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Jonathan’s Virtual Magical Markstakes Mushroom Tour 2023

Yesterday I made my 100th visit to Markstakes Common. I may have inadvertently drifted this way once or twice from Scarecrow Wood, but until late last April I’d never entered by the northern gate. On 25th April, last year, returning from Haywards Heath, I put the car into one of your infamous potholes just south of the Primary School, limped on, looking for somewhere to pull over, turned off onto Markstakes Lane and pulled over on Green Lane to change the tyre. Once done, pointing down Markstakes Lane anyway, I saw the wall, the farm gate, a wood beyond, a car pulled over … and no signs warning ‘Private Wood: Keep Out’. Impartial to a wood, I’ve been visiting Woodland Trust woods across Sussex for a couple of years, I pulled over, stepped through the gate, saw the stream, the mature oaks and not a lot more on that first ‘visit’. I put it down as somewhere to return to. A place to walk the dog, notable trees, Friends of Markstakes Common all came later. It was September or October before I started to take any notice of the mushrooms, or fungi, as I ought to call them.

Six months later, armed with six or seven books (referenced below), a list of websites (listed below) and a lot of visits and the number of fungi I’ve photographed has topped 100. Of these though 20% or so I am yet to identify, 20% or more I have probably got wrong. And I am yet to see what Spring and a bit of rain, and summer can produce. Of all the books I’ve assembled, the last one I acquired is my favourite ‘ Fascinated by Fungi’ by Pat O’Reilly. Within reason, I’m starting to wonder if I might find everything he has in here… in the woods and on the heath of Markstakes Common. I’ve use the app: AllTrails for some years. This is the ‘Fungi Tour’ I’ve mapped out.

Use this alongside the excellent resources from Friends of Markstakes Common: this is one of their maps showing the paths, different habitats and ancient trees.

In the last couple of months, I started using the GridRef App so most spots where I take a picture have a reference point, though in a wood a variable of +/- 5-7m only really gets you in the general spot – fine if your looking for a mature tree, not so easy if you’re looking for something that might be as small as a drawing pin. The important thing I have discovered is the need, once you have spotted something of interest, to revisit again and again, until you know where the spot is compared to the paths and trees. Just as importantly when it comes to fungi you then get to see how it develops and changes – which in itself helps with identification. Here I will mention the path, the ponds or a notable tree as a landmarks.

I’ve figured out a circuit, shown in the AllTrails map I’ve shared, that takes around an hour and a half to walk. Any such visit would entail lines such as “to see x or y, you’ll need to come here in late October/early November”, or “you’re only likely to see these after rain, and then only for a week, or two in February” or some such. This ‘virtual tour’ can jump back and forth through time and weather conditions. What follows is selective. Around 40 or so of 80, 90 or more fungi I’ve photographed and tried to identify.

Split Gill

At the north gate, straight in front of you, there’s a length of log, which at different times has some kind of crust on it (Bleeding Broadleaf crust perhaps) and currently, some dehydrated split gill hanging on from last December.

In September you might see this around this spot:

Panther Cap

Panther Cap, I am told, is highly toxic, I readily confused it initially with Grey Spotted Aminata. I didn’t appreciate at the time the need to pay more attention to the skirt and the stem growing from a volva or egg sack. I’ll pay more attention here when (and if) it reappears again this September. 

Sulphur Tuft 

Take the path to the right, heading south along the western path. Just a few steps and there’s a fallen mature oak with its roots exposed over there just to the right of the path. A colony of Sulphur Tuft appears from the soil among the roots of the exposed wood and in late November/December.

Within around ten days later, after a sharp frost and snow, they had rotted to black.

Continue further along the path, as it narrows and you just about tread on the next one.

Glistening Inkcap

This is a relatively small (as opposed to tiny), delicate, widely distributed fungus. It typically grows in clusters, as here on decaying wood – a stump and partially buried wood will do.  

The cap is initially bell-shaped and then flattens with age. 

Continue south on the path, onward towards the ancient beech trees (no.6 and what’s left of no.7)left and right of the path. 

I first spotted puffballs over there in the undergrowth, beneath some holly, towards the boundary with Furzehely Farm. This was the end of October.

While on the other side of the path, toward the stream which only runs after heavy rain fall, I came across this: Common Earth Ball.

Hoof Fungus and Beech Barkspot

The ancient Beech (no. 6.) with its large, fallen bough, in the tight folds of the base of the trunk there is Hoof Fungus, a modest one, squeezed in tightly … as well as Beech Barkspot.

