February 2012

On Christmas Day there were a number of plants still flowering in the garden including the beautiful dark pink, climbing rose, Madame Isaac Pereire which was carrying three blooms, and a small clump of transplanted rudbeckia bearing a stem of yellow, spiky flowers. However, as the warm days continued into January so more and more plants began to respond by flowering early and so the leftover flowers of last season began to find themselves mixing with unusual bedfellows such as hellebores, crocuses, spring snowflakes and the ground hugging, yellow belled, winter aconites. The buds began to swell on many trees and shrubs and even box hedging produced a top layer of new, pale green leaves. By the end of the second week of the month, temperatures started to drop giving rise to heavy night time frosts which took their vengeance as more seasonal weather dominated. But whilst this will have the effect of frost-burning the early flowers and any new leaf growth, it will also put the plants back into dormant mode and hopefully, when spring arrives for real, they will put on their usual stunning show. Meanwhile, the squirrels, which had been playing chase me Charlie in the tree tops, seem to have reacted to the cold weather by returning to the protection of their dreys.

The warm weather was also good for fungi and by early December the woodland around the village contained a wide range of different species representing many of the groups in this diverse kingdom including Wood Blewit, which have violet tinted, tan caps; the almond scented Wood Mushroom; Common Puffballs and many others with graphically descriptive common names such as Pig's Ears, Common Eyelash Cup, Turkey Tail and Chicken of the Woods. One of the most extraordinary sights, enjoyed by many villagers including Jean Bristow who telephoned to ask if I had seen it, was the emergence of a large crop of fungi in the cleared woodland area on Outwood Common amongst which was the largest fairy ring I have ever seen. This ring, which was some 3 metres in diameter, was created by a fungus known as Trooping Funnel (Clitocybe geotropa) - the identity was confirmed by Rod Dorgan a keen fungus hunter. Many individuals in the ring were 20-25 cms in diameter across the cap and the same in height. The caps were initially pale buff but as they aged they became darker and then tan as the edge of the caps grew upwards to form a funnel. The brackets form yet another branch of the fungi family and an excellent example of one was a multi layered, leather brown coloured Thin Mazegill (Daedaleopsis confragosa) spotted by Carolyn Last on an old oak tree behind the cricket ground, and nearby, on a decaying silver birch, was yet another, the white coloured Razor Strop Fungus (Piptoperus betulinus). An unusual discovery, found further across the common, was a slime mould. Slime moulds were, until recently, classified as primitive members of the fungi but are no longer considered part of this kingdom. The one in question was clinging to some stems of grass and bramble and, at first sight, gave rise to a feeling of revulsion but this feeling was explained after further examination and a little research showed that this was Mucilago crustacea, which looks like its close relative Dog Vomit Slime Mould (Fuligo septica).

Mik e Johnson