14 November 2015

Fungi in grassland

November is a good month to look for fungi in meadows, verges and sand dune grasslands. For example, Meadow Waxcap (Hygrocybe pratensis), which is one of our largest waxcap species, is fairly common on unfertilised garden lawns and in parkland. It's usually a subtle apricot colour (sometimes more orange) and often grows in conspicuous groups which can be spotted from a distance. Like all waxcaps it has rather thick gills which are widely spaced.

Meadow Waxcap, Margam Park

Another conspicuous species which always occurs in large groups, often in roadside verges, is Trooping Funnel (Clitocybe geotropa). It's a tall, robust species, usually beige in colour. Mature specimens have the typical funnel shape exhibited by many Clitocybe species.

Trooping Funnel, Melincwrt roadside verge

Sand dunes are surprisingly good places to look for fungi and our local coastal systems have a very diverse mixture of interesting species. One of the most beautiful is a type of Blewit named Lepista sordida (I don't know if it has a common name). It's similar to Wood Blewit (Lepista nuda), another species which occurs sometimes in grassland and on sand dunes, but it's smaller and has a much more intense lilac colour.

Lepista sordida, Baglan Dunes

Lepista sordida, showing gills

Whiteford Burrows is an excellent place to look for sand dune fungi.

09 November 2015

Armadillo Weevils have arrived in Swansea

Otiorhynchus armadillo, female
Similar in appearance and habits to the commonly seen Black Vine Weevil Otiorhynchus sulcatus, Armadillo Weevils, Otiorhynchus armadillo, are recent arrivals from continental Europe, where they are a serious pest species. So far only recorded from a handful of other locations in the UK (in which they appear to have become successfully established), they have now been confirmed from Swansea. In contrast to O. sulcatus, which is parthenogenetic, there are males in O. armadillo. In fact, spotting a mating pair of what superficially looked like O. sulcatus in my garden is what piqued my interest and led to the subsequent identification of the individuals as O. armadillo. Identification was kindly made by M.G. Morris after I approached him for assistance as the recently introduced O. armadillo is not included in his 1997 key to broad-nosed weevils. Viewed side by side, O. armadillo is somewhat stouter and broader and of a slightly lighter colour than O. sulcatus. O. armadillo also lacks spines on the undersides of the femora. It tends to move more slowly and in a more deliberate manner, and does not death-feign as readily as O. sulcatus. While O. armadillo is reasonably easy to distinguish from O. sulcatus, it is very similar to O. salicicola, another recent arrival from the continent, which could cause confusion if the latter also becomes more widespread. Max Barclay, curator of beetles at the Natural History Museum, has published the definitive paper on O. armadillo and O. sulcatus in Britain.

Barclay, M.V.L. (2003). Otiorhynchus (s. str.) armadillo (Rossi, 1792) and Otiorhynchus (s. str.) salicicola Heyden, 1908 (Curculionidae: Entiminae: Otiorhynchini) – two European vine weevils established in Britain. The Coleopterist12, 41 – 56.v

Thanks are due to Paul D. Brock for photographing the specimens

 Otiorhynchus armadillo, male

Otiorhynchus armadillo, mating pair

Alien flora

Encountering a non-native shrub in a wild situation invariably kicks off the thought process of 'could this be the next Japanese Knotweed?'. After encountering Japanese Silver Berry Elaeagnus umbellata, which was self-seeded and fruiting on sandy the soils of Margam Tip today, I was interested to read that this nitrogen-fixing shrub often grows vigorously and competitively in infertile soils and in parts of North America and is listed as a "prohibited noxious weed". Another one of an ever-growing list of ‘ones-to-watch'...

02 November 2015

Autumn Knights

A number of attractive Knights (the name given to fungi in the genus Tricholoma) can be found in the conifer plantations in the Neath and Afan valleys. Some like the Birch Knight (Tricholoma fulvum) are associated with Sitka Spruce (as well as Birch) and often grow in large groups. The cap is dark brown and often quite slimy. The creamy coloured gills develop rusty blotches, which is a good identification feature.

Tricholoma fulvum

The Ashen Knight (Tricholoma virgatum) is an attractive species with a shiny, grey, fibrous cap. Although it is often described as a species of deciduous woodland, it often grows with Spruces and Pines in our plantations.

Tricholoma virgatum

There is a large area of pine plantation on Foel Fynyddau (the hill above Pontrhydyfen and Cwmafan), where you can find Macedonian Pine (Pinus peuce), Scots Pine (Pinus sylverstris subsp. sylvestris) and Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta). With such a large area of pine forest you might expect to find some nice pinewood species. The best is undoubtedly Yellow Knight (Tricholoma equestre) which is also called Man-on-horseback (for reasons unknown to me!).

 Tricholoma equestre

Yellow Knight is a really interesting species. In Britain it is mostly known as a species of Scottish pinewoods and it appears to be very rare in southern Britain, so its occurrence in the pine plantation on Foel Fynyddau is notable. It is sometimes recommended as an edible species, but recently there have been a number of serious poisoning incidents associated with it and it also seems to accumulate mercury under certain conditions. Perhaps these two things are related.