Articles in ‘fungi’
Written by Lucy Brzoska
After a week of rainy nights, Collserola is damp and misty. The deciduous oaks bring a golden firelight into the sodden chill woods, and the early morning sunlight and mist entwine in flutes. Everywhere you hear the winter ching of chaffinches. Acorns drop, making you look over your shoulder. The leaves drift down, unhurried, finding their niche on the carpet below.
Miniature flowerpots, covered in moss, have sprouted in the crack of a tree stump. They’re Fluted Bird’s Nest Fungi (Cyathus striatus), whose spore-filled “eggs” – or peridioles – are dislodged by raindrops channelled down the inner grooves of the pot.
In the dark undergrowth were clumps of Upright Coral fungi (Ramaria stricta), the colour of dead flesh. Pallid limbs stretch upwards hoisting the spore away from the woodland floor.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
Though its woods are mainly evergreen, Collserola is livid with colour in the autumn. Blue-violet Rosemary flowers hum densely with bees, and yellow Mediterranean gorse shines against the rich blue sky of San Martín. As if decorated for Christmas, the Strawberry trees are hung with glowing red and orange fruit and clusters of bell-shaped flowers, creamy white like candles.
I found a Praying Mantis in almost exactly the same spot as last year, lightly clinging to a Narrow-leaved Cistus. It had a contented post-meal air, probably having dined on the bees in the Rosemary bush next door. After cleaning them, it neatly folded its spiky “arms” and remained motionless.
Under the dense Holm oak canopy, in the dark, boar-raked mulch, knots of scarlet tentacles emerge: Latticed Stinkhorns (Clathrus ruber), or in Catalan Guita de Bruixa – “Witch’s Vomit”. A fungal wonder, it attracts flies with its rotten stench to act as spore-dispersers.
From a fallen tree comes the sound of Pekin Robins – or Red-Billed Leiothrix – who are hiding among the dried branches and leaves. This escapee cagebird, native to the jungles of Southern Asia, feels at home in Collserola, with its overgrown gullies and impenetrable tangles of creepers and brambles.
When disturbed they can’t seem to control their curiosity. One by one, Pekin Robins begin emerging from the dead tree to get a closer look at the intruder, all the time scolding vigorously. I got a noisy close-up of coral-red bills, yellow throats and bright black eyes. With a steadily expanding population, their colonisation of other areas in Catalonia is imminent.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
A Praying Mantis was ensconced in the Sticky Fleabane with a bee in its claws. It was delicately eating a leg, still sprinkled with fresh pollen, before neatly detaching a wing. Instead of bright green, like all the mantises I’ve ever seen, this one was a dull khaki colour. As it chewed, its plump, segmented abdomen pulsed in a rippling movement. The whole of the body seemed to be concentrated on digesting the bee.
While watching the Mantis, I could hear the liquid notes of robin song. The woods and parks fill up with migrating robins in the autumn. As the season moves on, they seem to disperse, but for a while the whole of Collserola vibrates with robins tic-ticking from every bush.
Bee eaten, the Mantis fastidiously cleaned its weapons. Suspended between the Sticky Fleabane on one side and gorse on the other, it faced the sky as if lying in a hammock. When I left, it was still absorbed in polishing its spiky forelegs.
Inside the woods, it was warm and humid. After weeks of drought, a typically intense two-day downpour had washed away the summer dust. Seizing the moment, plants were regenerating their leaves. Boar mud-baths were restored. Bark had turned velvety with moss. Stones at the side of the path were covered in lichen: a mass of goblets if you looked close.
A fresh crop of puffballs had sprouted in the middle of the path, tender, fragrant and good to eat. Soon they will age, turn brown and let out a puff of spores. They’ve been given some great names: the Devil’s Snuffbox and Wolf’s Fart.
Coming down the hill at dusk, the Praying Mantis was still in the same spot, eating the last bee of the day.
Written by Lucy Brzoska
I found a palette of colours as autumn turned to winter in Collserola. It’s at this time of year that the variety of trees is most visible: the darker green of holm oak (Quercus ilex), the silvery olives (Olea europaea), the broccoli-green of stone pines (Pinus pinea), and the yellow-brown of deciduous oaks (Quercus cerroides), who are in no hurry to shed their leaves.
The constant rainfall this autumn – not the usual torrential storms, but steady day-long rain – has made moss and lichen flourish. A startling rock by the path is encrusted with orange-yellow lichen on top, and emerald-green moss on the side. The ground is a constellation of moss and earth stars, most of which have already popped. A vivid dark red fungus (a species of Russula) has pushed up through the pine needles, like a mole tunnelling its way out the ground.
A plastic strip tied to a tree guides you up the overgrown terraces, long abandoned. Butcher’s broom grows in the gloom, hung with smooth red balls. A gang of Pekin robins (Leiothrix lutea) express their displeasure at my presence with angry rasping calls. I climb up to the ridge, where spiny Mediterranean gorse (Ulex parviflorus) flowers among the rocks. You can see that Montseny is still powdered with snow, while the Pyrenees are solid icing-sugar white.
Instead of following the ridge back to Vallvidrera, I decide to take the path that skirts the coolest, shadiest corners of the valley. With so few shopping days left before Christmas, it’s very quiet. Probably only a handful of mountain bikers have passed all day. The wings of chaffinches vibrate inside a wild olive. The smallest member of a roving mixed flock, a goldcrest (Regulus regulus), investigates the tip of an oak branch.
The path steepens and it’s almost impossible not to run down . . . straight into a tribe of boars, who scatter through the leaf litter. A male with visible tusks gallops up the slope, where he stands huffing and puffing among the trees, staring belligerently. Poor light and the excitement of the moment has resulted in a less than clear image.
After they finally disperse, I reassure myself that no one in Collserola has ever been attacked by a boar. Their population in the park is estimated at 650 and rising. This season, the hunting clubs of the Collserola region are on strike in retaliation to new restrictions on their activities. Their demands have been partly met: they can continue killing thrushes, for instance. But rabbit shooting is still not permitted in the woods, and the number of days when hunting is allowed in the park has not been increased. So the hunters are envisaging a Collserola so overrun with rampaging boars that the administrative powers will come on bended knee next year and grant them all they desire.
Meanwhile, the boar population is controlled to some extent by forest rangers, who shoot the ones that leave the park limits to explore urban areas. This upsets the residents, some of whom can’t resist feeding the inquisitive beasts and become fond of them. After taming the boars, they have the unpleasant surprise of coming home to a bloodstained street and bodies piled up by their front doors.
I found these Magpie Inkcaps (Coprinus picaceus) in a dark damp corner of Collserola, growing among brambles. When fresh, their glistening caps are cylindrical and covered in tattered veil remnants.
As the gills liquify, the cap shrinks and flattens. Its brim rolls up and drips an inky substance. This allows all the spores to get their turn at maximum exposure, so they can be carried away by air currents.
Spores dispersed, the inkcap collapses, dissolved like the Wicked Witch of the West.