Thursday, 17 October 2013

Mycomania 1: Göljådalen

'Mushroom mad' is perhaps too strong a term for it, but 'mycophilia' seemed to carry unfortunate connotations, so let's stick with the above. Which was stirred two years ago in the Tweed valley near our friends the Lambtons and specifically in the glorious arboretum-garden of Dawyck and its 'cryptogamic sanctuary'. This year it was rekindled in the valley through which the River Göljån flows in Sweden's Fulufjället National Partk - a very different landscape from our walk around the Njupeskär waterfall the previous day.

Special circumstances pertain here which mean that most likely - and I'll have to check this out with my New Best Friends in Kew's Fungarium - I was seeing some rather unusual specimens which like to grow on dead wood. What I learnt from Martyn Ainsworth in a revelatory fungal walk around Kew last Thursday was that we can take nothing for granted in the mushroom world. Innocent-looking types can be cannily imitated by the deadlier ones; not all mushrooms have a mutually beneficial relationship with plants, some kill them; species names can change and shift within a year. I'd never risk gathering mushrooms to eat, maybe with the exception of a few boletes and chanterelles.

Not that you'd ever eat the bracket variety, which were in the majority on our walk either side of the Göljån. How were these special conditions created? During 30-31 August 1997 Sweden's heaviest recorded rainfall - over 400 millimetres in a single day - soaked the eastern slopes of Mount Fulufjället and swelled the waters of the little and greater Göljån rivers to 500 times their usual flow. A wave six metres high swept through Göljådalen, uprooting 10,000 cubic metres of timber - mostly spruces 35 metres high and half a metre across.

As the information board put it:

The massive volume of water ploughed new channels through loose soil and on the slopes leading down to the Göljån river, caused numerous landslides that removed nearly all vegetation. Left behind in the forest landscapes was a wide swathe that resembled a newly excavated highway. But only a few years later, flowers, grasses and mosses began to return. 

The compact logjams teem with life, offering ideal conditions for fastidious lichens, fungi and insects, that have difficulty finding suitable habitats, since deadwood is often a scarce commodity in modern forests. Several bird species have acquired an abundant food supply, and the wren has found new dwelling places.

We saw no birds and hardly heard any during either of our walks, though on the drive back from Göljådalen a capercaille crossed the track. But we did encounter plenty of the 'fastidious lichens and fungi' once we'd enjoyed a delicious picnic on this rickety bridge (photo by Jamie; the Diplo-mate permits a distant shot, and that's Susannah on the right).

Most of the rocks either side of the river were covered in extraordinary red lichen

and much else on the miniature scale was competing for attention.

First of the polypores or bracket fungi appeared on dead wood across another bridge

and then we found plenty on upright spruces. I like to think this is Hoof Fungus or Tinderbracket (Fomes fomentarius), though would that account for its astonishing shade of blue?

Two gilled mushrooms on the ground: is this Macrolepiota konradii, with the gills forcing their way upwards on to the cap?

It's highly unlikely this glowing orange-red loner is Caesar's Mushroom, Amanita caesarea, so called because Julius and Claudius prized it so highly, since that tends to flourish in Mediterranean regions, but it's the nearest correspondent in my ever-confusing guide and I like the idea.

New life was springing up in clearings presumably forged by the tidal wave

and the devastation was much more apparent in the lower reaches.

Here, on a dead tree by a tributary, I spotted the three brackets in the top picture - they might be more Hoof Fungus but I hope they are the rarer (except in Scandinavia) Phellinus nigricans.

No mushroom in my book corresponds to one with a growth on top like this one

and finally we have, I reckon, the Blueing Bracket (Postia subcaesia), half-moons glowing in the half-light.

More brackets to come in the Kew ramble write-up, identified by our guide. Now to show this to a nice person in the Fungarium for comment and correction. 

20/10  Part of the detailed reply which arrived sharpish from Kew:  
If only we could identify fungi from photos it would make life much easier; however it is rarely possible. Increasingly, we need to see the fruit body from all angles, measure the spores, study the suites of microcharacters and even obtain a DNA sequence to be certain of an identification. I’m afraid it is just not possible to be authoritative about the fungi you saw from the photos alone, with the exception of Fomes fomentarius, and, as you suggest, the orange one won’t be Amanita caesarea. Postia subcaesia might be correct, but it is one element of a group of similar species that would require an in-depth study to resolve.

Sorry to be so unhelpful, but the sheer number of fungal species on the planet (millions) mean that photos alone are rarely enough.


Anonymous said...

David, "mushroom mad" is perfect. I have a two-fold love for mushrooms: admiring and, alas, consuming - though not so much the ones I reserve for respectful gazing. I love to eat any sort of mushroom, particularly in Chinese dishes, where they have an especially earthsome flavor. Only once did I eat wild mushroom, with a friend I was visiting in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado. She had spent a lot of time with a mycologist (I know even they can be fooled - one hears occasionally of an "expert's" death by mushroom), and she often ate dinner plate-sized mushrooms she found in the woods. Thickly sliced and grilled in butter - what a treat! Getting off-subject, sorry.

