Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dung cannons (Pilobolus crystallinus)

I put some of the rabbit pellets in a damp box and they have developed a fine vestiture of the dung cannon fungus (Pilobolus crystallinus).

25012009 Pilobolus crystallinus 005

There is a much better picture here.

This humble microfungus must be one of the world's most remarkable plants.  The little black spore capsules on the top of each thread-like, crystalline stalk can be fired for up to 2 metres and can accelerate from 0 to 45 mph in the first millimetre of flight - apparently the second fastest accelerator in nature.  The pressure in the stalk below the capsule can build up to an astonishing 7 kilograms per square centimetre (100 pounds per square inch) to enable this.

Pilobolus is also the name of a celebrated American dance company (one of the founding members studied the fungus with his father when he was young). They are an amazing group as their web site shows and somewhat more elegant than my crop of fungi on rabbit dung.

I feel quite pleased, however, that close scrutiny of a rabbit dung pellet has opened such interesting doors.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Some winter finds

Now the weather is milder it is easier to do some work in Emthree and yesterday I started to clear back some of the long and untidy grass that has been blanketing the ground since last autumn.  Underneath it is thick with moss and I discovered some tubers on the base of one of the stems of common figwort (Scrophularia nodosa).

20090117 Metre figwort root nodules 009

The ones lower down the stalk had been attacked by a white mould or mildew and looked dead, but the smaller upper pair were still in good shape.

These tubers (which are perfectly normal structures rather than galls caused by an external agent) were much used in the past against conditions like scrofula (hence the scientific name Scrophularia) and hydrophobia.  In the latter case it was recommended that the dried tubers were powdered and sprinkled on bread and butter after which one was supposed to take a long and energetic walk wearing far to many clothes for comfort.

Another discovery was a scatter of rabbit droppings along the mossy top of the yew log on the edge of Medlar Wood.  Positive evidence that they are still active in Emthree.

20090117 Metre rabbit droppings 001