Saturday, 29 October 2011
In mycological mood
I thought better of calling this post 'the fruits of hidden sex' (though no doubt some sad searcher may still be disappointed as a result of my still managing to slip the line in here). The mushroom itself is, forgive the mixed metaphor, the tip of the iceberg, like the wonderful if hallucinogenic (I'm told) fly agaric fungi posing picturesquely on the edge of the drive to our dear friends' residence of Chapelgill, Broughton, in the Scottish Borders. Very near them is the world's first cryptogamic sanctuary, established in the Heron Wood of Dawyck Botanic Gardens with beech
and Scots pine now seeming as much at home as the native oak and holly. My Collins dictionary leaves 'cryptogam' at 'any organism that does not produce seeds, including algae, fungi, mosses and ferns', but we're talking sex, the vast underground network of decay-speeding and new lifing of which the mushrooms are the brief visible manifestation.
And this was a deceptively early autumn flourish, at the very beginning of September, after which of course we returned to late-summer heat and dryness. Dawyck is the place for what it calls 'a dynamic community of native mosses, lichens and liverworts'
many of which flourish on the stonework around the garden.
But Heron Wood feels like a place apart. About a third of the garden's 1,055 species of fungi* are to be found here, and on our September visit we could well believe it.
I've since had it confirmed that this is the tasty Boletus edulis, certainly a bolete.
Yet even if my mycological studies were to continue, I'd never trust myself to distinguish the edible from the poisonous - remembering especially an incident on Samos last autumn when our Polish friend Lydia identified a rare, delicious specimen only to be told by a local Greek lady that it was deadly. She thought this might be to discourage furrin pickers, but we weren't going to take the risk.
Anyway all you'd get from Amanita muscaria, the fly agaric, would be quite a trip. That too I'm not hazarding. But very pretty they looked too, flourishing under the beeches on the hillside in Broughton, ignoring the farmer's fencing.
After this I was keen to join the 'fungal foray' at Kew on 18 October, but it was booked out twice over. I can't praise Kew too highly, though, for responding so rapidly to my requests yesterday, when I decided to take an excursion in search of the yellowish coral fungus named there by George Massee in 1896. Clavaria kewensis is now Ramaria stricta, and the information lady put me straight in touch with mycologist Dr. Bryn Dettinger. While waiting the return of Martn Ainsworth, he confirmed my bolete and told me he'd seen a clump of Ramaria stricta on the east side of the Banks Building.
The trouble with that is that it's strictly private and punters can't get anywhere near the east side. Never mind; here's a Wiki shot of the fabulous beast to show what I missed.
That said, no visit to Kew is ever wasted. I didn't see a single fungus anywhere, and believe me, I looked. But I did come across one of the autumn glories, the Italian maple, Acer opalus, looking splendid both without
and from within.
The ubiquitous parrots along the Thames were flagrantly displaying themselves nearby; whatever the damage to treetops, who could resist that flash of green?
Sundry other maples were doing their stuff
and Aesculus flava, the sweet buckeye, provided more perspectives from within.
It was curious to walk around the woodland in the semi-darkness before closing time at 6pm. Geese, ducks and other woodland birds had truly taken over the gardens. But the fungi's above-ground flourishings all, it seems, were gone. Next time I need a reliable guide.
*Kew boasts around 2,750 including lichens. Its magazine article continues: 'To put the figures into context, there are around 2,100 native flowering plant and fern species in the UK, and around six to seven times as many fungi. It is this ration (developed by David Hawksworth) that underpins the now generally accepted figure of around 1.5 million fungal species estimated to live on Earth'.