Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

In Praise of Restraint – Autumn in the Woods

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

Gentle yellows and greens of oak woodland in Autumn

Dew on the woodland floor on an autumn morning

Dew on the woodland floor on an autumn morning

I keep going on about Autumn, but I make no apology for it.  It is my favourite time of year.  The spring flowers are magical, and the Summer meadows glorious, but there is nothing quite like the fungal smell of autumn in the woods.  What I particularly like is how oak trees don’t “shout” about autumn like many other species.  Maple and cherry have been particularly loud this year – flaming orange and yellow, and stunning reds lighting up the trees along the roadside.  Almost all the trees in the ancient part of our woods are oak, which takes a more restrained approach.

Some are still quite green right now, others have a gentle yellow tinge, and others simply go brown at the edges and fall.  Against this restrained backdrop, the yellow of field maple, willow and hazel, and the shocking reds of spindle, cherry and some rowan leaves, as well as a gentle pinks and purples of elder can stand out.  Betty’s wood in particular with its greater variety of young saplings shines out in orange, red and yellow against the darkness of the old oak trees.  Oak provides a pastel and gentle canvas against which the other species can stand out.

Yellows in Betty's Wood standing out against the green oak and ash

Yellows in Betty’s Wood standing out against the green oak and ash

Cherry leaves turn orange red in Betty's Wood

Cherry leaves turn orange red in Betty’s Wood

On the forest floor, things are changing too.  It hasn’t been very wet this year and the fungi are yet to get going, but we have seen some amazing hyphae on one of our fallen logs.

Fungal hyphae form a net on a fallen log.

Fungal hyphae form a net on a fallen log.

The lichens are also coming into their own, forming a miniature forest with the various species of moss, topped off by the fallen leaves covered in dew in the early morning.  The grass also shines with dew, giving the woods an autumnal feel, and a softness that is missing at other times of the year.

Dew on a fallen oak leaf on a bed of lichen and moss

Dew on a fallen oak leaf on a bed of lichen and moss

A tiny forest of moss and lichen

A tiny forest of moss and lichen

The leaves are gently falling now and autumn is in full swing.  There is no sadness – nature is beautiful all year round.  Winter is round the corner, and with it the milky low sunshine and stark beauty and form of our lovely trees.  The turn of the seasons is something I really treasure.  For now, I will enjoy the restrained beauty of an oak woodland in the fall.

 

Maybe I spoke too soon – more fungi

Sulphur Tuft and Moss

Sulphur Tuft and Moss

As soon as I wrote my last blog bemoaning the lack of fungi at the woods, we have had a lot of rain and the fungi are starting to emerge in some numbers.

Last weekend, I found a wonderful stump covered with tiny little fungi.  It looked like a tiny fairy city.  Other logs were showing the sulphur-tuft fungi usually seen during October.  And there are a few clouded agaric in the woods, as well as some massive jelly-ear fungi on rotting elder stems.

It seems I spoke too soon.  The fungi are fruiting at last!

Fungi Forest

Fungi Forest

Fungi and Oak Leaf

Fungi and Oak Leaf

Magic Mini-Forest

Magic Mini-Forest

Tiny Toadstools

Tiny Toadstools

More Tiny Fungi

More Tiny Fungi

Miniature Toadstool

Miniature Toadstool

Fungi – Every year is different

Little Fungi - on the bank of one of our ponds

Little Fungi – on the bank of one of our ponds

One thing I find really fascinating about the wood is that every year, things are slightly different.  We have the same trees, same paths, same meadows, same ponds, but what you see there can vary an awful lot.  Although we may see some of the same wildflowers, butterflies, dragonflies and fungi, the relative numbers of different species can vary enormously year on year.

One of the few log fungi - a little tatty

Not fungi – but a symbiosis between fungus and algae – a forest of lichen on a log

Last year, we had a lot of little mycena fungi in the paths, and a lot of bracket fungi of various types on our logs.  We also had a lot of clouded agaric fungi and some fly agaric.  This year, although we had some mycena fungi, it was so dry during September and October that we had many fewer than last year.  Almost no ink cap fungi.  Very few bracket fungi on logs.  And I haven’t seen a single clouded agaric or fly agaric this year.

Fungi on Log

Fungi on Log

Last year, however, we had almost no parasol and shaggy parasol mushrooms, but this year there are enormous numbers.  Not just here, either – I’ve seen them growing in lots of places around this locality.  They are one of my favourite toadstools.  They can grow very large, but also they just look rustic and woody.  They look like they belong.  They look like proper fairy toadstools, perfect little parasol shelters for the fair folk.

This year the fungi have come late, and we may yet see other species, but for now, I’m enjoying these wonderful fungi – and next year I’m sure it will be different again.

fungi-103

One of the few log fungi this year – a bit tatty

Parasol Mushroom

Parasol Mushroom

Parasol Mushrooms

Parasol Mushrooms

Toadstools on Path - not many this year

Toadstools on Path – not many this year

Parasol Mushroom

Parasol Mushroom

fungi-119

Parasol mushrooms

Toadstools: Tiny and translucent

Fungi on log

Fungi on log

There are a lot of fungi around at the moment – logs are covered with fungi of all kinds, toadstools sprout from the woodland paths and under the trees, and clusters of fungi appear at the base of hollow trees and old rotting logs.

Mycena fungi on log

Mycena fungi on log

The perpetual rain makes these little fungi into small and shiny jewels in the damp woodland.  Many are extremely small, just a few millimetres across, such as the mycena fungi on the log pictured above, and the tiny little toadstools on the woodland paths – these are only a few millimetres tall, and you can see their size in comparison with the acorn in the photo.

