Llanelli Naturalists Newsletter - March 2003 - No 69
Phillip Jones

Bryan Lack, while on holiday in the area, visited Llyn Llech Owain Country Park in September and found a species of truffle.  This was confirmed at Kew as Hydnotria cubispora, a new record for Wales and only the fourth UK find.  There are two records from Scotland and one from Yorkshire, all associated with Picea (Spruce).  It is not strictly native to Britain and was first described from USA (Pegler et al. 1993).  It is, however a fine large truffle, 3-4 cm in diameter and pinkish-grey in colour.

The second fungus new to Wales was a species of Armillaria (Honey Fungus) from Ffrwd Fen.  A visit was made to Ffrwd in July to see how well the Lathyrus palustris (Marsh Pea) was flowering.  Due to the height and density of reed, little attention is generally given to what might be at ground level.  But parting the reeds, I was surprised to find what looked like honey fungus.  This seemed odd as Armillaria mellea (Honey Fungus) generally attacks trees and woody shrubs, while at Ffrwd there are just scattered bushes of Salix cinerea (Grey Willow).  A more careful examination showed differences from A. mellea and when books were consulted the specimen was determined as A. ectypa, which is distinguished from A. mellea by its smaller size, no ring on the stipe and the fact that it grows in boggy situations.  Ben (1987) has a short description and picture but says it has not yet been recorded from Britain. Other books that give a description say it is rare in Europe although it has been known for many years as it was first described by Fries about 150 years ago.

Peter Roberts at Kew confirmed the find as A. ectypa and that this is known in the UK only from a single collection from Westmorland made in 1995.  A second report from Minsmere in Suffolk is not backed by a specimen.

A. ectypa is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority Species and is considered worthy of protection under the Berne Convention by the European Council for the Conservation of Fungi (ECCF).

The Westmorland site is located on common land  and is protected as an SSSI but there seems to be little information about the extent of the population.  Ffrwd is also an SSSI and the land is owned and managed by Llanelli Naturalists and the Wildlife Trust so it is safe from agricultural or other disturbance. This will enable further studies to be made of this rare species.

The British Mycological Society (BMS) journal, Mycologist, devoted the May 2002 issue to the theme of molecular technology (DNA etc) as applied to mycology.  This is too advanced for me but the first article described the value of using these new techniques in the accurate identification of two serious plant pathogenic fungi, one being Armillaria.  Seven Armillaria species have been identified in Europe and the authors, Ana Perez-Sierra and Beatrice Henricot (of the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens, Wisley), showed how they used these new molecular techniques to identify different species. They studied six Armillaria species but not A. ectypa as they could not obtain fresh material.  Having contacted Dr Perez, a specimen from Ffrwd was sent and she has been able to culture this for further DNA study.

At Ffrwd it seemed that A. ectypa could be found in greater numbers close to willow bushes. I wondered if the fungus might be attacking them as bushes seemed to be suffering some adverse effect, typically with a thin canopy of leaves which were brown and drooping, which compared to vigorously growing bushes at the edge of the fen.  However, samples of root sent to Dr Perez just showed signs of waterlogging with no evidence of Armillaria.

Little is known about the ecological requirements of A. ectypa.  Is the fungus just saprophytic on plant remains or does it have any harmful (or even beneficial) effect on vascular plants? The fungus was quite plentiful in the main Marsh Pea area, compartment 8 (the first area purchased by Llanelli Naturalists) and the adjoining wet area of compartment 9.  Other areas of Ffrwd have not yet been searched for this fungus. In future years we should have the chance of finding out much more about this rare species.

There are 18 British fungus species on the ECCF list of threatened fungi worthy of Europe-wide protection. We have three of these species recorded from our area, A. ectypa from Ffrwd, Hohenbuehelia eulmicola from Pembrey dunes and the Pink Waxcap Hygrocybe calyptriformis from various grassland sites.

The three organised fungus finding walks which I led in the autumn were well attended despite cold and wet weather. The weather certainly had an effect on the fungi as West Wales had been dry throughout the summer until the day before the Pembrey Country Park walk on 13th October. Then there was too much rain but this came too late for the fungi although the specimens collected were nice and fresh.  The other two walks, at Castle Woods, Llandeilo (with the Wildlife Trust) on 19th October and at Llyn Llech Owain on 26th October were similarly affected by the weather and  few fungi were found.

For those prepared to look, fungi can be found throughout the year and not just in the autumn months.  A fungus which is not featured in the common field guides is Exidia recisa, one of the ‘jelly fungi’. This is commonly found on willow in damp situations and particularly where the willow is growing crowded together, as at the West Pwll Ash Lagoon SSSI. It fruits from November to March and is found on smaller branches from ground level up to 3 metres high.  It is shaped like a top, attached to branches by its point, light brown in colour and 0.5 – 2cm in diameter. It seems dependent on moisture (rain and drizzle) as it soon collapses to form a brown crust on branches in dry weather, regaining its shape after rain. It seems well suited to West Wales weather!

References

Bon. 1987.  Mushrooms and Toadstools of  Britain and North-western Europe.

Pegler, Spooner and Young. 1993.  British Truffles.