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10 Lichens, mosses and fungi to look out for
During autumn and winter our woodland wildflowers are thin on the ground. Most will wait until spring before blooming again. But that doesn't mean there is nothing to see...
No longer overshadowed by their more garish relatives, its the perfect time to discover the mosses, lichens and fungi that call our woodlands home. For while they may be small, they are no less beautiful. Below, Ray Woods presents ten worth looking out for, next time you take a walk in the woods.
1. Devil's matchstick
Also known as 'Bengal match lichen' and 'British soldier', this lichen is distinguished by the bright red caps that sit atop its branches (also known as 'podetia').
Look out for it on: Devil's matchstick has a fondness for dead and rotting wood. Look out for it on fallen logs, fence posts and heaths and moors.
2. Oakmoss lichen
Oakmoss lichen has a distinctive odour - mossy and earthy yet slightly sweet - and for this reason it is highly prized by the perfume industry.
Look out for it on: As its name suggests, this lichen prefers the bark and branches of the sturdy oak, although it can also be found on other deciduous trees and some conifers.
3. Witches' butter
Also known as 'black jelly roll' or 'warty jelly fungus'. Witches' butter is often seen growing like a black, shiny blister. These can grow and merge, creating a swathe of dark, quivering globs that, once dried out, leave a crust upon the tree.
Look out for it on: The dead but still attached branches of deciduous trees, oak, beech and hazel especially.
4. Carpet moss
One of our commonest mosses, it carpets the ground (hence the name) turning golden to dark green as it ages. In the past people put carpet moss in their beds, allegedly as an aid to a better night's sleep.
Look out for it on: Carpet moss is particularly fond of woodland floors, often covering rocks, tree stumps and fallen logs.
5. Frilly lettuce lichen
A fancy, frilly, pale-green lichen as its name suggests. In years gone by, this lichen and its close relations were gathered in Europe for a very practical purpose: to make a range of brown dyes. In particular, it was used to add colour to wool.
Look out for it on: The trunk, bark and branches of conifer trees.
6. Crisped neckera moss
A rather luxuriant moss, with leaves that grow in fan-shaped structures. Crisped neckera moss is often a glossy green, turning brown as it ages.
Look out for it on: Rocky areas, slightly in the shade. This moss prefers rocks but can be found on bark where trees grow amongst them.
7. Glue fungus
The woodland floor is full of fungi that can't wait to feast on fallen twigs. This fungus has a sneaky way to get in first: it forms a sticky surface on living twigs and so catchs the dead wood before it reaches the ground.
Look for it on: Hazel. You can often spot groups of twigs, seemingly stuck together in mid-air, as it harvests dead plant matter to feed on.
8. Electrified cat's tail moss
Also known as big shaggy moss. Fuzzy and unkempt with leaves sticking out in all directions, its appearance not only inspired its names, it is also thought to be botanically unique.
Look for it on: the ground in woodlands, including the more acidic soil of pinewoods. Electrified cat's tail moss has also been known to pop up in churchyards.
9. Witch's whiskers
Pale and shaggy, these lichens can also be life-savers: many contain Usnic acid, an antibiotic and anti-fungal chemical. Native Americans allegedly used it to treat battle wounds.
Look out for it on: trees, especially the smaller, twig-like branches (although it can also be found growing on trunks and branches too).
10. Red stemmed feather moss
A native of northern forests where it covers the woodland floor. When wet, the scarlet stems that give this moss its name can easily be seen beneath the translucent green leaves. The 'pleuro' in its scientific name comes from the Latin for ribs.
Look for it on: the ground, especially in open woods containing patches of heath (for example, the New Forest).