I braved the rain showers and intermittent rumbles of thunder for a wander around Cefn Onn Park, in north Cardiff, last weekend. I hadn’t been there for quite a while and, after the recent rains, I had an inkling there might be some fungi around. I was right! There were actually rather a lot of crusty, brackety, slimy, smutty and generally mushroomy things to be found. (No, I’m not going to ID them – I just enjoyed seeing some fungi again.)
One of the things that helps identify types of fungi is their spore colour so, though I try to avoid collecting fungi – preferring instead to leave them for everyone to enjoy, for the fungi themselves to release their spores and thus multiply, and for insects to feast upon – I do occasionally collect a specimen to bring home to spore print. For the uninitiated, this is usually a simple matter of turning the mushroom upside down on a white or coloured piece of paper (or a glass slide, if you’re also planning microscopic examination), covering it with something like a glass jar, and waiting several hours. (If your fungus is not mushroom-shaped, the process can vary but let’s keep it simple today.)
The reward after those several hours have elapsed is not only discovering what spore colour your mushroom has produced but also, if you’re lucky, getting the added benefit of a very pretty spore print. Spores are like tiny spots of dust so can easily be disturbed by the slightest waft of air but it is possible to preserve your print by spraying it with a very light sealant. I’m still experimenting with this process – I’ve tried hairspray but the spray droplets contained too much moisture which ruined the print. If you’ve ever tried this and have some ideas to share, please do add a comment below, and PLEASE DO NOT go out and pick every mushroom you see just to try this. Fungi are not like blackberries or apples, they need to be left where they are to send out their spores!
I used to think fungi only appeared in the autumn but I was wrong. I’ve found these three examples of Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) in the past two weeks at three different locations. It’s an edible fungus so I won’t disclose the locations, as the modern trend of foraging all edible fungi can also put some fungi in danger of being over-collected. I prefer just to take photos and leave the fungi to the critters that undoubtedly enjoy it.
Another common name for this fungus is Pheasant’s back mushroom – as the name implies, the pretty brown colour patterns on the fungus are similar to those seen on the back of a pheasant. The scientific name also refers partly to this patterning (squamosus means scaly), and polyporus means ‘having many pores’ – this is not a gilled mushroom like those you buy at the supermarket; instead, it has a myriad of tiny tubes from which the spores are dispersed.
The name Dryad’s saddle must have come from someone with a good imagination. In Greek mythology, dryads were tree spirits or nymphs, and the shape of some these fungi does indeed resemble a saddle so, perhaps, when we’re not looking, the dryads emerge from their trees for a gallop around the woodland!