Jelly on the lawn
Jelly on the lawn
Surprises sometimes await us just outside the door. After a night of gales and squally rain, I’d stepped out to fill up the bird feeders when my eye was caught by a mound of translucent jelly lying on the grass. In fact there were three such mounds: it looked as though someone had dolloped desert-spoonfuls of stiff wallpaper paste on my lawn. One mound seemed to be adhering, in a very slippery jellified way, onto a twig fallen from our oak tree, so I picked it up and carried it indoors for closer scrutiny. The specimen I had chosen, the smallest of the three, was about 3cm across, and a magnifying lens revealed that the surface was organized in soft whorls and waves. Over the next few dry days it shrank to a third its original size and became opaque, but a night of heavy rain returned it to its former size and texture -clearly, it had the capacity to rehydrate. What on earth could it be?
My first thought was that I had found a species of plasmodial slime mould, that extraordinary entity which hovers on the border the between plant and animal worlds, but the jelly neither moved nor coagulated as slime mould would. Perhaps, then, it was a kind of fungus and lived on the twig. I took it along to our next WNS meeting to seek advice from our expert on fungi. She was able to confirm that it was indeed a fungus, of a kind that lives on deciduous trees. It’s a member of the jelly fungus group – a relative of Jelly Ear which you can find throughout the year on elder: a dark red fungus with the whorled shape and the texture of a human ear. Even closer relatives are Witch’s Butter, a viscous black fungus which, I know, grows on our tree, and the much more attractive Yellow Brain, which also grows on deciduous trees and shows up really well at this time of year in places like Middleton Woods and in Grass Wood, near Grassington. My jelly fungus has the common name White Brain, presumably because its pleats and crevices reminded people of that organ.
We tend to associate fungi with autumn but several species are visible now, easier to spot among the leafless trees. The delightfully named Scarlet Elf Cup has been found recently in full glory on a roadside near Swinsty . Our expert also told me about another fascinating fungus – Green Wood Cup, regularly found on fallen branches in Grass Wood. It’s easy to spot: the thread like filaments of the mycelium penetrate right through the wood, staining it a beautiful bluey-green. Such wood was much prized to add colour to marquetry; perhaps you might even see some on the walls of Betty’s Café in Ilkley!
Even before the spring flowers take over, there is colour in our woods. I was struck too by how robust these winter fungi can be. My jelly-like specimen was surviving well, whether frost-bitten, wet or dry, until, alas, it was minced up by the first lawn-cut of the year. Itself another seasonal milestone, I suppose.