08 October 2018

'Stanley's' Fleabane in Burry Port

With no formally adopted vernacular, I've taken the liberty to create one myself of an interesting hybrid encountered whilst surveying an area of crushed concrete at the former Carmarthen Bay Power Station, immediately east of Burry Port Harbour. Initially it appeared to me to be Conyza, but not a species I could name using standard keys, so I sent photographs to a number of eminent local botanists, including Tim Rich who came to the fore and said it was a generic hybrid between Erigeron acris (Blue Fleabane) and Conyza floribunda (Bilbao's Fleabane). It eventually transpired this taxon was only recently described as X Conyzigeron x stanleyi by Tony Mundell, who named it after the finder Paul Stanley, adding that 'Paul sent me a note saying he felt honoured by the new name and added that his wife Steph thought it appropriate ‘being a scruffy plant of unglamorous locations’'. It seems likely this reasonably distinctive hybrid is not as rare as the handful of records might indicate, especially as C. floribunda is now so widespread and abundant, including many areas where it crosses swords with E.acris. So it is one to look wherever both parents are present. The dark pink heads and larger size of the hybrid are likely to attracted attention, although the intermediate characters are perhaps more subtle. The sterile seeds are a key indicator that should be examined, these looking withered and without substance.

One final note, in the upcoming fourth edition of Stace, the genus Conyza has been re-amalgamated with Erigeron so the hybrid now becomes Erigeron x stanleyi.

01 October 2018

Fungi

A fairly wet August following an exceptionally hot and dry July created ideal conditions for mushrooms and toadstools. Sure enough, by the end of August many people were reporting all manner of fungi in woods and fields. The first half of September, with its almost monsoonal rains, saw a continuation of good conditions for autumn fungi with boletes and brittlegills appearing everywhere. A number of Cep (Boletus edulis) foragers took advantage of the exceptional year for this most edible of toadstools in our local woodlands and large numbers appeared in the Neath Valley this year.

The Penny Bun Fungus, or Cep (Boletus edulis), in a Neath Valley beechwood

But I have been particularly impressed by the abundance of Brittlegills (Russula species) in the last month or so. Local beech woods have had spectacular amounts of Blackening Brittlegill (Russula nigricans) and Geranium Brittlegill (Russula fellea). The latter could be confused with Ochre Brittlegill (Russula fellea), which is probably the most common brittlegill in our area, but it is more honey yellow than ochre yellow, it has a faint smell of Pelargonium and it is only found in beechwoods.

Geranium Brittlegill (Russula fellea) in Briton Ferry Woods

Other brittlegills that have been conspicuous include the very common Charcoal Burner (Russula cyanoxantha), Purple Brittlegill (Russula atropurpurea) and Bitter Almond Brittlegill (Russula laurocerasi). The latter is a large, chunky brittlegill with a distinctive smell of bitter almond or marzipan.

Charcoal Burner (Russula cyanoxantha),  beechwood in Glyncastle Forest

Purple Brittlegill (Russula atropurpurea) Briton Ferry Woods

                            Bitter Almond Brittlegill (Russula laurocerasi), Gnoll Park beechwoods

Yellowing Brittlegill (Russula puellaris) has been abundant in some mixed deciduous woodlands this autumn. Perhaps its most obvious feature is its tendency to discolour to yellow, particularly in its stem and gills.

Yellowing Brittlegill (Russula puellaris), mixed woodland near Resolven

Birch Brittlegill (Russula betularum) has certainly been one of the most common fungi in birchwoods this year. It is fairly small and fragile with a pale pink cap. A useful identification feature is that the skin on the cap (the cuticle) will peel almost entirely - most brittlegills have a cuticle that peels from quarter to halfway across the cap.

Birch Brittlegill (Russula betularum), birchwood near Resolven

Two rather similar brittlegills, Russula amoenolens and Russula praetervisa appeared in fairly large numbers in a scrubby oakwood near Jersey Marine in early September. They are both rather similar brownish fungi which require careful microscopic examination and chemical tests for accurate identification. Russula amoenolens has an incredibly peppery taste that Geoffrey Kibby describes as painful - and he's not wrong!

Russula amoenolens, oak wood near Jersey Marine

A birch and willow woodland near Jersey Marine had a very large population of Russula persicina, this year. It is not a common species, but it seems to like growing with willows in coastal habitats in south Wales. Notably, it can also be found growing with Creeping Willow (Salix repens) on Kenfig Burrows.

Russula persicina, with Grey Willows near Jersey Marine

In the Corsican Pine plantations of Pembrey, Whiteford and Margam, there have been good crops of Crab Brittlegill (Russula xerampelina). The strong, fishy smell of crab is a good identification feature. Another good id feature is very dark green reaction on the stem when it is rubbed with iron salts (see photo below).