Tiny toadstools on woodland path

Tiny toadstools on woodland path

One of the best finds of the last couple of weeks was an extraordinarily delicate little toadstool close to our main building.  This beautiful little creation was so delicate that it was translucent, and you could see the green of the grass behind through its gills.  I chose to photograph it with a very narrow depth of field to show the delicacy of the markings.  Fungi are often overlooked, or taken for granted, but they can be stunningly beautiful.

Translucent toadstool

Translucent toadstool

Translucent toadstool

Translucent toadstool

Translucent toadstool

Translucent toadstool

 

 

 

Autumn Fungi and Lichens

Early in the morning, a tiny toadstool

Early in the morning, a tiny toadstool

An autumnal feel to the weather this week, with cold temperatures, fog in the morning and now strong winds and rain.  But there is always a plus-side to the changing of the seasons, and one of the best of all is the appearance of fruiting bodies on the fungi and lichens in the wood.  There are just a few fungi around in the summertime, but autumn is when they really get going.

I use the words fruiting bodies intentionally:  fungi are present as complex webs of threads known as mycelium all year round.  The mycelium of a fungus can be extraordinarily large in a woodland setting, sometimes spreading among a whole root system, or several root systems, or even a whole woodland.  The mycelium can be extremely important, part of a system that effectively extends the roots of the trees.  The fungi are organisms that feed on decaying organic matter, breaking it down and returning the nutrients to the soil.  This is a vital role in the forest ecosystem.  The decaying matter can be in the form of small particles in the soil, larger lumps of organic matter on the surface of the woodland floor, or even huge fallen trees and logs.  The mycelium of the fungus is tiny, microscopic even, but so important, and yet almost invisible.  These tiny hair-like webs perform their task underground, under the leaft litter, on the woodland floor and below, returning nutrients to the soil, and in many cases the fungi work in a very close and harmonious relationship with the tree roots, as mycorrhiza, so the tree can benefit rapidly from the nutrients released by the fungi, while the fungi benefit from sugars and starches produced by the trees.  A symbiosis.

rging from the grass

Tiny toadsthool emerging from the grass

The fruiting bodies we see appear only when the fungus is reproducing.  They are the toadstools or mushrooms of the woodland, appearing in many different forms:  traditional toadstools, tiny fairy toadstools, bracket fungi of all sizes and shapes, little club-like fungi, large jelly-ear fungi on the surface of trees, clusters of toadstools emerging from rotting trees and logs.  Just bewildering.  There are fungi that last for week, and fungi that last for just a single day.  All shapes, colours and sizes.

Lichen fruiting bodies

Lichen fruiting bodies

As well as fungi, some of the lichens are fruiting at this time of year, some forming little cup-like structures bearing spores, others forming little club-like structures.  Lichens are amazing organisms – again, a symbiosis of a fungus with algae or cyanobacteria, the former providing a structure, water and nutrients, and the latter producing sugars by photosynthesis.  They are amazing things, growing on rotting logs, forming a tiny ecosystem in their own right with a variety of mosses and fungi.  One major reason why rotting wood should be left on the woodland floor and not tidied up.  They are vital in the rotting process, and in turn provide habitat for insects such as beetles, flatworms, roundworms and many other creatures at the base of a complex ecological web.

There will be many more fungi emerging over the next few weeks, and I hope to capture more of them,  but these are some photos taken at the weekend of the first ones.

Fungi on log

Fungi on log

Detail on toadstool

Detail on toadstool

Tallest toadstool only 30mm, in our path.

Tallest toadstool only 30mm, in our path.

Lichen fruiting body

Lichen fruiting body

Lichen fruiting bodies

Lichen fruiting bodies

Lichen fruiting body and Moss

Lichen fruiting body and Moss

Lichen fruiting bodies

Lichen fruiting bodies

Autumn in the Woods



At the risk of sounding repetitious, autumn is my favourite time of year.  Oak trees aren’t usually colourful in autumn.  Many years they simply go from green to brown to fallen in a very short space of time.  But this year, we have had some amazing colours, enhanced by the fact that the young trees in Betty’s Wood are now head high, and are also changing colour.  We have some stunning colour from our field maple, rowan, birch, sweet chestnut, cherry and other trees in Betty’s Wood, as well as our beautiful oaks, which this year are turning wonderful shades of yellow, orange and brown.
It isn’t just the trees that enhance this time of year:  we have had a wonderful display of fungi, too – on logs, on the woodland floor, on twigs, on wood-chippings – a display of colour, shapes and amazing delicacy.
The birds are also active, looking for seeds and berries.  No fieldfares yet, but our flock of linnets are back in Betty’s Wood, eating the seeds from our wildflowers, skimming along at head height, chittering their happy little song.  The buzzard chick is still asking its parents for food, although it is fully grown, ranging over the fields and over Betty’s Wood, perching at the woodland edge.
The squirrels are busy burying their caches of acorns and seeds, and the jays are screeching as they too cache food for the winter.  Mice and voles are everywhere, building little nests in our spare boots that we leave at the woods for emergencies, as well as under the bonnet of the tractor and in many other not-always-appropriate places.

Our wood-drying shed is now finished, so we can dry our firewood much more readily with the aim that we can sell bundles at our open days next year.  We are preparing to do a bit more coppicing, and to do some thinning in our plantation area to let more light into the woodland floor – our bit of harvesting, but harvesting that will renew the trees and stimulate growth next year.

I love autumn because it is time of hope – things are dying back, but we are storing things away for the winter to see us through the dark days.  Things are dying but in amongst all the death and decay are signs of renewal – seeds are sown, the leaf litter provides a habitat, a home, material for nests, nutrients for the trees and soil.  Nature is taking a breath after the frantic activity of spring and summer, taking stock, marshalling its resources to have another go next year.   Nature’s breath of beauty, wonder, colour, harvesting, storing, renewal and hope.  I love it!