Last weekend I explored Wrest Park with a small group of other individuals, and we certainly saw plenty of interesting sights! For those curious, it is just north of Luton adjacent to a lovely old village called Silsoe, and for those arriving early you can even hear the bells of the nearby church ringing for Sunday morning service and explore the village to look at all the listed buildings.
However, as this blog is about trees, we shall keep it on all things tree-reated, and without further ado I’ll get into some of the features of this park that we passed by…
First of all, we came across this absolutely wonderful Wisteria sp. on the wall of the gardens. Without a shadow of a doubt, it is one of the largest examples I have seen, outside of the one at Kew Gardens. When trained well or given space to thrive, wisterias really do add a degree of formality and regality to a place, and one could hardly argue that the wall would have anywhere near as much character if this wisteria was absent!
Just around the corner from this fine wisteria was a very sizeable cedar (Cedrus sp.). I recall it as probably being a cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani), though we’ll run with a species of cedar when noting my inability to remember specifics! I might add that this was a sizeable cedar, actually – it is now less so, but is certainly still a very impressive specimen. What is interesting about this cedar was the cavity three quarters of the way up what was left of the main stem, which sported some now rather senescent sporophores of the dyer’s mazegill (Phaeolus schweinitzii). The common name for this fungus comes from the fact that the fruiting bodies were used to make purple dye (a phenomenon not restricted to this fungus, as a very many fungi are used for dyes). Always be sure to check stem cavities for this fungus on conifers, and notably old cedars and pines, as they can yield some great fungal treasures!
Further around the gardens, we came across a huge copper beech (Fagus sylvatia ‘Atropurpurea’). As well as a discernible graft line that has begun to bulge, we can spot some highly distinct stretch marks on the bark. Evidently, the more recent annual increments have been quite marked in cross-sectional area, and the bark has therefore split to reveal a fresher bark layer beeneath. As we know, beech usually has a gloriously smooth bark, though in some instances that smooth bark is lost to a much rougher one. Is this a problem? Almost certainly not. It might however be associated with the graft point, if there are additional mechanical stressors acting on the area.
As luck would have it, we then saw a lot of fungi. First came this horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) stump, which had on it not only Bjerkandera adusta, Chondrostereum purpureum and Flamullina velutipes, but many Mycena sp. on roots surrounding the stump. All, in this case, are saprotrophic fungi, meaning that they feast upon the abundance of dead wood, though in the case of Chondrostereum purpureum the mycelium will parasitise upon the mycelium of other fungi (a bit like how Trametes gibbosa will attack Bjerkandera adusta).
Our walk then took us through the woodland garden, where Inonotus hispidus reigned supreme on some of the ash (Fraxinus excelsior). This woodland garden was rather peculiar, in the sense it was utterly laden with laurel (Prunus laurocerasus and Prunus lusitanica), huge yew (Taxus baccata), oaks (Quercus robur) with wonderfully straight boles, limes (Tilia x europaea) completely ravaged by mistletoe (Viscum album), and other tree species (such as ash, as was noted above). The growing amount of deadwood is certainly valuable for any invertebrates, fungi and bacteria, though the laurel does certainly require some management as it currently dominates the understorey.
Also within this woodland, we came across a large oak that had lost its top during last winter. The debris now dressed the ground beneath, and it was not very surprising to see Bulgaria inquinans present on the fallen wood. This fungus is present as a latent organism within the vascular system of the oak, and upon death of a branch it quickly colonises (often quite brilliantly and over vast swathes of wood) to make use of the carbon readily available. In this example, the colonisation wasn’t so glorious, because the wood had been cut into smaller segments, though if left in tact the fungus would have produced black jelly discs across the entire upper stem.
After exiting this woodland garden, we were allowed access to a part of the site closed off to the public. Not only is this good because the area is often not trampled down, but what you can find in there away from the haunts of man is often a great treat, and we were not let down on this front, as you will see by the below images! However, before entering the gate, we stopped a beech (Fagus sylvatica) that had a great example of Perenniporia fraxinea at its base.
We then saw this fungus again, immediately upon entering the gated area. However, this time, it was on a host I had never seen it on before – hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)! And a great example it was, too.
Walking down alongside the lake we then came across a fallen weeping willow (probably Salix x sepulcralis ‘Chrysocoma’) that, upon its stem, was dressed with sporophores of the blushing bracket Daedaleopsis confragosa. This is rather common dead parts of willows (including Salix caprea), though generally the brackets are a little smaller and less sublime. However, in this instance, they provide us with a great example of how it looks.
So not to bore you all with fungi, I shall share one last example of Laetiporus sulphureus ssp. on yew (Taxus baccata). If you look around old yews you will often see chicken of the woods, though make sure never to eat it as it won’t do you any good and could end up with a visit to the hospital!
And now that I’m blue in the face from blaring out so many horrific puns, here’s a few images that will lighten up your day – lightning damage on oak!
Well that is everything. I do suggest this site to those who are nearby, or want to make a trip at a weekend to explore a formal park. It is worth it, though please try to look beyond the huge yews that were topped to try and recreate a hedge! It isn’t easy, but I suppose the dead stumps make for some curious landscape features…