Fungal body parts and festive fun ideas from the Wildlife Trust in Cambridgeshire
Fascinating fungus that take (or mimic) the names of body parts always sound compellingly ghoulish - jelly ear, deadman's fingers, yellow brain, earpick or toothpick, devil's tooth and witches butter – and some live up to their names looking suitably spooky.
A foray into any woodland to discover fungi is always an absorbing delight for the senses, both visual and olfactory - especially this year with such protracted spells of autumn rain bringing saturation and lasting dampness.
Together with bacteria, fungi are responsible for most of the recycling which returns dead material to the soil in a form in which that it can be reused - without fungi these natural recycling activities would be seriously reduced.
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 (genetic investigations show that they are nearer to animals than they are to plants), as they 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 ancient woodland nature reserves.
The wonderfully named wrinkled peach (Rhodotus palmatus), is found on fallen decaying trees and varies from delicate pinkish-apricot to deep salmon in colour, with wrinkled convex caps which flatten 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.
Jelly ear fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae), generally grows in clusters on the bark of elder or beech trees. Weirdly wrinkled on one side and smoother on the other, it has a disturbingly gelatinous texture and looks just like an ear - its presence might give you the creepy feeling that the trees are listening to your every word! The tiny, delicate earpick fungus (Auriscalpium vulgare), grows in proximity to pine cones, and has a cap covered in fine bristles. Beneath the cap are the fleshy teeth pale brown and flexible when young, they become tough and turn dark brown with age.
With festivities just a stone's throw away here are some inspirational ideas from the natural world:
Annual Christmas Fair at Cambourne HQ, Manor House on Broad Street, Friday 1, December 3-7pm: Local hand-made crafts and gifts on sale, as well as Opticron binoculars to try before you buy, fun activities for children and a Christmas raffle - along with mince pies and mulled wine. Visit www.wildlifebcn.org/christmas-fair-cambourne.
There's still time to order festive goodies - 2024 Wildlife Calendar, Christmas cards and sustainable clothing range T-shirts, and hoodies, and plenty more – all via the trust's online shop at https://shop.wildlifebcn.org.
Want to adopt a beaver? A cute soft toy (an ideal present) is part of the adoption package – helping fund the trust's appeal to return beavers to Northamptonshire after an absence of more than 400 years. Visit www.wildlifebcn.org/adopt-a-beaver.
Coppicing, spoon carving, identification of winter trees, birdsong, lichen and liverworts, slugs, snails and small mammals - the trust's wildlife training workshops offer courses across botany and biology with practical and introductory courses to try. The 2024 programme is now bookable – and perhaps an ideal gift for the ecologist or conservationist in your life. Visit www.wildlifebcn.org/get-involved/training-workshops for details.