Saturday, 29 September 2018

October 2018 -- Mountain Ash and fungi

Male fern, Strinedale
A walk round the reservoirs revealed more autumn fungi than I ever remember. A search of both grassy and shady places disclosed toadstools in various colours: pink-purple, pale burnt orange, domed warty structures like coffee to which cream has been added and some of a tan hue — circular like biscuits.
    Beneath every colony of toadstools lies an extensive network of fungal filaments. These retrieve nutrients from the soil making them available to other plants, trees being a major beneficiary of the process.
     Strinesdale, being low-lying and damp, supports a good selection of common ferns. The different species of these prehistoric and handsome non-flowering plants are not too difficult to identify with a bit of practice. Male Fern, Lady Fern, Hart’s-tongue Fern and others are all fascinating, growing from spores by an intricate method.
     The heat of summer has caused many trees to bear abundant fruit, none more so than the Rowan or Mountain Ash. We are fortunate to have many of them decorating our parks and streets, some absolutely laden with berries (orange–red on our native species Sorbus aucuparia). These will be eagerly consumed by Starlings when they are ripe. Complex chemical processes take place within the fruits and like melon growers, the birds seem to be holding off until the stage of perfect ripeness has been reached. Incoming Redwings from Northern Europe hungry for carbohydrates and oils will join at remaining berries during the autumn. Rowan trees are tough — it is stated that they will grow at a higher altitude than any other British species. Their strength and their red fruit gave rise in former times to a widespread belief that they held magical powers. The author Geoffrey Grigson, always careful to credit his original sources, recounts that ‘in Wales, if you were foolish enough to step into a fairy circle, only a stick of Rowan laid across the circle prevented you from staying there a year and a day’.
Mountain Ash
     A fourteenth century Irish poem celebrates the usefulness of the tree:

‘Glen of the Rowan trees with scarlet berries,
With fruit praised by every flock of birds
A slumbrous paradise for every badger
In their quiet burrows with their young’.  

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