – apparently everyone else has retained the knowledge and wisdom of times past, but not the Brits! Always assuming that there was probably a bit of observed wisdom in most of these memories.
Love the ‘new’ word and all the info about the fungi. Visitors in our cottage attended the NBGW fungi day and said how much they enjoyed it. Visitors this week have found ‘hedgehog’ fungi for their supper! Amazing how many people are interested in fungi…there is so much to learn and enjoy!
Love your word pictures and photos. Looking forward to a book one day! I’ll keep nagging! Best wishes to you both and keep enjoying your bikes.
The NBGW have really done a great job over many years in raising awareness of fungi – I don’t know about hedgehog fungi. Do you have any pics you can put up on a post sometime?
The bikes are laid up the last 2 days, the weather’s been so dire here, but itching to get out again. Fiona took to doing some ditch clearing as an alternative yesterday! We must have done over a dozen different circular rides from the front door, much on forestry trails so no cars, and it’s a brilliant way of getting some serious exercise without having to get in a car,,,,,,
Slow down Fiona…digging ditches in this weather! Actually our weather today hasn’t been too bad at all…some heavy rain in the night followed but showers through the day …but missed out the wind! Sadly no photos of hedgehog fungi but I’ll have a look on Google! Keep pedalling!
Hello Marianne – in the end we managed a half an hour first thing on the bikes whilst the rugby was beginning – (quiet road and no rain – even a little sun) we didn’t seem to miss anything! As for ditching it’s the best time to do it when it’s soaking and you can check you’re getting a good flow – but one ( or in this case Fiona) does end up getting plastered!
Hello, Julian & Fiona, I love your posts, but have a question about walking the entire Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. We have walked parts of it but never the entire length. We are planning to walk it next summer with a company called Max Adventures & walk from August1-15th. Is that a good time to walk it?
I’ll reply separately via email,
Hello Julian and Fiona. It was a delightful journey through the winter to April. Thank you for your beautiful blog, always my favorite. Just want to let you know I haven’t been visiting your blog because of illness that hit me in mid September. I had a few blog posts in draft which sustained the illusion that the blog is functioning, but in fact I still have a hard time reading and commenting. The Virus didn’t make things easier. I am self-isolating and find it very hard to bear. Sorry if I disappear again, but I will catch up some day.
Hope you are well and safe.
Thanks so much for this comment, and so sorry to hear that you’ve been unwell for so long, and hope that the warmer and brighter weather aids your recovery.
I’ve missed your very special blogs – one of the very few that I follow, but quite understand that you have to be fully up to speed to manage to produce something to the very high standard of both words and images that you always manage.
The whole pandemic situation is dreadful in this regard – we feel incredibly lucky to be where we are, and have plenty still to do, and each other to lean on. Perhaps though eventually the world may emerge as a kinder, slower and more tolerant place. Let’s hope so…
We had been thinking of visiting Ireland at last, for the first time this year…but who knows when travel will ever become “normal” again.
But once again I appreciate you taking the time to write, and I look forward to the time when you can brighten the days and lives of all your many followers.
Take care, and very warmest wishes,
Julian, it is such a blessing that you are where you are 🙂 I live in the city and it is a sad place. Enjoy your spring, it is lovely.
I don’t know if I ever produce anything of good quality on this blog, but I will do my best. And we will travel – sure we will.
My best wishes
Thanks Inese – we do realise we’re incredibly lucky being here during this crisis. I can only imaging how tough it is in a city, but I’m sure we’re all nearing the end of complete lock downs, and you certainly always produce great blogs – both words and photos, so I’ll look forward to when you feel up to posting again,
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