Dead man’s fingers

Message from Tree Officer Rich Murphy:

I’m not sure if the quality of the picture will be much good but I found some dead man’s fingers in the copse in Simpson’ Field – I don’t know if they are on the list for known fungi within the park.

Thank you, Rich; and no, they are not on our list of known fungi in the reserve.

Dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorpha) grow low down, in and on rotting wood; its blackened finger-like fruiting bodies reach upwards, looking for all the world as if someone buried beneath the woodland floor is making a bid for freedom.

[1] Xylaria polymorpha, dead man’s fingers; [2] Xylaria hypoxylon, candle snuff fungus

The first part of this fungus’s name, Xylaria, comes from the same Greek work as xylem, and simply means wood. While there are known to be about 100 species of Xylaria, we know of only one other in the reserve, Xylaria hypoxylon, the candlesnuff fungus which grows on the old and rotting willows by the Lambrok tributary.

Dead man’s fingers, like most Xylaria, feed on the polysaccharides of rotting timber, the carbohydrates that bind together the cellulose and lignin to form what we recognise as wood. As a result, when  Xylaria polymorpha has consumed what it can of a dead tree stump, what remains is a nutrient-rich soft mass that insects and other small creatures are more easily able to feed on.

These strange, oddly named fungi, are an essential part of nature’s recycling system.


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