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Sunday, 30 November 2008

THE NEW LINNAEUS

"They're highly poisonous," said the stranger, slowing down to speak. "Instant liver failure."
He walked on, looking back critically a couple of times as if suspecting I would suddenly reach down, tear the toadstools from their log and cram them hungrily into my mouth.
It would have been an inelegant place to die - bent upside down in a leaf silted stream with my phone camera tilted so their underneaths could be seen through the viewer.
These are what he was talking about.

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This is how he saw them.
This is what I was seeing.
The same fungus; a different angle.
Apparently a completely different being.
Totally different atmosphere.
I don't know how anyone can tell what's what!
And on the same stump - these.
I'm calling them Pasta Shell Fungus.
And these
(There were others too but they were darkly purple and round a corner. I'd have needed a tripod . . . a spotlight . . . anyway, they wouldn't photograph.)
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* * * * *
Further along the stream, where the ditch water was running properly but smellyly; where it was horrible and muddy and little bitey things were hovering round my ankles . . . there were these, also on a log.
In the photo, they look dry and pleasant. They were dry - but definitely not pleasant. They looked like a pale version of the large, fat, orange slugs everyone says don't do much damage in a garden but which make me shudder if ever I turn over a stone and find one there.

In fact, they were so repelling, I had to force myself to stay. I don't even like the pictures, though I realise they probably don't look too bad unless you've met this slug in person.
Sometimes, it's square . . . then it turns into a dome, then it stretches out . . . oh! I'll give myself nightmares.
And while I was ploughing about in the mud, wishing I didn't have to wait until Christmas for another pair of shoes (I have only one pair till then; one for outside and clogs for the house) I was thinking how much I am treading in Darwin's footsteps. I am the new Linnaeus. For, after all, they, like me, were starting from a point of relative ignorance. It was only because they got there first that they were allowed to do all the identifying and describing . . . and naming. But how they felt about their discoveries wouldn't have been a lot different.
"Oh look!" Darwin would have said. "Doesn't that fungus look just like a three inch wide pasta shell!"
"Indeed it does!" Linnaeus would have replied. "Let's call it a "Fungus Pasta Shellicus!". And Darwin would have said "But doesn't that sound too much like a name for a dinosaur?" And Philip Gosse . . . (along to keep an eye on things) would have said "And what's a dinosaur when it's at home?"
Sort of thing.
Don't you think?
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Monday, 24 November 2008

NEVER WEAR A SKIRT IN A NORTH EAST WIND

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SOME RULES
1. Never wear a skirt in a North East Wind. 2. Never wear a skirt which will drag in the mud. 3. Never explore the edge of a bank when the ground is slippy and wet. 4. Never take photos of flowers when they can't keep still. 5. Never take photos at all when the wind is shaking the camera and your hands are red, so red and cold you can't feel the 'take now' button and have to guess.
* * * * *
(Advice I don't follow.)
* * * * *
So . . . there I was . . . the wind was shrieking, I was cold, the reeds were flapping and bending . . . I'd gone out with a theory but the theory was blowing away . . . (never mind the theory) . . . what could I see that was out of the gale? (Well, not a gale exactly but . . . .)
I stuck my phone down a hole and round the corner; a burrow. Don't know who lives there but . . . see that? I'll ask Esther - is that how they grow parsnips and carrots on Mars?
* * * * *
Badger setts are like towns - and I knew there was an ancient one a short distance away. It would have been better if I hadn't been looking for it along a narrow, muddy, puddle-filled, falling-down-the-bank kind of path. It would have been easier to find if the entrances hadn't been hidden by the reeds - because there are better ways to find a badger's front door than by falling through its overhanging porch. (My hip and leg still ache.) It would have been better too if the sun had been shining in the right direction. It would have been better as well if it had not kept going behind a cloud. On the other hand . . . there's not much sun in a badger's tunnel to start with . . . so, hoping everyone was fast asleep (they're big and they're fierce and they bite) I stuck my phone into the hole. (If I'd dropped it, it would have slid to the centre of the earth and that would have been the end of this blog but . . . .)
* * * * *
Next . . . off to the unsightly red fungus. That would be out of the wind.
It has faded and shrunk. But the shrinkage means I can get my phone underneath with the lens facing up. (Fun this. A conventional camera wouldn't have slid between it and the ground. And no human eye could have peered there.) Hello woodlice! (One seems to have come apart in the middle. How?)
A sharp bit of undergrowth has pierced the fungus's belly and grown right into it. You can see the bruise.
* * * * *
Another time, I'll tell you what I'd really gone out to look for.
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For the Next Post
For the Post Before This

