There are over 3500 species of larger fungus in the UK, and they are an important part of the woodland ecosystem in Ayrshire. Fungus live in symbiosis with trees and plants, helping each other to grow and survive. In addition, they break down leaf litter and dead wood, producing a fertile layer of soil. Like many species groups, fungi are under-recorded, therefore little is known about their detailed distribution in the region. At present there is only one priority species identified in the 2007-2010 Local Biodiversity Action Plan in the region. Pink Meadowcap Hygrocybe calyptraeformis is a prrioty species and grows on unimproved semi-natural grassland on well-drained soil in open conditions. It is listed as vulnerable on both the British and European provisional red data lists of fungi.
A large number of fungi species can be found in the region’s woodlands. Sulphur Tuft Hypholoma fasciculare is known for its bright sulphur-yellow cap that is tinged orange-tan towards the centre. Very common, it can be found in dense clusters on the stumps of deciduous and coniferous trees. Another example is the Fragrant Funnel Clitocybe fragrans, which can be found amongst leaf litter, moss or grass beneath deciduous trees. An unusual fungi is the Beech Milkcap Lactarius blennius, so called because it exudes droplets of milk when damaged. It has a flattened convex cap that ranges in colour from pale green to pale grey. A small but vivid resident in woodland is the Scarlet Elf Cup Sarcoscypha austriaca, a bright scarlet, cup-shaped fungi. It is usually seen on dead wood from early winter to early spring. This is closely related to the rarer Ruby Elf Cup Sarcoscypha coccinea from which it cannot be distinguished without microscopic examination.
Fungi can also be seen on grassland. The Fairy Ring Champignon Marasmius oreades often forms rings in short pasture grass or lawns. This species has a convex cap, which is tan when moist and mostly buff when dry, with a large umbo (a small central mound). Another common species is the St. George’s Mushroom Calocybe gambosa, so called because the mushroom is said to be ripe on St. George’s Day. Found in pastureland, roadside verges and woodland edges, it has a white cap with inrolled margins. Some of the most colourful of fungi belong to a group known as waxcaps. They are often found in grassland habitats and, as their name suggests, the fruiting body is waxy in appearance. The Scarlet Waxcap Hygrocybe coccinea is one of the commoner species, and has a with a scarlet bell-shaped cap.
When people think of lichens, people often think of old churches and gravestones. Whilst these are indeed good places to look for lichens, they can be found almost anywhere, from the seashore to the roof tiles on your house. While most grow as familiar crusts, there are also leafy and shrubby forms. Lichens consists of a fungus and a photosynthetic alga, which live in close association.
Lichens occur in a number of habitats. On inter-tidal rocky shores several species occur above high tide level, often forming distinctive coloured zones. Species include Verrucoria maura (black), Caloplaca marina (orange), Xanthoria parietina (yellow) and Leconora atra (grey). In some sheltered glens where old trees are still situated, it is possible to find a number of rare lichens, such as the Tree-lungwort Lobaria pulmonaria, which is usually found on Ash trees. Other rarer examples include Lobaria virens and Lobaria amplissima. Churchyards are excellent places to search for lichens. The ancient stonework, when undisturbed and unpolluted by chemical sprays, provides a sanctuary for them. Added interest comes from the varied geology: limestone, sandstone, ironstone, marble, brick, mortar, slate and granite, each having their distinctive lichen communities. Common species include Parmelia saxatilis and Lecanora dispersa.
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