Saturday, 28 January 2017


Over the last couple of months, I have been hunting for fungi in Milton Country Park, with more success than I had expected. Fungi are neither numerous nor prominent in the park and I have only ever seen the odd one or two in the years I have been visiting there. But a fairly determined search during December and January revealed quite a few specimens, mostly small and mostly growing on trees or rotting wood. The restricted habitat in which I found the fungi may simply reflect the time of year, and there may well be more mushrooms and toadstools in the park at other times of year, which I have simply overlooked.

Close up of a clump of Jelly Ear Fungus
Jelly Ear Fungus - 18 December 2016
This fungus is said to be the tormented spirit of Judas Iscariot trying to escape

I feel I should attempt to identify my findings. However, I am no mycologist, and a quick trawl through the relevant sites on the net quickly persuaded me that any names I put to the fungi were unlikely to be accurate. So, instead, I have used vernacular and generic terms, which may still be wrong, but, because of their imprecision, are unlikely to seriously mislead anyone.

Bracket Fungus - 13 January 2017

Fungi occupy a shadowy in between position in the natural world, neither plant nor animal. Many, including myself, may see them more as plants without chlorophyll; but, there are larger differences which dictate they are classified in a separate kingdom.

Moss growing on the top of a clump of bracket fungus
Bracket Fungus - 13 January 2017
Old bracket fungus now providing a suitable surface for moss to grow on

In some ways, they occupy a similar position in mythology and folklore: of this world, but part of the unseen world of fairies, gnomes and goblins. There are plenty of general, unspecific, references to the importance of fungi in folklore, without any details being given. The one exception, are fairy rings, which I have not seen in Milton Country Park.

Large plates of bracket fungus attached to log floating on water
Bracket Fungus on Floating Log - 22 January 2017
The largest fungus I found in the Country Park
Like trees, fungi add growth rings each growing season
On that basis, I reckon these specimens are over ten years old.

I did find one fungus in the park that has folklore attached: the Jelly Ear fungus. The Bible relates that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from an elder tree in shame after betraying Jesus. This ear-like fungus, which is found on elder, was thought to be the tormented spirit of Judas trying to escape. It was originally name Judas's Ear, which was later shortened to Jew's Ear - a name that has now fallen of favour because of its anti-semitic overtones.

Clumps of stags horn fungus growing on a moss covered tree stump.
Stag's Horn Fungus - 22 January 2017
Also known as the Candlesnuff Fungus because it glows in the dark
However, its bioluminescence is so feeble, in these days of light pollution, an image intensifier is needed to see it

Most of the fungi that I found were bracket fungi, a group of fungi of many different genera that grow on trees and are of a similar shape. There are both saprophytic and parasitic members in the group, the latter of which will prove fatal for the host tree. Bracket fungi are long lived and specimens at least twenty years old and weighing up to three hundred pounds have been reported.

Mass of toadstools pushing way up out of ground.
Toadstools - 10 April 2016

I have found three types of fungus which are not bracket fungus: one - the stag's horn fungus  which was growing on a rotten tree stump; while the other two appeared to be free living.

In April last year, I had come across a clump of toadstools breaking through the soil.  Two derivations are suggested for the name 'toadstool': one from the German 'tod' - death, and 'stuhl' - stool; the other based on a belief in the Middle Ages that, as they were poisonous, they were associated with toads.

Small delicate translucent white toadstool growing in leaf litter.
Among the Leaf Mould - 22 December 2016

Finally, I found this tiny toadstool growing among the rotting leaves. My first reaction was that it was immature, but clearly its fruiting body is fully developed, and this must be its final size.

Mites Eggs


Small spherical eggs attached to leaf by a stalk.
Mites Eggs - 22 January 2017

While photographing some fungi on a fallen twig, I noticed small white dots on a nearby fallen leaf. I assumed that this was some form of fungi. The photograph reveals that each white dot, about the size of a pinhead, is attached to the leaf by a very slender stalk. After further research, I have concluded that these are in fact mites' eggs. I went back two days later to try to get a better photograph, but by then wind, rain, and passing animals had disturbed the leaves, and the affected leaf was lost.

Further Reading

Fungi Families/Types Identity Parade
The Fungus Amongst Us  
Polypore - Wikipedia
Why This Weird Looking Mushroom is Called “Jew’s Ear” 
Tree Bracket Fungus 
Xylaria hypoxylon (L.) Grev. - Candlesnuff Fungus  

Next: Ivy 



Saturday, 14 January 2017

Last Fruit, First Shoots

Entirely appropriately for a post published in January, this article looks back at the last seeds and fruit of the old year, and the first green shoots of the plants which will eventually flower in the spring of the new year.