I find the information board paragraph most interesting, as it well describes microcosms in my own yard. This is the only yard for which I have had any personal responsibility, and the first time a tree came down, I regarded the leveled stump as a "permanent" stand for potted plants in summer. There have now been several of these, and when the first one became lopsided, the pattern emerged. It involves all that are listed above, I think in this order: ear mushrooms attached to the stump and others surrounding; bugs moving into the deteriorating wood; quickly followed by astounding, huge pileated woodpeckers, who deplete the bug population. The mushrooms remain undeterred, of course. I don't know anyone's name, but there are in the summer patches of bright orange, spotted mushrooms that look like they probably shouldn't be touched. Gorgeous, as are your photos here. Beautiful to see them growing together with mosses, and that blue is stunning! Looking forward to your next installment -- Elizabeth

David said...

A delectable post in itself, Elizabeth, and you pinpoint for me what I've been gleaning from Richard Mabey's exquisite, poignant little slice of autobiography Nature Cure: that we can cultivate our own co-existence with nature in the smallest patches and in the tiniest ways. Especially, as my mycologist guide pointed out, if in a garden there isn't too much mulching, clearing and weeding. Isn't it fascinating to watch nature correct the imbalances without much if any human intervention?

Mr Myco was also very scathing about people following telly programme chefs and foraging the land around London clear of edible mushrooms. It matters less on vast estates in Scotland, but near the city the ecosystem is more fragile.

David Damant said...

A friend ( who has a place in France)was staying at Chatsworth and one morning got up very early to go for a walk in the park, meeting the wife of the French Ambassador, also a guest of the Duke and Duchess. They saw and collected some splendid mushrooms, of a kind eaten with pleasure in France. Well! To have the mushrooms for breakfast they almost had to sign a document taking all responsibility on themselves, and when they were served two schools of thought were apparant, the French eating happily and the English watchful. But everyone survived

David said...

Now how is it that I just KNEW you'd have an anecdote linking mushrooms and aristocrats, Sir David? Let 'em eat poisoned mushrooms! But since that must be the immensely hospitable Jean-Guy whom you so effortlessly introduce as a Chatsworth guest, may they live on.

Unknown said...

What a lovely walk that was, thank you for the reminder. We keep saying we should go on a mushroom course and maybe one day we'll get round to it. Meantime I shall enjoy your pictures, comments and memories :)

David said...

Well, Jamie, I think you'll find the Wakehurst tour with Martyn and fellow Kew mycologist will be as good as the best of introductory courses. Certainly I found that to be the case with his Kew processional. You couldn't find a better or more enthusiastic expert.

David Damant said...

It is said that he who plants an avenue of oaks cannot expect to see it in its full glory. But Jean-Guy, when purchasing the castle in the Rhone valley ( having given the chateau in Brittany to his son) found there a number of oaks ( I think they were actually holm oaks) under which truffles grew ( I hope that the truffle angle justifies this thread) And he then planted 50 more such oaks, to provide many more truffles for future generations - what a good man

Pia Östlund said...

Although I am admittedly partial, I love your photos from Sweden. In particular of the two types of lichen in iron red and acid green. - And the main photo - it looks more painterly than photography-like.

David said...

A good man indeed, David, as we know from his generous hospitality. The next step, though, is to liberate those wonderful paintings from behind bars...

Pia - I'm grateful that another true artist proclaims. I had no idea when I was taking that picture of the 'hoofs' on the dead tree that it would turn out like that. I'm especially pleased that in addition to the texture of the trunk and its appendages, there's a hint of water on the left and green on the right. It reminds me of that extraordinary Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

Laurent said...

Looking at the pictures I thought where is that. Looks a lot like Canada and our National Parks north of Ottawa.

Laurent said...

I also remember the charming tradition of Poland when at this time of the year whole families would go to the woods to gather mushrooms. Same in Italy, chesnuts and truffles too.

David said...

Well, Laurent, I certainly don't believe a river's a river - having experienced the Hudson and the Neva, I can never look on the Thames as a big 'un again - and I was struck by how one in an Ottawa photo of yours resembled the Goljan (not the banks, but the flow).

How I wish I'd been part of a village or town tradition where mushroom gathering and seasonal festivals were a way of life. And I guess tradition meant that identification was certain. But I'm not going a-gathering ever, having listened to Martyn's cautions and learnt elsewhere that very recently a respected mycologist made a fatal choice...

wanderer said...

As a child I remember going blackberry picking. Don't you of the Great Green Merrie Isle pick berries?

I too love that first photo David, for the colours yes, set against that mysterious deep royal blue water and the fresh limey green ferns, but the spectrum in organics is most fascinating - the rapid waters the source of all, the bowing fronds just drunk and so alive, the strange fungi (all fungi are strange to me, unless in a risotto) emerging parasitic from the great old trunk, its job not yet finished.

