Grassland Paintbox

There is colour, and then there are waxcaps: the jewels of autumnal meadows, sparkling after the rain.

Golden waxcap1 30 Oct 20

The UK is internationally important for waxcaps. In a similar vein to wildflowers, these strange and beautiful fungi are dependent on ‘unimproved’ grassland – that is, fields which have not been damaged by fertiliser, reseeding, horse grazing or the other problems of modern agriculture. Some of the best waxcap displays are in the west but we do have a few good places here in the south-east as well.

Golden waxcap is the most common.

Golden waxcap2 30 Oct 20

Blackening waxcap can start off as a similar hue.

Blackening waxcap2 30 Oct 20

But it soon changes.

Blackening waxcap 30 Oct 20

Scarlet waxcap does not – a tiny, impossibly vivid ruby in the grass.

Scarlet waxcap 30 Oct 20

There are green waxcaps. There are white waxcaps. There is even one species that is pink. But they are all sensitive to pollution, and if grassland is damaged, they can take decades to recover.

Meanwhile, back in the shelter of the trees, fly agaric reach preposterous sizes.

Fly agaric 30 Oct 20

What is a fungus? The bright caps catch our attention, but are only the fruiting body. The actual organism, which is neither plant nor animal, exists as strands of white threads – mycelium – in the soil or other substrate. Many species form symbiotic relationships with plants, supporting them with nutrients. Fungi are essential to life, but they are also patient: in any given year, a field will not have all species in fruit, and discovering all the fungi that actually live there can take a good part of a lifetime.

Patience. A good word to remember in this uncertain year.

On a blustery day

A girl with windblown hair – perhaps. Funny how the imagination sees things at times. Her hairstyle will not last for long; she is a glistening inkcap, and is self-dissolving. Inkcaps turn themselves into inky soup that allows the spores to drip away.

Glistening inkcap 8 Oct 2017

While inkcaps dissolve, waxcaps dazzle. They are often called the orchids of the fungi world because of their glamorous colours. They also conservation waymarkers; it can take eighty years for them to recolonize a site after disturbance. Fields with high waxcap diversity are old by definition, and precious.

Golden waxcaps sprinkle gold dust in the mosses.

Golden waxcap 8 Oct 2017

Diamonds and rubies may follow – many other waxcap species dwell under that field, each a different and improbable colour. I will keep walking and watching.

Around birch trees, the theme is red and white.

Fly agaric2 8 Oct 2017

Fly agarics do not look quite real.

Fly agaric1 8 Oct 2017

Sadly, this one had been knocked over by someone. But even in its severed state, a mature fungus will continue to drop spores; they are only the fruiting bodies of the mycelium which is hidden in the soil. I left it there to continue its work.