Thursday, 12 August 2010

A slimy alien being...

Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra
Image credit: Maedin Tureaud

On Tuesday, after spending most of the day stuck inside, by late-afternoon I was in danger of going more than a little stir-crazy, and so it was decided that the Small Person and I would take ourselves out for an amble around the village. What followed was a lovely walk in refreshing light rain, incorporating traipsing through a couple of recently-ploughed muddy fields (dry but oh so dusty), getting on our hands and knees to smell the delicious perfume of Scented Mayweed (Matricaria recutita), finding a very bizarre slime mould (more on that later), observing the efficacy of the council’s attempts at Japanese Knotweed  (Fallopia japonica) eradication, fondling some beautiful Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) flowers (so, so pretty), and attempting to judge how long it would be until the blackberries would be ripe enough to pick.

Another highlight of the walk was experiencing the simple ambience of a field that in the last year or so has been left to become a more natural meadow, having previously been mown from here to eternity. A wide path has been mown through the field, in such a way that the vistas produced by the natural growth of thistles, Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and all manner of wild plants are both pleasing to the eye and to the heart. Mind you, due to the wetness of the tall grass, we were unable to reach the old drinking trough which is now home to all manner of am aquatic life, including newts (species as yet unknown). However, I will definitely be back there again soon.

Now, back to the slime mould. All around the edge of the municipal cemetery in our village are planted stately Monterey Pines (Pinus radiata). Unfortunately, the trees are nearing the end of their natural lifespan, and in recent years, a number of them have been felled, leaving behind interesting tree stumps. Not being one to walk past a tree stump without a quick peek to see what life it is supporting, I soon found myself peering this way and that, poking at this, sniffing and that, and it was then that I came across something that I don’t recall ever seeing previously. What I was looking at was about five centimetres in length and one centimetre wide, was pale yellow in colour, and looked like a mass of tiny opaque eggs. Tentatively venturing a gentle touch, I found it the ‘alien being’ to be unexpectedly soft, so decided to leave it alone to avoid any inadvertent damage, making a mental note of its appearance and circumstances.

Once home, after a rather long-winded hunt on the Internet and in various Mycology books, I found my intriguing specimen - the immature form of the slime mould Tubifera ferruginosa, which when mature looks very different. I haven’t included a picture (for copyright reasons) but here are some links to piccies:

I’m hoping to go back there this afternoon, to see how it’s coming along; that is, if it stops raining.

Perseid meteor shower, 2009
Image credit: Jared Tennant
And don’t forget, it’s the peak of the Perseids meteor shower tonight, so fingers crossed for clear skies and a lack of light pollution.

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