Thursday, March 5, 2015

Spring-fruiting fungi

Thursday's Guardian County Diary is about scarlet elf cup fungus Sarcoscypha austriaca, a spring-fruiting fungus that seems to be having a very good season this year, judging from the number of photographs of it that are appearing on Twitter at the moment.
















These two examples were amongst many opening on a south-facing embankment of the old railway line at Mickleton in Teesdale. It seems to thrive in this sunny spot, growing amongst a layer of fallen twigs, last year's nettle and hogweed stems and a carpet of moss. Many of the surrounding twigs were infected with green elf cup fungus Chlorosplenium aeruginascens, which stains the wood turquoise.



































The scarlet cups are angled towards the sunlight and seem to act as parabolic reflectors, concentrating the sun's warm over their surface, where thousands of microscopic sporangia are embedded. When they're ripe they fire their spores out like pop-guns, shooting them into the airstream. In this example a small spider was taking advantage of the shelter and warmth.


































Scarlet elf cup grows on rotting twigs. This example was about the size of a golf tee.



































Green elf cup doesn't produce its infructescences very often, but the turquoise staining of wood that's infected with the fungus gives away its presence. Wood that's stained by the fungus has been used for decorative Tunbridge Ware


































The other spring-fruiting fungus that sometimes appears locally, especially in the silty soil along some stretches of the river Wear in Weardale, is the morel Morchella esculenta, which is highly prized by gourmets. This is a young specimen ...


































... but these two are probably past their best. Those convolutions in the cap fill with grit, so they need thorough washing before cooking. The peak time for morels here is at about the same time that butterbur leaves begin to expand. It has a long-standing reputation for appearing on sites where the ground has been burnt and old accounts say that in Germany woodlands were sometimes set on fire (illegally) to encourage its growth.


































There are several species of Morchella here that are less common than the morel. I'm pretty sure this one is the semifree morel Morchella semilibera (formally known as Mitrophora libera) which has a disproportionately small cap.


A research paper published in 2010 (click here to view) provided some fascinating evidence that climate change was having an effect on spring-fruiting fungi in the UK and in north-west Europe, with milder winters leading to earlier appearance of these toadstools.






10 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Restricted to just 350 words in the Guardian Country Diaries and always much more to say!

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Morels seem to be sporadic and unpredictable - some years I've found dozens in one small area, then in others I've had to search really hard to find one. I've never eaten them. They are poisonous when eaten raw but fine, if a little bland, when cooked. There's a false morel that's deadly poisonous, just to add a bit of excitement to a fungal foray http://cabinetofcuriosities-greenfingers.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/False%20morel

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  3. I'll have to keep an eye out. There are a lot of fungi around for the time of year but I'm not finding many different ones in Scotland.

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    1. Good luck Adrian - April seems to be the peak month for morels. Apparently they often turn up in municipal flower beds that have been mulched with bark

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  4. I shall try and keep a look out for these. Fungi is a bit of blank spot in my knowledge. Along with many other things!

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  5. Fascinating - especially the Tunbridge Ware twist!

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    1. Thank you! I'm trying to find some green elf cup with its toadstools now, but you don't see them very often - just the stained wood.

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