At this point I like to make my way over to the veteran Hornbeam no.5. It’s a wonderfully characterful ancient tree with decaying good all around.

Variable Oysterling or a split gill ? 

I took this photograph on 13 January, during the period of flooding and very mild weather. And it quickly disappeared. I know now I should have collect a couple to examine more closely and to create a spore print. Perhaps someone can idntify it from this picture alone.

All I’ve seen since, on three separate occasions, has been a slime mould, twice on one of the most decayed pieces of wood on the ground, and more recently in the rotting wood on the trunk.

Slime Mould

In a matter of days, what starts as a foamy white blob develops a skin, dries out to brown and solidifies into a hard brown bun tha soon disintegrates.

Slime Mould, veteran Hornbeam no.5 (26 March to 9 April)

Slime mould appears on the most decayed, broken trunks and boughs around the wood.  

Continue south, towards Shallow Pond, to the mouth of the pond, and where for most of the year there has been a leaky dam, although it is common in many spots, you’re always guaranteed to see crust on one of the branches.

Crusts of many kinds can be found all over the place: bright orange, darker, paler – in curtains, veils, lines, ribbons, Turkey tails and more … but for now, here’s a spot, probably because of the water, where for now there is always some. I could show a set of slides on these alone. 

Onwards, to my first mystery fungus. A few weeks ago. I nearly stepped on this gelatinous mass. Two days I was out with a macro-lens, saw some more and and was surprised to find this going on: 

One to identify another time. Hoping it was the right thing to do I scooped up this mass of frogspawn and placed it in the water on the edge of Shallow Pond. 

Jelly ear can be found everywhere too, or at least it feels like that. It seems to colonise an entire rotting limb or decayed bough. Find one like this and show it to a child and you might freak them out. They can look very ear like indeed.

Markstakes Common is a place I enjoy visiting in any kind of weather. In December, when we had that spell of frost and snow, I decided to pay a visit and was rewarded with the delightful discovery of frozen jelly ears. Unlike other softer jellies, like the leafy brain, the ears survived the frost and only went into decay in the first week of April. 

Our goal is a modest looking, well rotted, moss covered log pile.

Shallow Pond Log Pile

There are often treasures buried within. Pay close attention. Really carefully. Some of the late-December goings-on here required a family effort on Boxing Day and some extra ‘young eyes’ : Bonnets, clustered woodtuft, candlesnuff, jelly bean … but the ‘jaw dropping’ moment was when I took a closer look at the tiny red/orange dots in the moss: 

Common Eyelash 

The inner surface of the Common Eyelash is covered with short, black, hair-like structures, giving it the appearance of eyelashes.  The outer surface is smooth and often brightly coloured, ranging from yellow to orange-red. 

And much more besides here:

some yet to be identified, like this tiny fungus in the depth of the log pile, a little larger than a drawing pin. This time I’ve gone back just to see what was going on and again, have been blown away by finding something so odd.

In autumn, this is one of several spots for the candlesnuff fungus, on the logpile and on small pieces of blackened wood around the pond. I’ve followed its appearance, like the tip of a knitting needle, to a piece of broken plastic, then it gains (Antony Gormley arms), and additional limbs, andis white from mid to tip, black at the base … and some it lasts, however much it might dry out until found by a slug and consumed, leaving the remains of a burnt match-like twig. 


For the sake of this tour, we now double back around the top of Shallow Pond.

But if you’re up for a bit more of a hike, head south over to the other side of the path, among the Hornbeam. If, before you approach the notable multi-stem Hornbeam there, you look back towards the path at a log pile close to where water seeps out into a stream. Ignore the logs, look at what I’d call more like a pile of small branches and twigs. This is where I spotted a red Coca-Cola bottle top, only to find on closer inspection, something entirely different: Scarlet elfcup. 

Scarlet Elfcup

Long gone, most consumed by slugs, I presume within days. Rare in southern Britain apparently? 

Just a little further along the stream there (only runs after heavy rainfall), there’s a long fallen hornbeam stem with a large smearing of witch’s butter.

Witch’s Butter

So, double back and circle the Shallow Pond. 

Slimy Beech Cap / Porcelain Fungus

It is here in October that you are likely to find the Beech trunk, from the ground to 16ft smothered in slimy beech cup fungus. Attractive in the first days, it soon poses and melts what I liken to copydex, the slimy, sticky, smelly kids glue. 

