20 November 2015

Gather ye waxcaps while ye may

Okay, that’s not really how the 17th-century poem (‘To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time’, by English Cavalier poet Robert Herrick) begins but, when it comes to gathering waxcaps, you really do need to seize the day because

Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same [fungi] that smiles today
To-morrow will be dying.

This blog was supposed to be full of deliciously luscious photographs of waxcap fungi taken somewhere up a hill in the wilds of the Welsh valleys after an outing with my new friends from the Glamorgan Fungi Group. Then Storm Abigail decided to sweep across Britain, with her whistling winds, hail showers and torrential rain. Though some of the dedicated – some might say mad! – followers of fungi still braved the hill, I chose to remain indoors.

Luckily, I have a magnificent and very abundant source of waxcaps much closer to home, at Cathays Cemetery. The fact that its 110-acre grounds have remained largely undisturbed since the cemetery closed to new burials about 35 years ago means the grassy spaces between and around the graves are ideal for waxcaps, as the hygrocybe species are sensitive both to pollution and to agricultural chemicals.

I am still very much a novice when it comes to identifying fungi – if you’ve ever tried it, you will know what a difficult process it can be. Is the fungus slimy or dry? Where is it growing? Is it alone or in a cluster? What is the texture of the cap? How are the gills attached to the stem? What colour are the spores? These are just a few of the myriad questions you must answer. It is at once frustrating, entrancing, infuriating, captivating … and highly addictive!

I think I know the identities of all the waxcaps in these photographs but, just in case I’m wrong, let’s just focus on how beautiful they are and not bother about what they’re called. Enjoy!

For more facts and an identification guide to waxcaps in particular and fungi in general, check out the First Nature website. 

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