Pixie cups and deceivers.
It’s been a gloomy grey week so far, and although we had a nice walk in a beech wood at the weekend, the light wasn’t great so nor were the pictures, really. Yesterday I went to Thursley, again not expecting much in the way of things to photograph, but found myself entranced by these little cups of dew (or drizzly raindrops).
I’m familiar with the little mushroom growing alongside them; it’s a Deceiver, Laccaria laccata, and there were hundreds of them growing in quite a small area. They’re known as deceivers because the cap shape and colour can be so variable, causing confusion in identifying them. I like this one on its own too; looks like a bottle top.
There was a devastating heath fire in Thursley in 2006, which wiped out most of the mature heathland and its wildlife. Five years on, the heath has regenerated but some areas are still colonised predominantly by mosses and low growing plants as the heather re-establishes. This gives space for a variety of lichens and other interesting ‘minatures’. I think this lichen is Cladonia pyxidata, the pyxidata referring to its common name of pixie cups. On reading a bit more about it, I found that it used to be used as a herbal remedy for whooping cough. Other ‘mosses’ are used in modern herbal medicine; Irish moss (Chondrus crispus, actually red algae, or seaweed) and Icelandic moss (Cetraria islandica, also a lichen). Both are high in polysaccharides, giving the medicine a soothing mucilaginous quality which would explain the use in whooping cough. Cladonia pyxidata is likely to contain usnic acid, a compound found to have antibacterial effects against, amongst others, the tuberculosis bacterium (I’m reading about this, so more to follow.)
The more I read about lichens, the more interested I get. They’re not an independent organism, but formed via a partnership of fungi and algae. This appears to be a symbiotic relationship; one which benefits both parties, and allows the lichen to grow in inhospitable environments where neither the fungus nor the alga could survive alone. It makes for some damn pretty shapes too, in my opinion.