Slimy Beech Cap / Porcelain Fungus has a distinctive appearance with a slimy, sticky cap (especially when wet) that ranges in colour from orange-brown to reddish-brown.  The gills on the underside of the cap are initially a bright yellow-orange colour and eventually darken to a rusty-brown colour as the mushroom matures.

Cinder Fungus

There is a dead stump of Beech, 8ft or so tall with slime mould and cinder fungus. 

Cinder Fungus is a common-place wood-rotting fungus with a distinctive appearance, eventually developing a black, charred-looking exterior that resembles burnt wood. It is widespread across Markstakes Common, and in some instance covering old, decaying trunks and boughs of Beech, Oak and Hornbeam 

Artist’s Bracket fungus

Return on the path towards the deep pond, then head east (right if you’re heading north) to what was, I believe, notable Beech no. 7 in 2010, which fell a good 7 or 8 years ago. I saw ‘was’ because it took me six months of searching for it to think it had come down, something I was able to confirm (and should have done earlier) using Jacqui’s photo and Grid Point record, which unless I am mistaken pinpoints this stop. 

Anyway, it was noted that there were bracket fungi in a hallowed stem then, in 2010, these were still vibrant and present, some of them probably several years old. The rest of the tree is down, and hosting its own fungi. This is artist’s bracket fungus, also known as the artist’s conk 

They are hard, with a woody fruiting body that can be used as a medium for artists to create drawings

Turkey Tail

Further down the fallen trunk, there’s a branch that looks like the head of a rocking horse that develops a quite complete covering of Turkey Tail. 

On your right (south), theres a dead hornbeam that’s still alive. It’s not a famous tree, but maybe it should be. The broken branches on the ground and higher up are home to fungi, slimes, lichens, and mosses, while the top of the trunk has produced many successful shoots. I rather think, like that logpile by the Shallow Pond, that there is an entire world of fungi to explore there, but as several look like slime moulds and crusts of various kinds, I’ll leave these for a future foray. 

There’s a kids’ den with an abundance of jellyear on the large decaying oak bough it rests against.  This is worth a visit in October/November after heavy rain, and in March/April too. 

As you head towards the notable Beech with its companion oak, there’s a stump here that develops a considerable amount of Turkey Tail (or some crust or other!) 

I then head towards the footbridge over the woodland stream (that flows from the south) to the ‘land of the birch polypore. They are abundant here and present right across the woods wherever there is decaying Birch.

As well as these, blushing bracket: Flat and woody, becoming darker with age. Apparently it can be used as sandpaper, and historically as a firestarter. 

Join the path and once again head south, past the Beech with the apt mushroom cut into it, to the spot where a shelf of stacked smoky bracket appears later in the year, and may or may not break off or be broken off. 

Then head south again, we’re doing a loop to the edge of the wood, then doubling back along the eastern boundary. Here on a large, long fallen oak bough that I first spotted Oyster mushroom. Also on the barely living, rotten-through oak, which is covered in cinder fungus; when you look for it, I hadn’t noticed it before so maybe it’s because it is early spring, it is to be found everywhere.

What is this? 

Onwards to Oyster Mushroom 

Onwards, and the logs on the left is where I first spotted King Alfred’s Conk, which is also present right across the wood. Candlesnuff fungus also appears around here. 

Having emerged from the woods, take the path, always a muddy quagmire after rain and for many days afterwards, through the Heather Glade where I inadvertently lifted the tiniest, most delicate Heather bonnet (he thinks) when working there in the glade with Friends of Markstakes. 

Seeing them together, I can see which might be a bonnet, a parasol, or a parachute. 

Then, we head south to visit the wonderful ancient Hornbeam no.22. This was where I saw ‘split gill’ for the first time.

Unless I am mistaken, ‘Split Gill’ comes in many forms, and though there is a colony of it on this fallen branch or stem, I want to take us off to the far south-east edge of the Common, to say ‘hi’ to ancient Hornbeam no.22.

Quoting Pat O’Reilly:

Small, bracket-like, hairy/like wet felt, sometimes tinged purple (the best) as here, but beneath the cap are radial gill-flds, each of which is centrally split. In prolonged dry weather the gills close over the fertile surfaces of the fruiting body. Rehydrating when moistened by rain, which causes the gills to reopen, and exposed to the air, spores are released. Split Gills can survive several such cycles (p.230 Pat O’Reilly)

Double back on the east path, by the boundary, returning north towards the gate… and possibly three types, including jelly brains.

