29 October 2018

Fairwood flush

Much of Fairwood Common is vegetated by flora that characteristic of acid soils, however, occasional flushes can be found that support species more typically associated with mild base enrichment. Sometimes the differences in vegetation are subtle, when the base state can be better detected by changes in the dominant bryophytes. Rigid Bog-moss Sphagnum teres (above), is a good indicator of such base-enrichment and was found to be frequent throughout a 1500m2 area on a flushed bank. Bottle Sedge Carex rostrata was closely associated with S. teres in these areas along with some nice quality vascular plants that included Marsh Cinquefoil Comarum palustre, Petty Whin Genista anglica (bottom photo), Bogbean Menyanthes trifoliata, Bog Asphodel Narthecium ossifragum, Devil's-bit Scabious Succisa pratensis and Cranberry Vaccinium oxycoccos (below), with the latter two species in good quantity.

Invertebrate interest was limited but did include the weevil Hypera rumicis.

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


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