The latest report from Michael Walter:

The garden gnome’s fisherman’s stool, or fly agaric toadstool, has not been much in evidence, but one species that was quite abundant this autumn was Lycoperdon perlatum (sorry, no English name), which is a type of puffball – not the football-sized monstrosity that garners all the photographic attention, but much more restrained, and none the worse for that.  Its spore dispersal mechanism is shared with all the other puffballs;  when mature, an opening develops in the crown of the fungus, and then the least disturbance – even a raindrop - causes it to emit a little puff of spore smoke, like a rather sedate volcano.  Its distinguishing feature is a covering of pointed granules that give the whole fungus a very rough appearance.  Finally, you may have come across lumps of decaying wood that are stained with bright turquoise patches, without knowing what caused them.  Much less frequently you may track down the culprit - the green elf cup, a tiny fungus of the same colour, and with a ten-syllable Latin name that I won’t trouble you with!  Nowadays it is just a curiosity, but in the 18th and 19th centuries there was an artisan industry around Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, producing what became known as Tunbridge ware.  This was extremely fine decorative woodwork with intricate, inlaid patterns created using wood of various colours, and the blue-green fungal-stained wood was much sought after to add an exotic splash of brightness to the design. A range of Tunbridge ware furniture and knick-knacks is on view in Tunbridge Wells museum.


While hunting for fungi, I wandered out onto a small area of heathland.  Covered largely in a carpet of ling and little else, it is pock-marked with small circular patches of other vegetation.  These are relics of former management, where heather has been cut and then burnt on a bonfire.  The blaze killed off the underlying heather roots, and the nutrients in the wood ash have allowed a much more diverse flora to develop.  Initially the bonfire site is colonised by rosebay willowherb, one of the few species capable of surviving in such a harsh environment, but as some of the concentrated nutrients are leached downwards, and the organic component of the soil that was consumed in the fire gradually builds up once more, so other species can colonise – thistles, rushes, grasses and much more besides – plants that would not otherwise be found in the heath.  These spots are ghost-like reminders of former human activity, and you can roughly gauge the time that has elapsed since the fire – in many cases more than thirty years - by the species composition.  On this occasion I found a single plant of Canadian fleabane, an invader, as its name suggests.  Definitely not one of Nature’s more glamorous plants, it is remarkably successful at colonising sites that our native species struggle to thrive in, happily growing in paving cracks, and perfectly at home on a bonfire site.  A member of the daisy family, it produces a wealth of seeds – diminutive dandelion parachutes - that could be wafted on the wind from some scrap of marginal habitat outside the wood.


The stream dams I described last month are now functioning, with water piling up behind, and then spilling over the surrounding land to flow down long-forgotten former stream channels.  You can find out more by coming to the RSPB Canterbury Group’s meeting at 7.30pm on 10th December, when Milo Sumner, the project’s Community Engagement Officer, will be talking about the rewetting project.  All are welcome to attend in Blean village hall, School Lane, Blean  CT2 9JA.  Admission is £5 for non-group members, with free festive refreshments and quizzes to follow.


Michael Walter

Lycoperdon perlatum

Dead wood stained by green elf cup fungus

Tiny green elf cups – photo courtesy of Keith Watson

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