Witch’s Egg

AT FIRST I thought that this ‘Witch’s Egg’ was an extra large earthball fungus. It about half the size of a tennis ball and not as firm to the touch as an earthball. It was on its own, lying on a shady, moist woodland bank amongst the leaf litter in Stoneycliffe Wood. This seemed strange as most fungi grow up from the ground rather than on it and I thought that perhaps it had been dislodged.

But this ‘fruiting’ part of the fungus has only a single white cord connecting it with the mycelium, the growing part of the fungus which is associated with rotting wood.

Stinkhorn covered with flies

The ‘Witch’s Egg’ is said to be edible but poor but this is certainly one that I wouldn’t have tried, even when I was down and out and living in a tent in Iceland, as it’s filled with olive-green slime. It’s the initial stage of the Stinkhorn fungus, Phallus impudicus, which grows up from it, wafting its carrion odour through the wood.

Buczacki comments that ‘it is usually detected by its evil smell‘, which he find ‘repulsive‘.

Common Earthball

COMMON EARTHBALL fungus grows in woodland and heathland sometimes on its own but often ‘in small, trooping ± tufted groups’ as Stefan Buczacki explains in the new Collins Fungi Guide. ‘Trooping’ means that they’re growing close to each other but are physically separate, ‘tufted’ means that they grow from the same base.

He describes the fruiting bodies as covered in ‘coarse brown scales or low pyramidal warts’ and you can see from my drawing that the texture varies amongst this group.

The older one (top) has burst open at the apex, revealing the dark brown spores inside.

They were growing on the grassy verge of a track through the plantations at Newmillerdam. I photographed them, then drew from the photograph but I do hope I’ll be able to make time to draw on location before too long.

Buczacki describes the Common Earthball as ‘possibly poisonous’ but it really depends on how hungry you are. I ate young specimens when I was in Iceland living in a one-man tent at Lake Myvatn for 4 weeks on a stretched to the limit Minor Travelling award from the Royal College of Art. The flesh is whitish at first and I thought that it smelt of mushrooms.

Delicious fried in butter. But probably poisonous. You have been warned.

Witch’s Butter

THIS YELLOW fungus was growing on a log at the edge of the path through a conifer plantation at Newmillerdam. I’m not sure whether the log was hardwood or softwood.

It’s the first species that I’ve tried to identify from the Collins Fungi Guide, by Stefan Buczacki and going by his description and the illustration by Denys Ovenden I think this must be Yellow Cobweb, Plebiella sulphurea, formerly known as Trechispora vaga, although I’ll admit that my photograph, taken on the 17th, makes it look more like yellow vermicelli.

Thank you to Monique in the Netherlands who tells me this isn’t in fact a fungus (see comment), I did wonder about that:

It’s called dog vomit slime mold, in Dutch “witch’s butter”. It’s very slimy and it can “walk”.

You can see its slime trail over the moss in my photograph.

Honey Fungus

THIS DENSE cluster of mushrooms on a stump by the lakeside track at Newmillerdam Country Park is Honey Fungus, Armillaria mellea, which will attack both dead a living trees and shrubs. It’s also called the Boot-lace Fungus because of the long black cords of its rootlike hypha.

I made this drawing with a 0.8 brown Pentel Drawing Pen and watercolours from a photograph taken on our walk today.

Rhododendron is in full bloom. This introduced shrub can be invasive but kept under control in a park setting like this it makes an impressive display at this time of year. The glossy evergreen foliage provides shelter for Pheasants and other birds in winter.

Branched Oyster Fungus

IT LOOKS like a paler version of Oyster Fungus, which you find growing in clusters on stumps and fallen logs in the autumn but Branching Oyster Fungus, Pleurotus cornucopiae, appears earlier in the year, and can be seen growing on elm, oak and beech stumps and logs from spring  to autumn. These were growing on a fallen Silver Birch in Coxley Woods between the two dams.

In his field guide Marcel Bon warns that although edible it’s ‘not of high quality’ and says that the white flesh has ‘a strong smell, sometimes rather unpleasant’. Michael Jordan describes the odour as ‘slight, of aniseed’. A related species, the Pale Oyster, is grown commericially, as is the Oyster.

Horn  of Plenty

The species name of the Branching Oyster, cornucopiae, refers to the mythical horn of plenty. In specialist books on fungi this funnel shape is referred to as infundibuliform. In anatomy, a infundibulum is a funnel-shaped cavity or structure.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s 1959 novel The Sirens of Titan, one man (and his dog) gets trapped in a ‘chrono synclastic infundibulum‘. I’d worked out the first part of this; chrono is time, the prefix syn means united and clastic in geology means broken pieces. So these clumped up fragments of time had formed a funnel-shaped structure.

Slime Fungus

IN THE conifer plantation at Langsett slime fungus is on the move. About two inches long and as bright as a plastic lemon, it is making its way imperceptably up onto a stone at the edge of the track. They’re normally found amongst decaying plant material, rather the creeping along the footpath beside you.

You can see the trail of slime it has left behind, as it moves along cosuming algae, bacteria and fungi. This free-roaming blob of protoplasm, known as the plasmodium, has multiple nucleuses.

Plant or animal? A bit of both perhaps. The Slime Fungi are grouped in the phylum of Myxomycetes, in the kingdom of Protists, which also includes the algae and protozoa. The Protists are considered to be intermediate between animals and plants but possibly not related to either.

Like a fungus, the plasmodium produces spores.