And corals galore… 

Also here: Fool’s Funnel:

Duck into the woods to find a long fallen, moss covered beech, with a dead Hornbeam companion and a younger Hornbeam that has exploited the tree’s demise, where I first spotted and was amazed by Porcelain, but home to others:

Green Elf-cup…

Finally, having doubled back on the path by the smoky bracket and walking towards Notable Oak 13 there is a spot along the left hand side of the path where Amethyst has been found.

And many, many, many more besides: especially the more normal looking ones. 

References and further reading:


Mushrooms. Collins Gem. All you need to know about …

Fascinated by Fungi : Pat O’Reilly

Foraging Pocket Guide: Marlow Renton and Eric Biggane

Mushroom and Toadstools. David Pegler.

Fungi Swatch Book: The Woodland Trust 

Fantastic Fungi : How Mushrooms can heal, shift consciousness & Save the Planet : Editor/Contributor Paul Stamets

From Another Kingdom. The Amazing World of Fungi: Edited by Lynne Boddy and Max Coleman

Fungarium: Curated by Katie Scott and Ester Gaya


Collins Fungi Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Mushrooms & Toadstools of Britain & Ireland: Stefan Buczaki, Chris Shields & Denys Ovenden

Fungi: Bran Spooner and Peter Roberts

Entangled Life. How Fungi make our worlds, change our minds and shape our futures: Merlin Sheldrak

Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World: Paul Stamets

Woodlands: Oliver Rackham 


To be added 

MyCoPortal > ​​https://www.mycoportal.org/portal/index.php

Short Slide Presentation > https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1hzI1nktZoUEl7k5aqEjRolplHzGlkh-qEZYLFiChza4/edit?usp=sharing

Extended Slide Presentation > https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1TgUnwjWpdbo3lS5xnFqwxG9K21ld9fLOaRik7B8QS2M/edit?usp=sharing


Nature Notes from Sussex Woods

Grey willow catkins, gorse in flower, slime mould, split gills, bitter oyster, half consumed scarlet elfcup, emerging bluebells, notable hornbeams and beech, and the trickle of a woodland stream – some of the pleasures of a walk in the woods in March. The rain was needed. The ground was brittle and hard after a dry February. All of this, and large fallen limbs from trees, and ancient woodland bank boundaries.

Companion Trees of Markstakes Common

I can’t find much written about so called ‘companion trees’ in the world. We marvel at some of the contorted shapes trunks create as they appear to bounce off each other and imagine the relationship is symbiotic: I’ve come to believe that this is not the case. Whilst horticulturalists and gardeners may speak of ‘companion’ planting, this is not the same as two or more trees or shrubs competing in the wild for light, water, nutrients and a footing.

Oak and Birch ‘companions’ Markstakes Common July 2022

Visiting Markstakes Common often over the last few months I have come to know the area reasonably well and with the aid of a map created by the Friends of Markstakes Common in 2011 I can pick up some, though certainly not all of the 34 ancient trees one or two of which have notable companions.

It would appear that dominant tree survives, more often birch over everything else, with oak and hornbeam in a close second place, followed by birch while holly, though often abundant, becomes leggy or where there is little light simply dies away. To my eyes birch trumps all others, though it depends clearly on which tree gets a 10 or 25 year head start. It is also clear that where both trees are able to survive their ‘companionship’ my last many decades. Of course in depends very much on the context as to which tree may weaken and fail.

For example, this birch and oak, both of which continue to thrive – although the holly tree identified in 2011 has clearly died back and since tried to reestablish itself with little success: it is barely a bush.

Around the wood, on closer examination as many as 1/5th of every mature tree shows some element of companion growth at some time. The overwhelming pattern however is that the companions eventually fail … leaving a hollowing, rotting trunk, or breaking off and falling to the ground.

These ‘messy’ companions and the amount of dead wood littering the woodland floor is a feature of a natural deciduous wood. It is litter that in a warming climate must be distinctly vulnerable to fire especially where a visitor is careless or thoughtless.

Hempstead Wood, East Sussex 

Wood anemones, wild garlic and bluebells at their very best.

