Look out for a wrinkled peach, a yellow brain and don’t miss the earpick...

PUBLISHED: 11:45 05 January 2017

Small stag's horn Picture: Brian Eversham

Small stag's horn Picture: Brian Eversham

ILIFFE

In our monthly piece with the Wildlife Trust and the RSPB in Cambridgeshire, we look at the mysterious and fascinating world of fungi, explore what events are on and explain one great way to feed the birds this winter.

Rosy bonnet fungus Picture: Brian EvershamRosy bonnet fungus Picture: Brian Eversham

Where can you find a wrinkled peach and a yellow brain?

A foray into woodlands to discover the world of fungi can prove an absorbing pursuit deep into winter.

One of the most important groups of organisms on the planet, fungi are easy to overlook, given their largely hidden, unseen actions and growth. Together with bacteria, fungi are responsible for most of the recycling, which returns dead material to the soil in a form in which it can be reused.

Without fungi, these recycling activities would be seriously reduced – we would effectively be lost under piles many metres deep of dead plant and animal remains. So without these strange and fascinating life forms, neither we, nor the inhabitants of our native forests, would survive for long.

Earpick fungus Picture: Brian EvershamEarpick fungus Picture: Brian Eversham

Wintry wet dank weather helps to bring on the fruits of the fungi – the mushrooms, toadstools, brackets, puffballs and many other amazing shapes that these ‘creatures’ produce (recent genetic investigations have shown that they are nearer to animals than they are to plants), once they start to emerge from the ground, leaves or decaying wood.

Dead wood is an exceptionally valuable resource, made use of by a wealth of wildlife, especially insects and fungi, and so is a key component of many of Cambridgeshire’s woodland nature reserves.

The wonderfully named wrinkled peach, Rhodotus palmatus, is often found on fallen decaying trees and varies from delicate pinkish-apricot to deep salmon in colour, with a wrinkled convex cap which flattens with age.

Yellow brain, Tremella mesenterica, is disc shaped and develops brain-like lobes and folds of soft, shiny flesh that wobble like jelly when knocked. 
Its tough, gelatinous flesh, a bright golden yellow, makes it easy to spot in wet weather, growing on dead twigs and branches of broadleaved trees.

On a recent walk at Gamlingay Wood Brian Eversham, CEO of the Cambourne-based Wildlife Trust in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, found three rarer species: earpick fungus, Auriscalpium vulgare; rosy bonnet, Mycena (pura) rosea, and small stag’s-horn, Calocera cornea – it’s easy to see how they got their names.

Fungi have reproductive spores which are dispersed through the air. Under the cap of a mushroom are the spore-producing gills, while a puffball is a sack of spores, just waiting to be prodded or for an animal or bird to tread on it, resulting in a puff of spores, like dust escaping from a split hoover bag.

The colour of the spores can be important in identifying the species of fungus – this can be given away by ‘bracket-forming’ species which grow from the side of a tree 
trunk, depositing a coating of spores on the bark beneath. Over the next couple of months, coated in ice crystals during frosts or snow, fungi can be a photographic treasure trove.

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