Sunday, 7 May 2017

Cramp Balls …

King Alfred's Cakes (Daldinia concentrica)

King Alfred's Cakes (D. concentrica), or Cramp Balls as they are also commonly known (because carrying them was once thought to cure attacks of the cramp), are common and widespread throughout most of Britain. They are hard to the touch and appear as an uneven, rounded fungus that resembles burnt buns - hence their common vernacular name. Occurring mostly on ash and beech, the above specimens were all found on a fallen ash branch, they attach themselves very firmly to the substrate. They initially appear reddish-brown but become more black, with a smooth texture dusted with fallen spores on maturity, these rubbing off to leave a shiny surface.

Maybe not the most exotic of species but fascinating nonetheless …


Buczacki, S., Shields, C. and Ovenden, D. (2012). Collins Fungi Guide: The most complete field guide to the mushrooms and toadstools of Britain & Ireland. London: HarperCollins, p. 598, fig. p. 599.
O’Reilly, P. (2016). Fascinated by Fungi – exploring the majesty and mystery, facts and fantasy of the quirkiest kingdom on earth. Llandysul: First Nature, p. 239.
Phillips, R. (2006). Mushrooms. London: Pan Macmillan, p. 374, fig. b.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 328, fig. p. 329.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Arachnophobia …

Early Spider-orchid (Ophrys sphegodes)

The Early Spider-orchid O. sphegodes is a local and uncommon species. However, in the limited areas where it can be found, including the coastal regions of southern England, especially Kent, Sussex and Dorset, populations can be quite substantial. It is characteristically found on closely grazed impoverished chalk or limestone grassland, where it is one of the first orchids to flower in the spring. The above examples were recently photographed on grazed coastal downland in the South Downs National Park.


Lang, D., 2004. Britain’s Orchids. Old Basing, Hampshire: WILDGuides Ltd., pp. 148-149.

Strictly come April …

European Adder (Vipera berus)

Usually by mid April, male V. berus have shed their dull winter skins and are eager to mate. During warm humid days there is often much frenzied behaviour, with the males looking for females and occasionally duelling with other suitors. During this time the males writhe around each other often covering the ground at great speed. It is an impressive site if you are fortunate to witness it and one that is unlikely to be forgotten. The two males pictures above were photographed in West Sussex on the 17th April.


Sunday, 16 April 2017

First orchid of spring …

Early-purple Orchid (Orchis mascula)

Widespread throughout the British Isles, especially in the southern half of England, the beautiful O. mascula is one of the first flowering orchids to appear in the spring. It grows in a wide variety of habitats on neutral or calcareous soils, flourishing in particular in broadleaved woodland and coppices. It can also be found on calcareous grassland, limestone pavement, road verges and beside damp flushes on coastal cliffs. Specimens with unspotted leaves and a white-flowered variety also occur.


Lang, D., 2004. Britain’s Orchids. Old Basing, Hampshire: WILDGuides Ltd., pp. 130-131.

Friday, 14 April 2017

A place called home ...

Least Inkcap (Parasola misera)

Coprophilous fungi [those growing on dung] are highly satisfactory for demonstrating the diversity and morphology of a group of related organisms within an ecological system. Representative genera of most major groups of fungi can usually be guaranteed to appear on dung after a period of incubation. The dung of herbivores plays host to more species than that of carnivores - which is good news as far as I’m concerned as it’s far more preferable digging around in herbivore dung than that of others - I do have standards after all!

Dung provides a rich substrate for fungi with its easily accessible nutrients and high water-retention qualities. As a growing medium, its chemical composition requires a high degree of specialization. Consequently many dung-inhabiting fungi are not found on any other substrate. The first stage in the life cycle is the ingestion of the spores by the animal in its food. Consequently these spores are excreted with the dung. The heat generated during the decomposition process aids germination and the first fruit bodies of primitive species start to appear within a few days, with a succession of different species following over a period of time.

The above images show the tiny Parasola misera (Agaricales: Psathyrellaceae), which is saprobic [an organism that obtains its nutrients from dead organic matter] on cow dung; conservation grazing grade in this instance from Ebernoe Common, West Sussex. My thanks to Nick Aplin for species determination and for the above photomicrograph, which shows the distinctive heart-shaped basidiospores with germ pores.


Richardson, M.J. and Watling, R. (1997). Keys to Fungi on Dung. Stourbridge, West Midlands: British Mycological Society.
Skidmore, P. (1991). Insects of the British cow-dung community. Shrewsbury: Field Studies Council, Occasional Publication No. 21, pp. 12-13.
Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, pp. 344 and 345.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

It crawls, it creeps, beware …

False Puffball (Reticularia lycoperdon)

Once thought of as a curious form of fungi, slime moulds are now acknowledged as being entirely unrelated. Opinions still differ as to their precise taxonomic classification but they are currently placed in the Protozoa. Although many species are very colourful and quite striking in appearance, they are typically ephemeral and seldom remain in good condition for more than a day or so.

Reminding me of something from a 1950s B-movie (though it probably won't eat you alive), R. lycoperdon is one of the more obvious species. It is typically seen in its reproductive stage as an ivory-white swelling on standing dead trees or on large pieces of fallen timber. The above images show a selection of specimens from this season.


Sterry, P. and Hughes. B. (2009). Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools. London: HarperCollins, p. 334.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Heathland gems ...

Sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis)

L. agilis is one of the UK’s rarest reptiles. Due to the dramatic loss of habitat they now occur naturally only on protected sandy heathland sites in Surrey, Dorset and Hampshire and within the coastal sand dune systems of Merseyside. A captive breeding programme has allowed for the reintroduction of L. agilis to further sites in these areas and restored its historic range with releases in North and West Wales, Devon, Cornwall, Kent and West Sussex. L. agilis has full legal protection under current British and European law making it an offence to kill, injure, capture, possess, disturb or sell them, or to damage or destroy their habitats.

They have a fairly thickset appearance and the males often develop a beautiful jewel green colouration on emergence from hibernation [late March to April] and in preparation for the breeding season. Mating typically occurs in early summer from May to June. They are the only indigenous British lizard to lay eggs [oviparous], which are placed in burrows dug by the females in loose exposed sand; the warmth of which aids development.

The above male from a small West Sussex colony.