A visit to Wrest Park, UK

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!

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Here we can see how the wisteria envelops at least a segment of the much larger wall.
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And a great look at the stem morphology. The fluted appearance also gives this wisteria an old feel, which is probably because of its likely good age!

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!

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Wider than it is tall. I know they say that cedars flatten-out atop in maturity, though this one takes it a little too far!
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Of course, this cedar was a lot larger, though unfortunately lost its top – probably during high winds.
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But that isn’t a problem – the cedar still lives. And other things live within it, too – such as this dyer’s mazegill.
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A closer inspection with the camera reveals a small tier of fruiting bodies, and given the deep fissure they are emanating from it is certainly an historic wound and not a recent one.

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.

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Here’s the copper beech, in all of its bare glory.
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The trunk not only adopts a very stretched appearance but also has a pronounced bulge around the graft union.
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A closer look just to appreciate the degree of bark stretching. Perhaps a visit to Boots would help this beech tree reduce the prevalence of the stretching!

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).

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A quite massive horse chestnut stump. In death, it still provides life for many species of fungi, as we can see…
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Some very fresh and guttating Chondrostereum purpureum. This species is very common on cut ends of fallen logs and stumps during autumn, and is able to parasitise upon other fungi. Thus, it is a fungus that is a secondary resource capturer, as it follows other fungi that came in before.
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More Chondrostereum purpureum alongside some rather old Flamullina velutipes.
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And a select few of the bonnets (Mycena sp.) surrounding the stump, which are very likely saprotrophs of dead roots.

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.

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Obviously, as it is now late autumn, the leaves are off of the ash and the shaggy brackets are blackened (by-and-large). Here, we can spot one just before the stem break.
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Conveniently positioned beneath an old branch abscission point. Note the spindle-shape surrounding the old branch stub, which is the optimal way of ensuring there are no huge stress pockets in the area.
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This second ash is a little more sheltered but still doesn’t escape the ravenous hunger of Inonotus hispidus.
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Again, we can see it is associated with a wound. In this instance, the wound is a little larger in longitudinal extent. The area also sags slightly just beneath, indicating the white rot present (and thus delignification of wood) that is being caused by the mycelium of this fungus.

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.

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A victim of the wind, though still alive. This loss of the upper stem might in fact allow the oak to live for a longer period of time, as it significantly reduces the risk of entire failure by the wind.
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Some discs of Bulgaria inquinans, all of which are maturing or already mature.
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Other equally mature examples on another piece of fallen wood. Absolutely abundant, as is to be expected.

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.

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I suppose you could say it’s the guardian of the gate. It didn’t do a very good job though, as we had a key and the beech can’t actually move.
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Here’s the sporophore, tucked away between two buttresses and covered by bramble a little.
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Pay attention to the white spore beneath, which differentiates it from the slightly similar Ganoderma australe.
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The brown context is another identifying feature of this fungus.

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.

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A rather contorted but very large hornbeam, with bark that one could almost describe as black locust-like.
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Around the butt were many sporophores of Perenniporia fraxinea, but this was by far the best one.
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Now here’s a postcard picture! Who wants to see a picture of a beach with palm trees when you can see this…!?
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And again a shot of the context.

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.

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Willows doing what they do best – break!
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…and then providing great habitat for wood-decay fungi.
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This dead section of the stem is covered by over a dozen Daedaleopsis confragosa fruiting bodies.
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And when we look closer we can spot the brilliantly-textured upper surface. The pores below are between gills and pores, being quite elongated in nature.

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!

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If yew look closely…
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…you can almost see the tree weep at such a vile pun.
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This Laetiporus sulphureus ssp. even had a cherry on top. But don’t eat it…
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…because it’s blue and mouldy. And poisonous to some!

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!

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Here we can see an old lightning wound that spans the entire length of the stem. Note the old ribbing to both sides and the central shallow fissure where the bolt probably tracked.
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Another oak close by shows a similar style of wound, though less extensive in circumferential damage. Both oaks have survived, and long-term this damage might create some interesting habitat!

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…

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A visit to Wrest Park, UK

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