Monday, 17 November 2008

MORE FUNGAL IGNORANCE

It would be nice to sound wise, to make a connection between fungi and the weather by saying "A conical cap is the most pronounced feature of mid-autumn toadstools. Its distinctive umbrella shape suits it to the constant drizzle and rain of an English November."
Or
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"A tower is a good defence against wet weather."
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.
.
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Or "Rain runs off domes."
(Disgusting, isn't it? It's about a foot wide.)
.
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And this would sound good - if only I could say it with confidence . . .
"Woodland fungi are protected by their water repelling surface texture and by the remains of a leaf canopy so they can be flat(ish) without suffering damage from rain. "
I could go on to show how some toadstools use low growing plants as shelter.
.
.
.
.But what of this one? It covers about three square feet and it's growing in the open. (I think it's one being rather than a group of individuals).
Is it dilapidated because it's old?
The ones which looked like this a couple of weeks ago
are certainly beyond their season now - in fact most of them have dissolved!
.
But there were trees above this one until two years ago - maybe it's missing them? Perhaps it won't be here next year. Does it mind that mud is piling into its centres or isn't it that bothered?
I don't know. But I have noticed something odd. All these fungi are growing near cars. They are either beside roads, or at the edges of paths near where roads cross. (The exception is the one hiding under the ground elder.)
My sample is too small to be scientific - interesting though, init?
P.S. Please don't let anyone think I know what I'm talking about. I DON'T! A Double P.S. All these pictures were taken in the rain - so don't be disappointed with the ones which aren't as clear as the others. It's a wonder they came out at all. (It's a wonder my camera hasn't gone rusty!)
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Tuesday, 11 November 2008

IF ONLY I KNEW ABOUT FUNGI !

My definitions are vague, naive and overlapping. Mushrooms = edible toadstools. Toadstools = poisonous mushrooms growing out of the ground on stalks.
Fungi = things which are neither plants nor not-plants, which may be edible (or inedible) poisonous (or benign) and which grow flat on things or out of things because they don't have stalks. Fungus = nasty stuff which grows where things rot. Hmm.
* * * * *
When I went to Frome with Ceres, we found spiders webs over railings and graves. They dripped magically with mist and everyone who came by was immediately struck with awe, moving quietly from web to web. Ceres was the exception. She's always loud. But courting couples stopped to look on in silence. Even elderly people on motorised scooters slowed to seventy for a few seconds. Mothers with toddlers lowered their voices. Even toddlers whispered. But when I came across toadstools (or whatever they were) in the middle of Dorchester, between a car-park and the main road, there was no awe. The toadstools attracted just as much attention as the spiders webs had done but onlookers were noisy and excited. There were loud 'oh look!'s and noisy announcements that they were probably Honey Fungus. And me saying I didn't know. Doesn't Honey Fungus smell sweet? And weren't there two kinds growing here anyway? (Or were they the same plant-kind-of-thing at different stages of development? Fungi are irritating, like that.) Inside, selfishly, I was panicking. I didn't really mind what they were. I just wanted to photograph them before they were trampled. And I didn't want toddlers to pick them.
* * * * *
Nigel from Silvertreedaze asked, after my last post, if I can identify the fungi in my header. This, I suspect, is a rhetorical question; a catch; a test because I bet he knows! I don't. And now I have more photos of fungi. This time from Berkshire. And I dare not identify these either. I think the red one with white spots is, fairly certainly, Fly Agaric but beyond that . . . And if I tried to guess, all I'd be doing would be to match them with the nearest picture I could find in the three books Esther lent me. Collins Complete (I bet it isn't) British Wildlife Photoguide (Paul Sterry) - 1997 Edible Fungi by John Ramsbottom - 1943 (with colour plates by Rose Ellenby)
Poisonous Fungi by John Ramsbottom - 1945 (also with colour plates by Rose Ellenby)
(Colour Plates means drawings. Nice to look at but few.) So . . . noble readers . . . can anyone tell me what they are? (This is NOT a trick question - I really don't know.)
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