Crab Bittergill (Russula xerampelina), Corsican Pine plantation, Margam Moors - note the very dark  green stain on the stem after rubbing with ferrous sulphate crystals

And finally, a nationally rare species, Russula torulosa, which is usually associated with coastal plantations of Corsican Pine, was found growing with Lodgepole Pine on a coal tip near Banwen. It is a beautiful brittlegill with a striking, pink stem. It could be confused with Russula fuscorubroides which is also found locally, but that species grows with spruce (usually Sitka Spruce) and not pine.

Russula torulosa with Lodgepole Pine on coal tip near Banwen

02 July 2018

Shoreweed

Shoreweed (Littorella uniflora) is an interesting, but rather nondescript amphibious plant. It usually occurs submerged along the shallow margins of reservoirs, lakes and pools and it is easy to miss or overlook. It is probably under recorded in South Wales. However, during prolonged dry periods in summer lakes and pools dry up and their margins recede. When this happens, large populations of Shoreweed may be revealed. Summers like the one we are experiencing this year are good times to look for this plant.
Llyn Fawr is a disused reservoir, now used mostly for recreation and fishing. It is situated under the imposing north-facing walls of Craig y Llyn, near Rhigos. As a result of the prolonged hot, dry weather we've had for  the last several weeks, the shores of the reservoir have receded significantly to expose large turfs of Shoreweed. From a distance it looks like a grassy lawn.

 Extensive turf of Shoreweed along shore of Llyn Mawr

Shoreweed doesn't flower when it is submerged, but it produces stolons that give rise to rosettes of leaves and allow the plant to build dense colonies by vegetative means. Out of water each plant may produce a single male flower and one or a few female flowers (i.e. it is monoecious). The male flower, which produce 4 stamens with long, stringy filaments, is fairly obvious. The female flowers are produced lower down on the stem (see photos below). Shoreweed is a member of the Plantain family (Plantaginaceae) and like the more common plantains it is wind pollinated.

Male and female flowers of Shoreweed (Littorella uniflora)

 The four, long stringy stamens of Shoreweed male flower

When submerged, the spongy rosettes of Shoreweed resemble those of Quillworts (e.g. Isoetes lacustris) and Water Lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna), with which it often grows. These species exhibit what is called an isoetid growth form and they share similar physiological traits too; all 3 of these species grow in Llyn Fach, the smaller lake that occurs next to Llyn Fawr under the western extension of Craig y Llyn. Unlike terrestrial plants, where the carbon dioxide for photosynthesis diffuses into the leaves from the atmosphere,  isoetids obtain most of their carbon dioxide via their roots from the muddy, lake-bottom sediments in which they grow. The carbon dioxide then diffuses from the roots to the spongy, air-filled leaves which have hollow lacunae to facilitate diffusion.

Section of Shoreweed leaf showing the network of hollow lacunae

The isoetid strategy is a remarkable example of convergent evolution, where plants that belong to unrelated taxa have evolved similar morphological and physiological traits to adapt to a particular habitat or environment. For example, Water Lobelia is a member of the Bellflower family (Campanulaceae) and is not closely related to Shoreweed while Quillworts, which are related to ferns, are not even flowering plants.

02 May 2018

Colletes Cunicularius at Whiteford Burrows


I spent some time watching a colony of Colletes Cunicularius at Whiteford 2 weeks ago.
I was curious to find out why some of the males 2 or 3 at a time, were digging at one particular place in the sand for maybe 5-10 minutes and then as if bored of doing so flew away to some other places. I took a twig and started to dig where these males had started a tiny hole. After reaching a couple of centimeters down, a fully grown and emerging bee would come out and all those observed (I dug 3 holes) were males. I concluded from these observations that the digging males had detected an emerging bee at first but then must have found out (via pheromones?) that it was a male not a female and had given up digging as a result.
I also observed some females being mated by the stronger of the fighting males. Some males would try to push the stronger males out of the way but failed. When the act was over, the male would fly away and the mated female was ignored by other males. Somehow, the female had become unreceptive.
I have attached a couple of pictures below. One shows several males waiting for a female to emerge, note the smaller male behind the bigger males on the bottom left of the picture.
Sylvie Herault


 

20 March 2018

Swansea Vale Sand Martin colony restored

Sean Hathaway, Environment Officer for Swansea Council, led works to restore the Sand Martin colony at Swansea Vale over the winter period. The site has been used since about 1996, the year after the holes were installed by the council when the road/embankment went in, directly opposite an eroding sand bank they previously used to nest in. This artificial urban site (which comprises three groups of holes totalling 47) was in serious risk of being completely overgrown by willows and brambles. These were cleared in October 2017 to provide the martins a clear flight path into the nest holes and to reduce the risk from predators. Further works carried out in February 2018 included the removal of old sand and debris, treatment with an insecticide to rid the nest chambers of parasites, which were then refilled with clean sand.  
Despite the freezing weather, the first Sand Martins have already arrived in the county and hopefully this urban colony will benefit from the excellent work undertaken by Sean and his team.  Excellent views of what will hopefully be a busy colony can be enjoyed from the Swansea Vale footpath at SS67589877. Also keep an eye open for Goosanders and Dippers which are also frequent here.

