Into the unknown

Clavicorona taxophila  - a very rare fungus - new for Lancashire - microscopic examination was necessary to clinch the indentification - kindly performed by Richard Shotbolt ('oil-filled gloeocystidia is good confirmation' - apparently).  This a Red Data List species. The last record on the FRDBI  database is 9 yeas ago in Wiltshire.

A small mammal scurried across a clearing in front of me – a Red Squirrel! If I’d spotted the Beast of Bodmin I’d have been only marginally less surprised (mainly because Bodmin is in Cornwall).

I had been exploring an area of the patch that I normally  turn my nose at – what amounts to a small, unmanaged, wood comprised of Leyland Cypress.  I’d never seen any reason to actually venture in there, after all it’s only Leylandii – more famous  for being the weapon of choice  for ‘Neighbours from Hell’, than for having any wildlife value.

My recent fungus forays, however, have sent me to previously unexplored nooks and crannies of the patch.  Birds can monitored by covering all the ‘habitats’ – to find the fungi, and indeed the flowering plants, bryophytes and lichens, you have to delve deeper.

The number of distinct ‘habitats’ on the patch could be probably  be numbered in the tens – oak wood, willow scrub, lake margin etc. However there must be thousands upon thousands of 'micro-habitats' – fallen oak log, oak bark, oak leaf  litter etc.*

Leylandii is almost as omnipresent as God – however usually in an suburban setting. It’s trimmed, titivated and generally spruced up. Dead branches are caught mid-air and put into the recycling bin before they even hit the ground (are you sure? – ed).

Cypress Grove** as I’ve decided to christen it - on the other hand - seems to me what must be rare piece of habitat. Rather like a mature coniferous wood in the amount dead wood lying around. One thing it lacks however are saplings - Leyland Cypress being a sterile hybrid ‘invented’ in 1870,  doesn’t usually set seed.

Cypress Grove - ‘this other Eden, demi-paradise, this fortress built by nature for herself' (enough of the Shakespeare already - ed) - has turned up some interesting things. As well as the Red Squirrel, I found two very rare species of fungus, both  new for Lancashire – Arrhenia onisca and Clavicorona taxilcola.

To get a new species on the county list is quite an involved process. I had to dry specimens on the radiator, then post them to an expert mycologist. He examined them and verified the records microscopically. A 'voucher specimen' - then needs to be lodged at  Kew. Phew.

Recent Patch Sightings
17/11 - Chiffchaff - briefly sang
18/11 - Red Squirrel
19/11 - Raven - 2
20/11 - Whooper swan - 8 north
Clavicorona taxilcola & Arrhenia onisca - very rare fungi - new for Lancs

Red Squirrel - another terrible 'record shot'. A big surprise to see one on the patch.
Cypress Grove - looking nicer than it really is.
Postia caesia (Conifer Blueing Bracket) another interesting inhabitant of Cypress Grove and also another gratifyingly odd fungus - more blue cheese than fungus.
'Caught one more time on Leyland Cypress Avenue' (to misquote Van Morrison).
Arrhenia onisca - a second rare fungus - new for Lancashire - microscopic examination  was kindly performed by Richard Shotbolt (the spore size rules out the very similar A. sphagnicola).

An even odder find amongst the Leylandii - Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa (white Coral Slime Mould). I've been following its progress - earlier in the week it was a homogeneous mucusy mass, like  the prolific sneezings of a very large man (apologies to anyone who regularly eats food). Today there was a lot more structure as fruiting bodies were forming. Slime moulds are incredible, as this TED talk demonstrates, showing a kind of 'intelligence'.

* There is, in fact, no distinction in nature between habitat and micro-habitat, there are just habitats. It’s merely a question of scale. It’s clear that the scale doesn’t extend to infinity at either end. There must, then be an irreducibly small size for ‘micro’ – habitats. This will be at the scale of microrganisms. The number of habitats at this scale must number millions, or even billions.

** Not to be confused with Bohemian Grove. The last thing I want here, is for hooded world leaders, performing owl-based rituals - they'd trample the rare fungi. Get this


  1. Very interesting stuff - I had no idea about any of that - I'm local

  2. Great work getting some new species onto the county list - it does sound quite an involved process, but then I guess with something as complex to ID as fungi it would have to be. Slime moulds have got to be some of the weirdest things! I've seen time-lapse films of its spread (e.g. on the 'Great British Year' recently), quite fascinating stuff! I'm not sure if the TED talk link went where it was supposed to for me? (Though what I watched was interesting nonetheless.) :)
    Wonderful that you have Reds on your patch, you must have been really pleased to spot him/her.

    1. Oh, thanks for pointing out the link error - should be . Yes they're really fascinating. There's a whole feature length documentary which I'd like to see Yes, brilliant to see a Red on the patch - one of those occasions when wished I had a better camera!

    2. Thanks for the links - I love how a humble slime mould was able to recreate the design of Tokyo's rail network with the help of a few oats!

    3. I love that as well - genius!


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