By Ruth D’Alessandro, The Wildlife Gardener The Wildlife Gardener loves the fungi this time of year. But this summer has been so disappointing that many species arrived (and disappeared) early and I have missed them. Parasol mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera) were out in August instead of September, and, most frustratingly, porcini mushrooms (Boletus edulis), usually just appearing at the beginning of September, were a wet, smelly, finished mush when I went to forage for them. No wild mushroom risotto for la famille Wildlife Gardener this year.
But it’s an ill wind (and rain) that blows no species any good. Some fungi hate hot sunny summers and refuse to appear in autumn, whereas a wet summer brings them out later in all their glory. I sometimes amble around the ancient churchyards in our part of the North Downs, as wildlife thrives undisturbed and there’s usually something fungal and interesting to see. We may not have had a feast for the table this year, but instead I came across this rare feast for the eyes. The Junior Wildlife Gardeners were of course thrilled by the Barbie pinkness of the mushrooms. They glowed out from the moss and clover like little ballet dancers, and that is exactly what they are: Pink, or Ballerina waxcaps (Hygrocybe calyptriformis). They are the only pink toadstool in the UK! They also have their own Species Action Plan in the national Biodiversity Action Plan so they are something special. Waxcap mushrooms just love the summers we don’t. In their own small delightful way they compensate us for a miserable August by being so cheery and colourful in the autumn. There’s the yellow Citrine waxcap (H. citrinovirens), the Crimson (H. punicea), the bright green Parrot (H. psittacina) and the milky Snowy (H. virginea) as well as the more common Meadow waxcap (H.pratensis) which is orange. Waxcaps are indicator species of ancient grasslands. They thrive in left-well-alone mossy areas that have not been cultivated or fertilized. Old churchyards, like the home of our Ballerinas, are an ideal habitat. Such undisturbed grassy sites are rare and becoming rarer, threatening some species of waxcap with extinction. The National Trust is currently carrying out a survey of waxcap fungi. If you see any of these jolly mushrooms, go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/waxcaps where you’ll be able to find out lots more about them and log any sightings. The Wildlife Gardener and family had such a miserable summer with rogue builders, wet weather, the credit crunch, the oil crisis, the biblical plague of slugs and the tomato blight, that not a lot has made us smile recently. Apart from these little pink pirouetting peaks of joy that have made me SO happy I just have to give you another picture of them: