21 Sept 2017

A Festival of Science, Comedy and…. Fungi

Bruce Langridge

What a great idea to run a Science, Nature and Comedy Festival here in the Garden

We’re a wonderfully appropriate place to provoke debate and thought about new scientific revelations and explanations.

So what a delight and privilege to see and listen to a talk by Jim Al-Khalili about quantum mechanics, a subject so thrillingly complicated that if you claim to fully understand it, you clearly don’t understand it. Much of what I understand about evolution was gleaned from the pages of books written by Professor Steve Jones, so to hear him talk live about the obesity gene was like a footy fan seeing Ronaldo. I’d not heard of Brenna Hassett but from her talk in the Theatr Botanica, I now feel enriched by my increased knowledge of human evolution revealed by bioarchaeology. I now know that Penderyn whiskey tastes rather nice and that Robin Ince can be a very funny man. I knew that my colleague Paul would have fun with the chemists, physicists, and astronomers in the Great Glasshouse.

The festival also gave me a great excuse to look and talk about fungi – I ran a couple of fungi walks and made up a table of fresh fungal fruiting bodies found in the Garden. A consolation for all the rain we’ve had has been a bountiful start to the autumnal fungi season. They’ve been popping up all over the place so although I was programmed to run walks to our waxcap meadow, my walks took longer than programmed because we kept stopping to look at other fungi along the way. The best spot was a pile of felled beech logs at the entrance to Waun Las NNR. What a treat. We found dead man’s finger, yellow stagshorns, purple jellydiscs, King Alfred’s cakes, turkey tails, split gills, bonnets and a splendid array of artist’s brackets, now inscribed with the names of three teenage girls who actually looked interested when I invited them to leave a message on the white underside of an especially fresh new bracket.

Impressive, but the waxcaps on the sheep pastures were a real treat

Waxcaps are fruiting much earlier than previous years and we found a great collection of yellow, red, pink, orange, white and even green waxcaps. But my favorite find was less attractive. After the foraging poet Richard Osmond (no, not the tall comedian but a forager who runs a gastro pub in St.Albans) had read his allegorical poem about a magic mushroom he’d just found, someone spotted a largish waxcap with a brownish cap. This yellow foot waxcap Hygrocybe flavipes was first recorded here in 2013 by David Mitchel (no, not the comedian but our regular Fungus Day guided tour leader) and the continued presence of this uncommon waxcap indicates shows that our meadows are benefiting from the way we are managing them.

A happy end to a happy weekend.