Laurent said...

David recently British friends of ours came to Merrickville and on the way we crossed the Rideau River they were very surprised at how wide it was for a river. They have also seen the St-Laurent which is called a fleuve in French. To them it is more like a bras de mer or gulf. I suppose we have big things here in Canada.

Laurent said...

It should be remembered never to eat mushrooms that grow under an Oak Tree, it was the wife of L. Cornelius Sulla, who ate such mushrooms and died of internal bleeding.

David said...

Wanderer, yes of course we go a-blackberrying, why wouldn't we? And sloe and damson gathering...

Laurent, my stunning reference work, Mushrooms by Roger Phillips, tells me that Claudius was possibly poisoned by Deathcaps (Amanita phalloides) mixed in with his favourite, Caesar's Mushroom (Amanita caesarea) - the one I wishfully hoped was the orangey-red specimen found on our walk (it wasn't). It seems a shame that Katerina Izmailova had to resort to rat poison mixed in with the mushrooms; one likes to think that even in her confined Volga existence she would have known where to go for fungi deadly in themselves.

Susan Scheid said...

David: What a wonderful collection of mushrooms/fungi you've displayed here! I don't think I've ever seen one with coloring even close to the blue. As I think I've mentioned, we have a wonderful neighbor, Bill Bakaitis, who is a mycologist and who has brought us on many occasions delectable mushrooms we'd never dare pick ourselves. Once I thought surely I'd spotted a winner (though not so sure that I would taste it without confirmation) in a Hen of the Woods growing right where it should be, at the base of an oak, and at the right time of year (fall). I triumphantly sent him a photo of my find, and here's what he wrote back: “It could be Grifola Frondosus, the Hen of The Woods, or it could be the tougher, more bitter (but not toxic) Meripilus giganteus now know as Meripilus sumstinei.” Here’s Bill, BTW, and many of his mushroom posts may be found on this site: here (Tragically, his wife, whose website/blog this is, died of BC this summer, much too young to go. Bill, her devoted husband and best friend in all the world, as she was for him, carries on.)

Side note: Last night, I heard Haitink and the LSO perform Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony. He seems to take a slower tempo than Jarvi, and that took an adjustment, but I found listening live full of revelations and hope the opportunity will come again before too long. Tonight is the 15th, and I can’t wait (although the audience coughing is, well, you know . . .) I tried to find a review of the London performances on TAD, but couldn’t. If it’s there and you have a link, I’d love to read it.

Back to the topic at hand: there is always an advantage to coming late to the party, because then I get the benefit of seeing all the wonderful exchanges that came before, including, of course, DD’s bit of mushroom history (not to mention your response)!

David said...

You did mention your fascinating neighbour, whose blog I shall visit forthwith. Sorry for his all-too-common (but of course also unique) loss. It would be good to know more of the philosophy behind his interest as every mycologist seems to be a true individual.

I read somewhere very recently that mushrooms growing beneath oaks are to be avoided. Clearly this isn't the case. Slippery evasive devils they are, to be sure.

Perhaps we should have covered Haitink's two concerts on The Arts Desk, but I wasn't keen and no-one else offered. My feeling is that his interpretations are now a little embalmed, though still wonderful in a calm, unsensationalist way. Have just gone through the Act 1 grail ceremony of Parsifal with the students, and - partly because of the Amfortas of Michael Volle, who was/is so stunning in our Sicilian Vespers - turned to the Zurich DVD conducted by Haitink. Now NO ONE conducts the outer acts of Parsifal better than he, for my taste at any rate. And the simple staging was incredibly moving in its modernity and restraint, the perfect balance between extreme suffering and transcendence unhampered by the usual Wagner baggage

Susan Scheid said...

David: Well, I can only tell you that tonight Haitink accomplished a miracle. At the end of Shostakovich's Fifteenth Symphony, that sublime morendo, he didn't immediately drop his hand. The audience heeded him, and there was silence, precious silence, before the applause. Now, I'll never forget Abbado's 2 minutes at the end of Mahler's Ninth, and this wasn't anywhere near as long as that, but even a few seconds at Avery Fisher, with not a single cough, was miraculous. (That he has your esteem for Parsifal is no small matter. I have taken note!)

David said...

That's good to hear, Sue. And you remind me that Haitink's Shostakovich 15th remains my favourite recording, partly because the sound's so good.

Rather pleased to say that long silences are becoming the norm here. How rare it was 20 years ago, when everyone noted the length of time before applause when Rattle conducted Britten's War Requiem in Bury St Edmunds Cathedral. Now the stick-waver just needs the right authority: baton aloft usually does it unless some moron shrieks 'bravo' precipitately.

I did find creepy the 'no applause' behaviour at the end of Parsifal Act 1 when I saw it in Munich in the late 1980s (a horrible experience in most respects - men in purple gowns and long beards, horrid 70s decor).