Two teasel seed heads silhouetted against the rising sun
Cabaret de Oiseaux - 2 January 2017
The dawning sun on a new day in a new year provides
a suitably dramatic backdrop to the seed heads of teasels from last year.


Cabaret des Oiseaux (or more prosaically teasel)

What a wonderful name for a plant – a spectacle of birds – if my schoolboy French is correct. With a name like that doesn't the plant look even more majestic, and can't you just see a cloud of goldfinches feasting on the seed heads? It presumably gets this name from the birds feasting on its seed heads.

Besides that name, the English 'teasel', or 'gypsy comb', or 'brush and comb', sound functional and unimaginative, all derived from the use of the seed head to tease or raise the nap of woollen cloth. Somehow, such names drain the plant of its stature and becomes just another brown plant with an industrial use. Yet, in this most drab time of year, the teasels are impressive, standing very upright, seeming to challenge the weather to do its worst and blow them down.

Teasel plants with seed heads and no leaves stand out against the sky
Tall and majestic - 11 December 2016
A group of teasel plants stand proud against the skyline.

Teasels are not widespread in Milton Country Park, but a couple of clumps in the Orchard are particularly noticeable as they are growing on top of a small bank, where these photographs were taken.



Burdock fruit, velcro like hooks clearly visible
Burdock Fruit - 5 January 2017
Non-descript brown fruit easily overlooked, not so easily picked off clothing.

Burdock is another plant whose fruit are conspicuous at this time of the year, although not necessarily for the right reasons. They attach themselves with their natural Velcro to anything and everything that passes.

Unlike teasel, burdoch has attracted a host of imaginative English names besides burdock (bur a knot of wool, and dock a plant).  Along with Herrif, Airup or Aireve, derived from Anglo Saxon and mean hedge robber, other names include: personata, happy major, clot bur, fox's clote, beggars buttons, cockle bur, Robin Hood's rhubarb, and love's leaves. These last two referring to the shape of its leaves.

Burdoch first featured in this blog in September and at that time, I mentioned that it was the inspiration for Velcro, and its use for dandelion burdock cordial. But there is more to burdock in folklore than a zip and a drink.

Firstly, there is burryman: a man completely covered in burdock burrs who parades the streets of South Queensferry, Lothian, on the second Friday in August every year. The origin and reasons for this ritual, which is credited with being at least seven hundred years old and may be well be thousands of years old, have been forgotten, and we are left with theories ranging from warding off evil spirits to bringing luck for the forthcoming herring fishing season.

Secondly, burdock has been used medicinally for a wide range of conditions including skin problems, rheumatism, and cancer. It is also a liver tonic and a diuretic.

Finally, and a little whimsically, knights in the middle ages rode into battle wearing a sprig of burdock for protection!

Gelder Rose and a Hint of Autumn

Clusters of gelder rose berries amongst tangled twigs and branches
Gelder Rose Berries - 20 December 2016
The bright red berries are almost lost among the surrounding branches

At this time of year, the trees are bare, and most of the berries have fallen or been eaten by the birds, the remaining berries give the bushes a hint of autumn, an ephemeral blush of red, a barely discernible shimmy of colour. In strong sunlight, at a distance, the bush looks quite red, but close up the fruit are few and far between and overwhelmed by the bare brown branches.

So it was with these gelder rose berries, visible at a distance as a faint reddening of the hedge, closer up there were just enough, and were bright enough, to catch the eye. 

Last Apples


Apples still attached to bare branches high up in tree
Last Apples - 11 December 2016
A few apples still hanging on high in the branches of this tree

I was really surprised to find any apples at all still on the tree, but, as this image shows, high up in one tree there was still quite a crop. A fact that speaks volumes for the mild and benign autumn that we have had.

First Shoots

Semi circle of young comfrey plants around base of tree
Comfrey - 28 December 2016
Comfrey plants have already grown enough to be clearly visible
above the leaf litter.

On a grey December day, walking on a carpet of fallen leaves, among trees with bare branches, and no colour anywhere, it is easy to believe that nature has shut down, gone to bed, for the winter. Yet, already, there are plenty of signs of spring in the park. Plants like this patch of comfrey are easily visible above the layers of dead leaves. Also much in evidence are young cow parsley seedlings, each a couple of inches high. They will remain almost dormant, growing only very slowly throughout the winter, until April or May, when they seem to grow four feet in a matter of days, and cover the countryside with white frothy flowers.

Small seedling pushing through dead leaves
Spring in Autumn - 28 December 2016

Look more closely at the leaf litter and it is not hard to spot much smaller seedlings, with just two or four leaves, pushing their way up. It is difficult to believe that these plants, so small and tender, will survive the frost and snow of winter and blossom next spring.