Friday, October 27, 2017

Grassland fungi and books

As my list of waxcaps from our neighbour's lawn grows, I am becoming increasingly interested (again) in grassland and other fungi.  Working alone, as I do, I have to rely on literature and the Internet to identify what I find but I seem to be making progress.  One recent boost has been my investment in the new book Grassland Fungi a field guide by Elsa Wood and Jon Dunkelman (2017) and published by the Monmouthshire Meadows Group.  With the help of this I was quickly able to name the toadstools below as the yellow fieldcap Bolbitius titubans.

These were quite common by the footpath along the eastern side of Churchland Fields in Sedlescombe (TQ781188).  It grows on rotted dung and vegetable material and this area is a permanent pasture grazed by both sheep and cows.

When I think I have a handle on the identity of something like this, I always cross check with other literature.  The book I have had the longest - for over 60 years - is Handbook of the Larger British Fungi by John Ramsbottom and originally published by the Natural History Museum in 1923.  It is quite a slim volume of 22 pages and with only black and white line drawings, but it includes detailed descriptions of many of the species that feature in today's colourful literature.  It also often provides snippets of information that other books don't.  Of Bolbitius, for example, it says the name is derived from Greek bolbiton meaning cow-dung.  It also says, rather ominously, that there are about eleven British species, but I have so far failed to find details of most of these.  Grassland Fungi (q.v.) only features B. titubans.  Ramsbottom's book is still readily available for under a fiver.

My second oldest book is Common British Fungi by Wakefield and Dennis (1950).  My copy came from Foyles in Charing Cross Road and I must have bought it not long after it was published.  This gives detailed descriptions of a wide range of species and has wonderful painted illustrations, including drawings of spores, by A. C. Dennis and the authors.  Also regularly consulted is Michael Jordan's The Encyclopedia of Fungi of Britain and Europe (1995).  From the photograph there my Bolbitius would actually be B. vitellinus but, according to the National Biodiversity Network (NBN), vitellinus is a synonym of titubans.

Another big point of reference is Mushrooms and other fungi of Great Britain & Europe by Roger Phillips (1994) which also depicts what appears to be my Bolbitius as B. vitellinus and I nearly always look through Mushrooms & Toadstools of Britain & Europe Courtecuisse & Duhem (Harper Collins, 1995).  This lists and illustrates six Bolbitius species and again equates by titubans with vitellinus.

Thus it would seem that, given the usual taxonomic squabbles, the toadstool growing in Churchland Fields is best called B. titubans.  I often have to remind myself that scientific names are devices for trying to ensure that different people are talking about the same thing.  Bolbitius toadstools don't call themselves anything.  We are promised that DNA analysis will resolve all these problems, but I wouldn't mind betting that taxonomic arguments will continue to rage long after I am dead.

So far as the grassland waxcaps are concerned, all the books I have mentioned are helpful in varying degrees.  But there are two other cribs worth getting hold of.  One is the online Quick Waxcap Key by Patrick Leonard (2009) based on David Boertmann's book The Genus Hygrocybe published (expensively) by the Danish Mycological Society.  The 2-page Quick Waxcap Key divides Hygrocybe species up by cap colour and stickiness of cap and stem which guide one to mini keys of the likely species options.  The other crib is in the British Wildlife article (Vol 9 No 3 February 1998, page 164) Fungal Flowers: the Waxcaps and their World by Peter Marren.  Marren, also over 2 pages, lists 46 british species of waxcaps giving details of colour, key characters, habitats and distribution.  Both these 'quick keys' can easily be folded and taken into the field.  There may be more in Peter Marren's Mushrooms: The natural and human world of British fungi published by British Wildlife Publishing, but this is not a key and will have to wait, I fear, until Christmas.

And here's a picture of blackening waxcap Hygrocybe conica from our neighbour's lawn.   Not very conical but easy to determine from its predilection for turning black (which one of these did later in the day).

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