These bizarre, strange looking fungi were recorded back in 2008 by mushroom aficionada Mark Pike of the Dorset Fungi Group (DFG). Weird and wonderful!
Words and images by Mark Pike. the Dorset Fungus Group.
These are a few of the rarer species found in Purbeck but the great thing about fungi is that you literally never know what you will find or where it might be growing! Please remember, as always, if you come across fungi that you are at all unsure of – leave it well alone. It may be deadly, rare or both.
Rarities exist in most ecosystems and the kingdom of fungi is no exception. Dorset is a very diverse county, possessing all the natural ingredients to sustain a great variety of fungi. This inevitably leads to some interesting and rare finds. Here are a few of the best I have come across over the years but I must stress that if you are ever lucky enough to encounter these species, please leave them exactly where you find them. Even if edible, they must not be picked due to their considerable rarity.
Nail Fungus (Poronia punctata)
The first of my rarities dates back to 1999. It made the national news! Dr Jonathan Cox, of English Nature, rediscovered after an absence in the UK lasting sixteen years, the very rare Nail Fungus (Poronia punctata) growing on its normal substrate of pony dung on Stoborough Heath and at nearby Hartland Moor in Purbeck. There a deal of mirth generated by the media about the idea of Dr Cox crawling around on his hands and knees, examining piles of the stuff! Nevertheless this was a fantastic find.
The English name has nothing to do with human nail fungus by the way; it just describes the fact that, in shape and form, it resembles a broad-headed nail of the type used for securing bituminous felt to garden shed roofs. The fruit bodies themselves are very small, about one centimetre in height at the most. Since Dr Cox’s rediscovery, I have found them many times in Purbeck, but they are still classed as Near Threatened on the Red Data List, produced by Shelley Evans et al. in 2006. Poronia punctata is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species.
Barometer Earthstar Astraeus hygrometricus
On 19th October 2004 the Dorset Fungus Group was contacted by a Grounds Maintenance Foreman of a cemetery in the heart of Poole to say that he had found an unusual “flower like” fungus. I was immediately intrigued and I went to investigate the mysterious find. I found a vast variety of commoner types of fungi, but lurking among these were a few wonderful specimens of Astraeus hygrometricus, the Barometer Earthstar, a very rare fungus in the UK.
The name is derived from the way the rays of the star react to humidity. When it’s very dry, the ray-shaped arms fold around the centre puffball to protect it from predators and the elements. As it rains, different parts of the hygroscopic rays absorb water at different rates, causing them to unfold, exposing a puffball at the centre. But there’s more! The rays curl and extend far enough to raise the puffball a couple of centimetres into the air, increasing the likelihood of spores catching the breeze to be scattered far-off. This small elevation may not seem like much, but studies have shown that there is a significantly stronger airstream just a few centimetres away from rough surfaces. Luckily, this photography expedition was preceded by a downpour.
Upton Heath is 250ha of surviving Dorset heathland right on the edge of the Purbeck, with views across Poole Harbour, Corfe Castle and the Purbeck Hills. The unusual terrain echoes its historic use as a resource for pottery & brick making. It is a wonderful place for all manner of wildlife and plants. Fungi are particularly abundant in the autumn but nothing prepared me for the wonderful find I would make on 6th October 2006. Having found many common types, I happened to glance across at a pile of recent wood-chippings and spotted a very unusual fungus. At first, I thought it was a discoloured common Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare), but on further investigation I realised it was something I had never encountered before.
After a few photographs, I sent a sample to the Association of British Fungus Groups (ABFG) for identification. It was identified as Gymnopilus dilepus, never before found in the South West of England and there have only been fourteen recordings rpior to mine, mainly in Surrey & Norfolk. It’s an indigenous species to New Zealand; quite how they materialised in Dorset is a mystery.
Zoned Rosette Podoscypha multizonata
To the grounds of Upton House for another good find on 27th September, 2008. Spotted among the shrubs and bushes was the elusive Zoned Rosette (Podoscypha multizonata). This rare fungus grows on ancient hardwood trees, usually oak. This specimen was attached to the roots of a huge oak at some distance from the trunk. Interestingly, the UK has an international responsibility for this species – it hosts nearly 80% of the entire European population, and nearly all the UK recordings of it are from Southern England.
Jewelled Amanita Amanita gemmata
Since formation, 1995, the Dorset Fungus Group’s has taken an annual foray to Sherford Bridge in Wareham Forest. Last November, we were blessed with two lovely, rare finds. The first was a Jewelled Amanita (Amanita gemmata). The whole family of Amanita is a no-go area as far as culinary use is concerned; most are at best poisonous, at worst, deadly. This one is so rare its properties are not well documented but it is known to be poisonous – causing symptoms similar to those associated with the Fly Agaric, (Amanita muscaria).
Some authorities believe this species may hybridise with the Panther Cap (Amanita pantherina), amplifying its dangerousness because the Panther Cap is lethal. Yet the Jewelled Amanita is wonderful to look at; its name comes from the sparkling appearance of the veil remnants observable on the cap surface, especially soon after rainfall.
Macrotyphula fistulosa.var contorta
Our second, excellent find came in another area of the same part of the forest, Macrotyphula fistulosa.var contorta. What a tongue-twister! This is not exactly your common or garden mushroom, in fact it’s rare in the UK, yet it is probably much overlooked. Almost oblivious, we stumbled on this one by chance while examining something else close by. There were a couple of fruiting bodies growing on a dead branch of a Birch tree – nearly trodden down by about twenty foragers!