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.

Seeing Stars

The dust has gone, but clouds have taken its place, and there’s little hope of astronomy tonight. But earthly stars thrive in the rain.

Earthstar 19 Oct 2017

This bizarre fungus is an earthstar, which superficially resembles a puffball. Raindrops knock spores from its mouth.

Waxcaps are also thriving in autumnal drizzle. Parrot waxcaps are green with varying flourishes of orange. Like many waxcaps, they are indicator species which signal relatively undamaged ancient grassland.

Parrot waxcap 19 Oct 2017

I have hardly seen the sun today, but when it rose on Tuesday morning, there was still a Saharan edge about it.

Red sun 17 Oct 2017

Sunrise from the train 17 Oct 2017

Bookends

I walk fast – my dog expects nothing else. We’ve covered many long miles of the North Downs together and seen remarkable secrets of the wild world. But sometimes, the surprise comes when you pause for breath.

What stilled me was this: a beautiful blackening waxcap. It’s not an uncommon find in this area in autumn but I’ve never seen one such a brilliant buttercup-yellow before.

Blackening Waxcap 25 Sept 2017

The grass has so many stories, but I was while reading them, something else was trying to read me.

Fox Gatekeeper2 25 Sept 2017

This is Sooty, the famous alpha vixen of a fox family whom I call the Gatekeepers. This is why.

Fox Gatekeeper 25 Sept 2017

She watched me from the west, and her mate watched me from the east.

Fox Gatekeeper3 25 Sept 2017

Bookends.

My dog and I were the story being considered between them. Just a small note as the evening gathers pace.

Wild Paintings

Green rule of thirds 23 Sept 2017

Some artwork is subtle and made to persist, like this composition by lichen and moss. A tree died and became a canvas.

Down in the grass, a blackening waxcap offers brightness, but only for moments. Touched by hand or age, it turns dark. The top of the cap turns first, and the whole structure flushes black.

If the slugs spare it, I’ll keep watching.

Blackening waxcap 23 Sept 2017