Posted by: Ross Gardner | November 16, 2011

Glorious Decay

From worms in the compost heap to fungi on the lawn, the theme is essentially the same – glorious decay.

It doesn’t seem to have been the best of years for fungi, at least not in my corner of Essex.  Having measured the rainfall over recent years at Meadowfield Nature Study Centre, where I work, the indication is that October and November are on average very much two of the wetter months of the year in our area.  Not so this year.  October was exceptionally dry, after and even drier September, not even yielding an inch of rain.  Significantly, as October edges towards November, this is when that astonishingly diverse array of fungi usually begins to issue forth from the ground.  Such dry conditions at such a crucial time must and indeed does appear to have a deleterous affect on the apprearance of fungi fruiting bodies above ground.

Lactarius pubescens. Copyright 2011 Ross Gardner

Strange then, that I should find my back lawn studded with more fungal protrusions than I can remember seeing for a while.  The bits that we see are merely the reproductive part of a funguses being.  They exist as often vast networks of hyphae (plural for hypha) that comprise the mycelium, growing underground, within rotting wood or whatever substrate a fungus happens to grow on, feeding on the decaying matter therein.  When fungi of the same species meet and the environmental conditions around them are right, a spore producing fruiting body is formed, whether as a mushroom, a bracket or any of the other wierd, wonderfully and sometimes even wobbly shapes that they might assume.  The fruiting body matures, the spores are dispersed and off we go again.

Now fungi are notoriously tricky customers where matters of idenification are concerned, even for the more experienced naturalist that I guess I should regard myself as.  I am reasonably confident however , that the main cause for the appearance of fungal abundance in my garden is the result of a troop of Lactarius pubescens (corrections on a postcode, written in the kindest possible way so as not to hurt my feelings too much), sometimes known as the Downy or Bearded Milk Cap, thriving in the lea of a birch tree.  Many species of fungi are associated with certain species of tree and for L. pubescens birch is that tree.

I felt moved to photograph them and in doing so drew my attention to other species pushing their way through the sward.  A brown-coloured, wide-gilled little mushroom that looked like on of the Laccaria species, a scattering of Snowy Wax Cap (Hygrocybe nivea) and the curious little wisps of Clavulinopsis helvola.

A few more examples of that wonderful world of decay, making up in part for an autumn with fungi apparently thin on the ground.


  1. The most important question surely needs to be, can you eat the newest addition to your garden?

    • One of my books marks the mushroom quite clearly as POISONOUS, although other sources state its edibility as ‘unknown’ or even ‘edible’. As always with mushrooms: IF IN ANY DOUBT, DON’T EAT IT, so it won’t be appearing in any of my omlettes.

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