03 February 2018

Magnificent Micro-moths

A sneak preview of this month's BAY Bugs for anyone who doesn't get the BAY magazine!






26 January 2018

Booted Knight (Tricholoma focale)

Tricoloma focale in a conifer plantation near Rhigos (14/11/16)


I tentatively identified these fruiting bodies in 2016 as Tricholoma focale, but sent a dried specimen, some photographs and a spore print to Martyn Ainsworth in Kew for DNA sequencing. Martyn informed me today that the DNA from my samples matches that obtained from the neotype of Tricholoma focale (Heilmann-Clausen (2017): Persoonia, 38: 38-57), which is great news. Tricholoma focale is very rare in Britain and largely confined to Pine Woods in Scotland and was believed to be extinct in England and Wales There have been a few records for South Wales recently, but this is the first that has been confirmed by molecular analysis and, as such, has been accessioned into the Kew collection. It is a very notable addition the mycoflora of our conifer plantations.
Many thanks again to Martyn and his team at Kew who do an amazing job.

22 January 2018

Leopard-spotted Ginkgos

The Glamorgan Fungus Group Facebook pages recently highlighted the occurrence of the small and easily overlooked fungus Bartheletia paradoxa, which occurs on fallen leaves of the Maidenhair-tree Ginkgo biloba. As we happened to be 'sort of passing' a tree I remembered seeing in Swansea Univerity Botanic Gardens, I couldn’t resist stopping to gather a few leaves in  yesterday's downpour. Back home, once dried out, many leaves displayed an attractive leopard-spotted pattern with associated tiny fruiting bodies. 
In addition to the university tree I have only ever recorded the three other trees in the Swansea area:
Singleton Park (2.22m gbh) SS6313192143
Singleton Park (2.02m gbh) SS6294992415
St James Gardens, Swansea SS643930
If anyone knows of additonal Maidenhair-trees in our area, please do let me know and/or check for this fungus.

21 January 2018

Snakeskin Brownie


Snakeskin Brownie (Hypholoma marginatum, also known as Hypholoma dispersum) is a fairly common toadstool in local Sitka Spruce plantations although it is generally uncommon in Europe as a whole. It gets its fabulous common name from the characteristic snakeskin pattern on the stipe. Given its preferred habitat, often growing on buried wood litter or wood debris among mosses, and its characteristic morphology, it is not usually difficult to identify.
In the autumn of 2016 Hilary and I came across 3 populations of a fairly distinctive toadstool in Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taff composed of fruiting bodies clustered in large numbers on conifer wood debris or wood chips. All were in conifer plantations at the side of forest roads but outside the forest. A photograph of part of one population growing on Sitka wood chips in the Maerdy Plantation (RCT) is shown below.


I couldn't identify this species at the time, but after microscopic examination of specimens I was convinced that it was something in the Strophariacea, a large family of brown-spored species that includes a number of well known genera such as Stropharia, PsilocybeHypholoma, Pholiota and Kuehneromyces. Given the number of species new to Britain that have been found growing on wood mulch in the last few decades, I was excited. Eventually I contacted Martyn Ainsworth at Kew who suggested that the only way to resolve this was to look at the DNA profile of the specimens, so I sent him some photos plus dry specimens from two of the populations and a spore print. I was delighted to hear from Martyn about 2 weeks ago when he informed me that the DNA profiles indicated that the specimens were actually Snakeskin Brownie - the material has now been accessioned into the Kew collection and DNA database for future reference.
I didn't even consider Snakeskin Brownie at the time, mainly because I was so used to seeing it in its characteristic form, as shown in the upper photograph. Looking at both photographs now, I can see a resemblance that can be accommodated in terms of the enormous morphological plasticity that fungal fruiting bodies often exhibit. However, if you flick through a gallery of photographs of species in the Strophariaceae you will understand the dilemma. This also illustrates how unsafe it can be to identify some fungi from photographs, something that Martyn constantly reminds people about.
My thanks to Martyn Ainsworth and his team at Kew for resolving this.