Tuesday, September 26, 2017

An inky story

Yesterday I came across a fine clump of the common ink-cap (Coprinopsis atramentaria) growing in the newly sown grass of a house just up our lane.  Quite a bit of wood had been buried during the laying of the lawn here and this was, no doubt, what the fungus was growing from.

These dark and delicate caps looked too fragile to last and by this morning they were autodigesting, dissolving away into the eponymous ink of their vernacular name.  As the old saying goes sic transit gloria mundi.

The common ink-cap is edible and it has been used when young in much the same way as field mushrooms.  After deliquescence the 'ink' has even been used to make ketchup.  There is a health warning though - this species must not be consumed with alcohol as this produces a toxin that can make one very unwell.  Another name for this fungus is 'tippler's bane'.

The black deliquescence of the caps was also used to make ink for writing by boiling it with gum arabic and/or other substances.  At one time it was suggested that this ink was used for legal documents to try and counteract possible future forgery. The spores in Coprinus-ink would be visible indefinitely under the microscope.

Friday, September 15, 2017


There is a litter from oaks and other trees after storm Aileen all over the lane and the field edge.  I found spangle and pincushion galls on one small oak sprig and a hazel nut neatly chiseled into by a mouse.  There are knopper galls everywhere on the ground but this year lots of acorns too.

They are very beautiful with their smooth, semi-gloss melon green fading towards the base to pale yellow and ivory and with a tiny point at the top.  Some have fallen still inside their cups of dusty grey embossed with darker markings like antique bowls.

After a few days they turn nut brown, but keep their shine, and provide a welcome food source for various animals and birds: mice and voles, squirrels and wild boar, jays and woodpigeons.  There are insects too - acorn weevils and some tortrix moth caterpillars.

There is a round disc at the base of each acorn like a flatbread with char marks around the rim or a stone disc with a mystical circle of characters in an unknown language - acornish.  Do all these characteristics have a purpose that makes them 'fitter' than other seeds I wonder.  Why are they egg shaped?  Why to they sit in a cup?  Why do they have a point at the top?

In the autumn sunshine as well as acorns there are buttercup and smooth hawksbeard flowers, but the finest is the late flourish of dandelions with their wonderfully ragged symmetry and a bright, even yellow.