Hairy Nuts Disco – now that’s a phrase which could refer to all manner of shenanigans; let your mind run wild. Poisonpie, Deceiver, Scurfy Twiglet and Fenugreek Stalkball, just another four of 154 fungi species identified during the Wheatfen Fungi Foray event, held in early October, and what cracking names they are.
I appreciate the importance of Latin names to scientifically categorise species in a language that is accepted globally, but I am glad such common names still exist. If nothing else they are enough to inspire those new to fungi, to capture imaginations and (for some of us still yet to fully mature) provide some fun and humour while out in the field. It was this fun and humour that brought much excitement to the bunch of eager fungi forayers at Wheatfen, as people of all ages descended on the reserve to learn about these fascinating organisms.
For days, every type of rain describable had fallen from the sky, from torrential downpours that soak you through in seconds, to “dry rain” (a type of rain where you don’t actually get wet) as one volunteer described to me recently… Although the rains washed away a smile or two from an impatient Warden struggling to get on with his fen mowing, they fell at the perfect time to encourage this plethora of different fungi species to rise up from the woodland soil. Under the loamy ground, below leaf litter and mulch, as rain drops slowly trickled through fissures and pores, with soils rehydrated Woody Woolly Foot, Lilac Fibrecaps and Iodine Bonnets erupted from the deep. These fungi can seemingly appear overnight and come October almost a daily check occurs behind the office under the Silver Birch trees where the fairy tale fungi, Fly Agaric, puts in its annual appearance.
Thankfully, on the morning of the foray we were greeted with a typical autumn day; the woodland lit by a weak sun with enough vigour to cast its magic. As we strolled along the woodland paths, led by the experts of the Norfolk Fungus Study Group, eager visitors searched far and wide for fungi to identify. As well as fungi fruiting from the ground many more were identified growing on living and dead trees, alongside species on decaying logs and branches. The trees were slowly being tarnished by autumn’s paint brush, as the leaves of Silver Birch shone glorious yellow, the lush green glow of the summer Sweet Chestnut starting to bear its tanned crown, the Black Poplar almost leafless, always swift to shed its leaves at the first sign of a chill in the night. The famous Wheatfen Beech down Sluice Dyke path, still bearing its enemy; the bracket fungus Ganoderma australis, was turning a spectacular coppery brown. Alas, it will not win the battle with its nemesis, but its buds may well shoot forth each spring for many years to come.
Of course, as explained to us on the day of the foray, it is merely the fruiting part of the fungi that we see and identify. It is hard to imagine the network of mycelium under the soil, the “roots” of the fungi if you like, that crisscross through the ground, often over many meters. Some of these mycelium (known as mycorrhizal fungi) connect to tree roots, and as part of a symbiotic relationship they provide the tree with extra water and nutrients, in return for some sugars made by the tree. Exciting ongoing research is uncovering how these mycorrhizal fungi connect trees together and act as corridors for trees to “knowingly” share nutrients and water, and potentially send messages to one another – we may yet discover the language of trees after all!
Ted Ellis himself was considered a specialist in fungi identification and, as always with this passionate naturalist; he pushed the boundaries of our knowledge on this subject. Ted had a particularly keen interest in rusts and smuts, tiny blotches on leaves and plants that many of us would not even notice, let alone try and put a name to. Through his microscope Ted marvelled at their intricate beauty, and identified many rare species new to Norfolk, the UK and to science itself. With Ted, his success came from patience, looking closely at anything that caught his eye, and then putting in the time to identify it. Ted recorded many hundreds of different fungi species over the forty years he lived at Wheatfen, and it is another triumph of the reserve that we still record new fungi species, with a slow trickle of different species being found at the reserve each year.
We would like to thank the members Norfolk Fungus Study Group for leading the fungi foray, providing their expert knowledge and help with species identification whilst inspiring all who attended to get out in the field and further study fungi.
Words by Will Fitch, Wheatfen Warden