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.

 

Signs of spring

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Wild Daffodils

Wild Daffodils

After a long and very wet winter, there are at last some signs of spring around the woods.  In particular, there are catkins.  Lots and lots of catkins – hazel, birch, alder and willow – and my hay fever tells me they are producing a lot of pollen.  This is wonderful for the honey bees and bumblebees that I see around the woods, waking up from their hibernation.

The wild daffodils have also started to come out, although the naturalised domestic daffs are a little behind their wild cousins.  The bluebells are also showing their shoots through the ground.

The little birds are singing their territorial songs:  dunnock, robin, wren, great tit and blue tit are in full song, as well as willow tit and yellowhammer, and the great spotted woodpecker is drumming away.  A pair of buzzards are calling as they circle over the woods.  The skylarks are up as well and that is truly a sound of summer.  And in our meadows, the grass is rising and the speedwell is in flower in places.

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

Buzzard

Buzzard

The light, too, is getting that lovely light and watery quality of spring as the sun creeps higher and higher, and sets later and later in the day.  The sunshine and showers weather is a big improvement over the wet winter storms.

Hazel Flower

Hazel Flower

Spring is such an exciting time and always welcome, whether the winter has been cold and snowy or mild, wet and windy.  It represents a time when the winter work in the woods is finally done and we can sit back, enjoy the fruit of our labours, cease worrying about the dwindling supply of firewood logs and concentrate on the beauty, tranquility and peace of the woods again.  And maybe even turn our hands to a little bit of green woodworking again with the fresh supply of coppice wood…but that is a post for another day!

Spore Heads on Moss

Spore Heads on Moss

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