Thursday, 10 November 2016

plums and custard (Tricholomposis rutilans)

Among the leaf litter and rotting wood, our autumn fungi fruit.

It seems to have been an excellent year for fungus - whether this is part of a national pattern or a response to the stacks of rotting wood we have built about the place since coming here, I'm not sure.

There are around 14,500 species of wild fungus recorded in the UK - more than eight times more than there are flowering plants.

This stunner is new to us this year - Plums and Custard (Tricholomposis rutilans). It gets its name from the way it looks not tastes: being very bitter and inedible, it's not one for the frying pan. Only about 12 species of our native fungus are good or tasty to eat.

The specimen we found has a striking plum or claret coloured cap although I understand that cap colour can be variable.

custard yellow gills
creamy white spores
Its gills are custard yellow contrasting with the plum-coloured stalk. Gill colour is not a reliable indicator of spore colour (just as flower colour is not an indicator of pollen colour) as the spore pattern shows that its' spores are white to cream colour.

Obligingly, this one was growing on a pine stump - just as the books tell us it should do!

The mycelia of fungus are its' hair like 'roots' and are present throughout the year. The fruiting body which in this case is beautifully plum-coloured emerges briefly to cast its spores.

Dead or decaying matter is vital for healthy woodland biodiversity. 

Saproxylic organisms (pertaining to dead or decaying wood) are those that are involved in or dependent on the process of fungal decay of wood, or on the products of that decay, and which are associated with living as well as dead trees.

They vary from woodpeckers to fungi.  Over most of Europe saproxylic organisms are under threat, due to the removal of woodland cover and impoverishment of what remains (Speight 1989).

Deadwood supports up to 90% of the biodiversity of woodland (The Tree Council) and plays a key part in breaking down dead wood as well as a vital part in enabling tree roots to access nutrients. Fungi also contribute to the biomass of woodlands e.g. there are 200 species of midge that require specific fungus for food or as the food for their larvae. A pippstrelle bat can consume 2000 midges in one evening. So without decaying wood the entire diversity of our woodland flora and fauna is impoverished.

It seems plums and custard could be making a tasty meal for woodland wildlife after all. Just not me!


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