“A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.”
– William Blake –
I had headed up to the Pwllycrochan woods on Saturday in the hope of discovering some fungi to photograph. What I know about fungi in general could be written on the top of a toadstool, but my interest was sparked last November on a brilliant outing organised for us in a cork oak forest near where I live when in Spain.
Arriving in the late afternoon and on warm sunny day too, I was a little doubtful there would be anything to find, especially as I had no idea what I was looking for. A notice attached to the information board referring to the meeting point for a ‘fungi foraging group’ held earlier on, gave me hope that there would be something to discover, but I had no idea what or where. I wished I’d known about the organised event; I’d have joined it, if only to learn the identity of a few different species.
I walked for a while, just enjoying the atmosphere of the woodland, breathing in the scents of damp earth and gently decaying leaves. It was very peaceful here with few sounds disturbing the quietness; the faint trickling of a stream, a few fluting notes from a Robin, the scolding of a Blackbird. The loudest sounds were made by Wood Pigeons crashing around high in the treetops. They are doing that a lot lately, perhaps it’s something to do with staking territory or mating.
I took one of the uphill trails through the trees until I reached the cleared area around the enormous beech tree. Lengths of felled tree trunks have been set around here as seating, or left stacked to provide habitat for the many species of fauna and flora that require the unique conditions provided by decaying timber, and lo and behold, here were fungi.
Mycology is the study of fungi. At various points throughout history, fungi have been considered to be either plants or animals. It was finally concluded that fungi are neither plants nor animals, but are a distinct group. Fungi are now considered one of the five kingdoms into which all living organisms are classified.
Fungi are strange and fascinating entities and it’s not hard to understand why they feature strongly in the folklore of many countries, where they are often regarded as signs of magic, or even evil at work. Much of the myth was prompted by the sudden overnight appearance and rapid rate of growth of many species of fungus: lightning strikes, meteorites, shooting stars, earthly vapours, and witches have all been proposed as agents of their origin. Add to that the weird and wonderful shapes and even colours that many of the fruiting bodies present, and it does not take too much imagination to see how their presence could be interpreted as the work of other-worldly forces.
What is the difference between a mushroom and a toadstool? For an answer, have a look at this page on the BBC site where it says “There is no scientific difference between a mushroom and a toadstool; an edible fungus is usually referred to as a mushroom, whereas an inedible one is usually referred to as a toadstool. As with so many aspects of the study of these amazing organisms, however, even this is not always the case.”
Bracket Fungi are so called simply because they look like shelves growing out of the sides of trees; they are polypores and tend to have very tough, leathery or woody fruiting bodies. They are often plate-like and most grow out of tree trunks or rotting wood, although some may grow on soil.
I found this enormous fungus on my way back down the hill. I saw a large section of a tree trunk lying on the ground a short way from the path; a quick glance showed nothing growing on the side and end I could see easily and I almost passed by, but something in my mind suggested having a look at the sides I couldn’t see. I negotiated brambles and a steep slope to get there, but it was worth the effort as I immediately saw that nestled inside a large split in the log was this huge specimen of a bracket fungus. I’d never seen anything like it before and for its sheer size and presence I have to make it the star of today’s show.
I am naming it as a Southern Bracket as that is more commonly occurring than a similar species, which is Artist’s Bracket –Ganoderma applanatum.