Winter 2013

By Pat Collinson

It is hard to believe, as I write this, that there are only seven weeks to go before we welcome the new year. Will 2014 give us better weather than 2013? I do hope so!

At the end of May the Met Office announced that it had been the coldest Spring for 50 years, and temperatures continued unseasonably mixed — June 30th max 78°f (approx. 26°C) but July 2nd chilled out at a max of 58°f (14°C), a shivering drop of 20°f!! July 6th gave us a max of 78°f — then down to 70°f by July 11th — but on 13th we hit 82°f, and the mini heat wave continued (too hot for some—myself included!) for two weeks reaching a sizzling 88°f (31°C) on 22nd July. August stayed mostly in the 70—72°f range — comfortable but seeming rather cool for the (usually) hottest month of Summer — and the 24th and 25th were two of the wettest days of the year, with a combined total of 49mm — just missing 2 inches (50mm) of rain. I have been asked several times what the rainfall totals were for September and October, so here they are — September 96mm, October 110mm — compared to 2012, 61mm, 137mm and 2011, 29mm, 27mm. 2012 was one of our wettest years, with a total of 943mm, and 2011 was one of our driest years with a total of 605mm. And I apologise to all readers who are falling asleep form boredom — no more weather — except to say thank goodness the October 2013 storm was not as fierce and destructive as the infamous 16th October 1987. Earlier in the summer we were told we might expect a particularly spectacular show of Autumn colour — but the foliage of trees and bushes remained stubbornly green as September and October passed! The Field Maples took on their lovely yellow hue and Oaks mingled ochre and rusty tones with their green — but the winds of October have brought down a lot of leaves and the dominant hue is still green!

We were also told to expect bumper crops of berries, nuts, etc. — and certainly “they” were right about this. I have never seen so many acorns, and the rose hips were so numerous they weighed down the branches and made a truly beautiful display. I had not noticed before that the shape and colour of the hips differed quite notably on the different wild rose species. However copious the crops of acorns, chestnuts and berries, it has been the mushrooms (toadstools, fungi) that have stolen the show in the woods. I have never seen such masses of them — along the paths and under the trees — as well as growing on fallen branches and tree trunks.

I am not a fungus expert and can only recognise a few species with any certainty. Of these the “Fly Agaric” (scarlet cap with — or sometimes without — small raised white spots — and white stem) is the easiest to identify. Sadly there were few of these this year (I only saw one!), but the other easily recognisable species was totally absent. This is the “Stinkhorn” (Latin name Phallus impudicus ) and as the name implies, it is very smelly! It can often be traced by the pong! It attracts hoards of flies which feed on the slimy cap and spread the spores when they fly off to die from their poisonous feast . . . its Latin name describes its shape . . .

One of the most numerous species — along path sides and clustered at the foot of many trees and along fallen branches is the dreaded Honey Fungus, Armillaria mellea . Feared by gardeners because it is a tree killer, spreading by black, stringy rhizomorphs that grow into the roots of any trees they “meet” and spread up the trunks and branches. It is also called Bootlace Fungus — after the appearance of these black rhizomorphs, which can spread for many yards through the soil to infect — and kill — other trees. This fungus has been responsible for the death of countless trees, and devastation of wide areas of woodland — so its appearance in such quantities in Darrick Wood is very sad. The black rhizomorphs can be found beneath the bark of many of the fallen tree trunks and branches, as well as in the soil. There is little currently, that can be done to kill this fungus . . .

Still on the subject of “mushrooms”, but on a happier note — I am trying to identify an unusual (I think!) species I found growing on the trunk of an Ash tree, on an area where the bark had been stripped some years ago. It is the purest “snow” white of any mushroom I have ever seen — stem, cap and gills — and from the gills thin threads — also snow white — hang down like fringes! From its early appearance (late October) it attracted small flies, and now, some two weeks later, much of the cap has been eaten — but what remains is still white. It is the only one of its kind I have ever seen and there are no others in the vicinity (or none I can find) . . . Is this a rare species I wonder? I must make enquiries . . .