Thursday, October 29, 2009

Weeping Widow?

Steve Ansdell, Durham University’s Horticultural Superintendant, showed me this spectacular display of toadstools in the grounds of Josephine Butler College today.

There must have been well over a thousand of them, spread over an area the size of a football pitch. By far the finest display of toadstools I've seen so far this autumn. They fit the description of Weeping Widow Lacrymaria velutina.

The caps of the young specimens had a distinctly fibrous appearance and the microscopic characters fitted the text-book description for this species.

Dark brown gills becoming increasingly black with age and, although it's not too evident in this specimen, wisps of the fibous veil that covered the gills in the young toadstool still clinging around the edge of the cap....


....and a distinctive black spore print

For a microscopic exploration of this fungus, take a look at


  1. The blackened veil on the upper stem where spores are clinging is a good identification feature. The blackness and the oozing droplets give this fungus its common name. They also like the company of nettles. Great post Phil.

  2. Thanks Abbey Meadows ......the stems do look like they're dusted with soot

  3. What a sight to see. So many.
    Love that second shot Phil, at toadstool level. They stretch as far as the eye can see.

  4. Hi Phil, Not for the first time I've read one of your blog entries only to discover a day or two later that it has disappeared! While you were in Wolsingham I was just over the hill walking near Blanchland. There were lots of small mushrooms on the grass verge beside the track that I struggled to identify. I'd guess at waxcaps but it would be just a guess.

    The technique you mentioned at the DWT photo evening of using a compact and shooting from locations that you can't get at with an SLR was very useful and I do that a lot now. e.g. For photographing the gills underneath the cap.

    Out of interest are you using a compact for most of your photos?

    Thanks for your educational blog (even if bits of it mysteriously disappear!)

  5. Hi Keith, it was an amazing display ..... I wonder what triggered it, because they hadn't been seen there in previous years..

  6. Hi Dougie, Yes, I should explain... someone left a comment that also included an advert so I had to reload the post to get rid of it. On the other occasion I took down the post because it drew attention to a sighting of a hen harrier in an easily identifiable location in Teesdale at a time when there were a lot of people with guns about... The Pentax compact is used for just about all the pictures on this blog (except birds and mammals) and for the microscope pictures on Beyond the Human Eye... all the images on this post and the microscope images on the link to BTHE were taken with it .... it's always in my pocket and available when opportunity knocks! Thanks for your kind comment..

  7. Fascinating, Phil. One of my lawns has been splattered with toadstools this autumn - I'm not sure which one but it had the shape (and colour) of one of the boletus varieties. I am particularly interested in your picture of the spore pattern. I must find out how to do this. Is there any way of identifying various toadstools from their spore patterns?

  8. Hello Emma, the colour of spores is often a distinctive feature of diffeernt species. There's quite a bit of trial-and-error in producing spore prints. I left the cap of this toadstool on the paper for just a couple of hours and got quite a nice print .... leave them for too long and you sometimes get such a dense covering of spores that they obscure the pattern. A room without any draughts helps as well.

  9. Thanks Phil: I printed off some information about the process from the web earlier today. It would be very interesting just to try doing it.