Blinking Fungi

In disturbed humus-rich damp soil beside the boardwalk at Llangloffan Fen, Pembrokeshire, I came across a host of bright-red ascomycete fungi with marginal hairs. Collectively referred to as ‘eyelash fungi’, these tiny disc-like species are difficult to identify without microscopic study, but that’s okay, because they really are fascinating when viewed at close quarters. A x40 lens shows the key features (characters) needed to separate most of the bunch. (A few require a x100 oil lens, however.)

Microscopy quickly revealed the identity of these hairy ascos as Scutellinia scutellata, the most common of the eyelash fungi found in Britain. Nothing special, perhaps, but take a look at the asci, paraphyses and spores (the latter are best stained with Lactophenol Cotton Blue to show the tiny wart-like ornamentations on the mature spore surfaces). It was a good find. And who knows, next time those bloodshot eyes flash their lashes at me, perhaps I’ll be in for something even better…

Full details of Common Eyelash fungus are online here…

The Morel Maze

Morchella esculenta

Usually appearing from March to the end of June in Britain, honeycomb-like mushrooms commonly known as morels are highly-prized edibles… but you need to know where to look. The so-called Common Morel, scientific name Morchella esculenta, is found in woodlands and in sandy grasslands rich in such shrubs as Dwarf Willow; it is thought to have a mycorrhizal relationship with trees and shrubs, which are crucial partners for at least part of its lifecycle. These pale brownish-capped morels are rarely found in large numbers, and so inevitably they command a high price – currently around £130 per kg.

Black Morels, Morchella elata, are now quite common, but localised almost exclusively to one particular habitat… woodchip mulch. Unfortunately these are fussy feeders, and they shun most kinds of woodchip; however, when they take a liking to a mulch they spring up in a great feast. As far as I can tell, Black Morels taste just as good as Common Morels, the only difference being that gathering them is a doddle. Happy hunting!

Merry Christmas

I shall be taking a break from updating the First Nature website, but in between too much of everything else I shall try to keep up with answering fungi identification queries. There are a few LBMs (little brown mushrooms) popping up on the lawn, too, so maybe mince pies and microscopy will have to mix.

The strange muddle below is a Mycena bonnet mushroom being attached by Spinellus fusiger, commonly known as bonnet mould.


Thanks to all who visit and for the many lovely Christmas greetings.

Best wishes to all,


Revised and Enlarged Second Edition – Fascinated by Fungi

Fascinated by Fungi, by Pat O'Reilly

I am so pleased with this new edition, available from July 2016. It’s a 450-page hardback and includes the latest updates to taxonomic names (mainly as a result of recent DNA sequencing research) as well as new sections on Slime Moulds (yes, you are right: they aren’t really fungi but they are fascinating nevertheless!) and many additional pictures and species descriptions. I am particularly delighted with the greatly extended section on microscopy, with some helpful hints and tips for anyone new to choosing and using a compound microscope for studying fungi spores, cystidia, hyphal structures etc and some stunning photomicrographs contributed by world-class experts.

Most of all I wanted to let you know that First Nature are currently offering this new edition at a substantial discount on the RRP. For a limited period you can get the new, larger edition in a beautiful hardback binding for less than the RRP for the original paperback version here…

Maltese Fungus found by fungi hunters

Take a look at this bunch of weirdos…

Maltese Fungus Cynomorium coccineum

It’s an organism commonly referred to as Maltese Fungus, and from its general appearance you might think it is a relative of the various kinds of earthball fungi (Scleroderma species or Pisolithus species, for example), but no… this strange eruption from dry rocky soil is in fact a plant, and one of the rarest of Mediterranean species. Its scientific name is Cynomorium coccineum, and we found it (with help from our friend Finn Rasmussen, who discovered a colony in the same area a month or so go) on the Algarve clifftops near Albufeira.

Okay, now back to fungi hunting…

Red Cage Outrage

Searching for Morels in perfect Morel habitat in southern France at the ideal time (late April), I found a total of zero. Rien. Zilch. Nothing at all in the way of fungi… except lots of very stinky Red Cage fungi Clathrus ruber. One colony, covering about 10 square metres, contained at least 30 fruitbodies, from early egg stage to ripe and rancid with flies munching the spore-laden gleba so eagerly that even the presence of a camera lens a few cm away would not deter them. Well, it was a roadside picnic site…


The mad Morel search continues…

Update on our Server Upgrade and Googlegeddon… and a fine Easter Bonnet

Where have all the blog posts gone, long time passing…

Gone to outer ether-space every one – well, at least every one of my posts since 2012. All posts between 2012 and early 2015 appear to have been lost in a switch of web server… sorry about that. I’ll try to backup more competently from now on…

Meanwhile the ongoing blog silence has been due to every available moment being dedicated to making ‘mobile friendly’. Because our 2000+ pages were created over a 20-year period, the layout codes were far from consistent, and this has made the update process a very time-consuming one. Pages should work with legible text, auto-resizing pictures and no need for horizontal scrolling whether viewed on smartphones, tablets, desktops and super-large screens. We think the job is just about completed… but if you do find a page with a fault please, please let us know by emailing enquiries @ (but omit the spaces either side of @, which are here to make life just a little more difficult for spamming robots).

