Tuesday, 14 February 2017

In search of the earthstar

In every biological order there is always one genus or species which catches the imagination more than other members of the same order. We all have our favourites, with birds it might be waxwings or raptors, with plants it might be orchids or alpines, with dragonflies it might be the hawkers, with butterflies the fritillaries, with moths it could be the hawkmoths, with hoverflies the Vollucella (the hornet mimics) etc.

When it comes to fungi, my dream has always been to see the earthstars. What a bizarre group of mushrooms! The fruiting bodies start life looking like an egg, they turn into stars which then invert and look like the legs of some wierd alien creature from "War of the Worlds".

This week I've been fortunate enough to find not one but two species of earthstar right on my doorstep at Pennington Flash, ironically when the last thing on my mind was fungi. I was actually walking between the gull pre-roost in the south-east corner of the flash and the main roost site at Green Lane when I happened upon a collared earthstar Geastrum triplex in the woodland. The gull roost is always a race against time so I took a couple of photos and made a mental note to return the following day, and then continued to Green Lane.

Next day, with Iceland, yellow-legged and Mediterranean gull under my belt the night before, I returned to the same spot and found a few more collared earthstar, but even better, I found a second species, sessile earthstar Geastrum fimbriatum. In some respects this is a better find, because collared earthstar has been recorded at the flash before, but sessile earthstar has not according to the NBN gateway.

The fruiting bodies of earthstars appear in autumn, but they can persist throughout the winter, which is why these particular specimens look a little battered. Rest assured I shall return in the autumn to hopefully photograph some better specimens.

No this is not the result of some dramatic erruption from John Hurt's belly, this is the peristome of sessile earthstar and is where the spores are released from if the fungus is knocked, e.g. by a rain drop.

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