Fungi at Toys Hill October 2019


Do you know your Common Earth Ball from your Coral Tooth, your False Death Cap from your Candle Snuff, or your Shaggy Parasol from a Pig's Ear??!! I'd like to meet you if you do. The only person I know who can distinguish the multitude of fungi, algae and lichen around us is the esteemed ecologist, Joyce Pitt. Our group was lucky to spend a couple of hours in her company, prowling around Toys Hill Woods. Joyce is an ex-geography teacher and botanist, more recently engaged in the establishing of a number of areas of SSI and a walking encyclopaedia of Latin names.

Although Toys Hill has an abundance of autumn fungi we were a little early for the very best of the season, possibly because of the very dry September we had. However, signs of life were popping up from the leaf litter and once we got our eye in and distinguished fungi from fallen leaf, we managed to find a satisfying number of varieties. Many species looked very similar to our untrained eyes, but Joyce named every one, giving background info as to why they were there and to which trees they were attached to in a symbiotic relationship.

fungus on branch

Toys Hill was once heathland and runs across the Greensand Ridge - hence beautiful beeches mix with Scots Pine and the higher ground is covered in silver birch and hazel which took over after the Big Storm in 87. Joyce explained that few silver birch live beyond 50 years as they are attacked by the birch bracket fungi (common name!) and we saw much evidence of this with the dead remains of half a birch tree left standing. Many oohs and aahs greeted our first sighting of the picture book fly agaric - bright red/orange with white spots which Joyce explained were the remains of the discarded veil. A yellow rooted boletes fungus was discovered which always lives alongside fly agaric as they both benefit in some way. Deadwood logs and sticks proved very productive revealing the tiniest little fans and cups. The deadly honey fungus was everywhere - a most destructive creature that destroys much in its pathway. We saw milkcaps, earthballs, brown roll rims, pretty pink rosea bonnet caps, the first stirrings of candle snuff and high in a beautiful beech tree - a little outcrop of bright white and shiny porcelain fungi (common name - Armitage Shanks - just made that up). Joyce said they would only appear on dead wood - at first sight the tree looked magnificent and healthy - but on close scrutiny the porcelain fungi were growing on one single small dead branch. Another tiny blue and white bonnet cap was found growing on bramble stems which only appears, and in an instant, following heavy rain. Blink and you’ve missed it;

woman with a fungus

We tried hard to keep up with all the varieties - hopefully some of the wealth of information we were given will stick. Joyce herself was delighted to find some rare species and took some home to study further. I know we will all being taking a different look at everything around us and thinking about the world beneath our feet as we kick up the leaves on our autumn walks.

Joyce will be happy to join us again next October - possibly further down in the weald where the varieties will be different again.

I would urge you to join us.