Finally, here’s a rather nice mushroom picture – after all this is supposed to be a fungi blog…

A beautiful bonnet mushroom

Yellowleg Bonnet Mycena epipterygia

For details please see

Reds driven north by climate change?

During August 2012 I have received news of a number of sightings of Clathrus ruber, the Red Cage or Lattice fungus, much further north in Britain than in previous years. Nearly all appearances of this strange-looking fungus in the past have been in the Chanel Islands, the Isle of Wight, southern England or (very rarely) along the south coast of Wales. It’s a Mediterranean mushroom, and far more common in the Algarve than in Aldershot!

Clathrus ruber, seen at Daventry, Northants, UK in August 2012

Has climate change enabled the spores to survive winter in northern England? A large group of Red Cage fungi sprung up recently in Daventry, Northamptonshire, and now I have received news and photographs of a fine but so far solitary specimen in a garden nead Huddersfield, in Yorkshire. At this rate these colourful, weird and very smelly members of the stinkhorn family, Phallaceae, will be over Hadrian’s Wall and fighting it out with Scotland’s armies of midges before long. Wish them luck!

Full taxonomic, distribution, habitat and identification details and together with more pictures of Clathrus ruber are online here…

Biographies of the Great Mycologists

Lucien Quelet, mycologist

Lucien Quélet

If you take an interest in fungi, it won’t be very long before you are reading some of the serious scientific works on the subject of mycology. I did say reading… not necessarily understanding. The trouble is that, like anything else you might try to learn about – whether it be birdwatching or stamp collecting – the science of fungi is shrouded not so much in mystery (although mushrooms certainly are mysterious organisms) as in its own almost impenetrable jargon. Technical terms such as ‘cystidia’ and ‘infundibuliform’ can be looked up in a dictionary or Googled for guidance, but rarely do we find all that we need in one place. The same is largely the case with the history of mycology and, in particular, biographical details of great mycologists of the past: coverage is either superficial to the point where dates of birth and death are virtually all you get to know or, at the other extreme, you have to plough through pages of details of early childhood illnesses, preferences for plums over cherries, or whatever the author has been able to exhume (no corpse pictures in my own research so far, thank goodness!) and decided to fill the page with.

Having decided that what I most wanted to learn about was what an authority had contributed to the body of scientific knowledge and in what circumstances they did so – many had demanding careers outside of science and biology, but yet contributed enormously to what we know so far about the kingdom of fungi – I thought ‘Surely I cannot be alone in this need’. Hence, over the past few months, I have been gradually adding biographical details of mycological giants of the past to the fungi section of and I hope that the new pages will be a helpful start for anyone else seeking similar enlightenment. Famous French mycologist Lucien Quélet (1832 – 1899) is the latest addition to the Hall of Fame. His page is online here…

As well as naming and describing many fungal species (and despite recent rigorous assessment based on molecular analysis most of them have retained the names that Quélet gave them) Lucien Q is immortalised by two mushroom species that are named in his honour. One is Boletus queletii, a pored woodland bolete, and the other is Russula queletii, another woodland species, commonly referred to as the Fruity Brittlegill. Here is a picture of the latter:

Russula queletii, the Fruity Brittlegill, named in honour of Lucien Quelet

Russula queletii, the Fruity Brittlegill, is one of two mushroom species that have been named in honour of Lucien Quelet

Basidiolichen on the Migneint

Lichenomphalia umbellifera the Lichen Agaric Getting on for 20,000 lichenised fungi (usually abbreviated to ‘lichens’) are known, and nearly all of them have an ascomycete (spore shooter) fungus as the mycobiont. Just a few dozen have basidiomycete (spore dropper) mycobionts, and these kinds of lichens are therefore referred to as basidiolichens. Half a dozen or so basidiolichens are found in Britain, and I saw one of them in early July 2012.

I had gone with colleagues from the Countryside Council for Wales and the National Trust to see some of the work going on to restore upland peat bogs on Migneint, a huge mountainous area in North Wales. Much of the work involves blocking up drainage ditches so that these vast upland bogs remain wet and so act as carbon storage reservoirs. (When peat bogs are drained the stored carbon, comprising dead sphagnum moss and plant debris built up over thousands of years, dries out and releases much of its carbon into the atmosphere as greenhouse gases.) There are many other ecosystem services from  ‘healthy’ upland bog habitats, including maintaining vital river flows during periods of severe drought. We are not in drought-worry mode in Wales this summer!

Close-up of the LIchen Agaric

The Lichen Agaric requires a sphagnum moss habitat

Growing in the sphagnum moss were pale ochre mushrooms that looked quite similar to Loreleia marchantiaethe Liverwort Navel – a small funnel-shaped cap-and-stem basidiomycete that grows on Umbrella Liverwort. These were rather paler, though, and on close inspection I noticed that the fungal fruitbodies were sprouting from green algal blobs on the stems of the sphagnum. They were, I realised, Lichenomphalia umbellifera – something that I had been hoping to see one day. (They are not rare, but they certainly don’t occur everywhere.) The fungal fruitbodies of this species, which some people call the Lichen Agaric, are cap-and-stem gilled fruitbodies related to the waxcaps, Hygrophoraceae.