Picking my way around the woods of Sussex and having often visited the Woodland Trust Woods around Uckfield: Lake Wood and Views Wood, as well as Buxted Park I thought I’d try others from the handy Woodland Trust ‘Wood Finder’. This is how I found myself driving through ‘old’ Uckfield and out towards the east and Framfield along Sandy Lane. This was mid-April (12th April). I have been back several times since (13th, 28th & 29th April and early May: 1st and 2nd)  – alone, with our dog, with family and friends. There is often no one around; sometimes a solo dog walker. There are stick dens scattered about so clearly kids come here at weekends or holidays. It is a short walk from Uckfield and easily reached by road. 

Location of Hempstead Wood, west of Uckfield (cc OpenStreetMap 2022) 

Leaving Uckfield you soon find yourself on Sandy Lane which is in itself a delight, with steep banks covered in bluebells from mid-April to mid-May and mature trees overhanging the road. If you know someone who has mobility issues who would like to see the woods in spring this is one of several lanes around Sussex which do the job. 

Hempstead Wood is ‘ancient woodland of the low weald’ (Woodland Trust) and would once have formed part of an ancient wood that stretched right across Sussex to Kent. Indeed many place names are indicative of a ‘clearing in the woods’. 

There is parking off Sandy Lane for four cars at most: there is a sign asking that the farm gate is kept clear. 

Hempstead Wood is a private wood. Bikes are not permitted and access for them has been restricted by new fencing. There is a rough track packed with rumble and in places deeply incised by the rain that runs steeply down the east side of the wood; the entrance to the woods propper is via a smart stile on the right some 170 metres down the lane. Signs restate that this is a private wood and asks that people stick to the paths; there is also a sign banning bikes.

In spring there are a number of clear stages in the wood marked at first by  wood anemones followed by wild garlic before it flowers and then by bluebells and before the tree canopy encloses all.  

The wood anemones bloom early to create an ever denser speckled carpet of white and then the flowers disappear quite quickly as leaves appear on the trees. 

Bluebells follow at first forming a dense matting of leaves before the distinctive flowers emerge and stretch a foot or more above ground. 

Bluebell bulbs are easily damaged by trampling by footfall and dogs. This means that they can’t produce enough energy to flower and reproduce in subsequent years. There is a request to stick to the ‘path’ but with multiple paths around the wood these can be hard to define; sadly there are many additional paths being made through the bluebells which could in time cause fragmentation of the colonies.

In mid-April the wild garlic had not flowered.

A week later flower stems with tear-drop-like bulbs emerged, finally opening  into a chandelier of small white flowers at the beginning of May. 

The wild garlic here is extensive and covers the damp banks of a seasonal stream that runs through the wood. There are multiple similar beds of wild garlic in many of the woods I have visited, with leaves appearing as early as 11 February on the High Weald. 

Sadly, there has been some severe cropping with a scythe in patches. 

Whilst Woodland Trust woods permit foraging and guidelines are provided; namely, picking only a few young leaves from any one plant, here in a private wood this ought not to be going on. 

Finding wild garlic on sale in local markets is a worrying trend.

A circuit around Hempstead Wood might take 45 minutes; this can be extended by adding a short walk onto the meadow above the Uckfield rail line then back to Spring Lane. There’s an option here to cross the railway line and head into Buxted Deer Park beyond. 

As well as the wood anemones, bluebells, wild garlic and tree canopy there are a few early purple orchids, cuckoo flowers and primrose. On different trips we have seen a jay and woodpeckers. 

I’ve only seen this sign up in one place, Brede High Wood (early in the season when there were no bluebells to see at all). I rather think these are needed elsewhere otherwise, where they have the resources, owners will fence of the only ‘right of way’, which in some cases can be quite brutal with barbed wire fencing keeping walkes to a single, narrow and well-worn track. 

For all walks I use the App ‘All Trails’ and for plant and tree identification I use ‘PictureThis plant identifier’. 

I only discovered Hempstead Wood in April; most of the woods I visit, Woodland Trust and others around Uckfield, Blackboys, Tunbridge Wells and Hastings I have been visiting since December 2021, some since October. I have therefore had the chance to see them in late summer, autumn, through winter, early and now late spring. Other woods, heaths and parks visited include: Little Foxes Wood, Lake Wood, Views Wood, Moat Wood, Kiln Wood, William’s Wood, Beechwood Mill and Brede High Wood, as well as Buxted Park, Laughton Common Wood, Chailey Common and Markstakes Common. 

Further advice and information

Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland

Natural England – The Countryside Code (link to PDF) 

Forestry Commission – New Forest Fungi Code Q and As

Scottish Natural Heritage – Scottish Wild Mushroom Code

British Mycological Society


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