31 October 2010


The other day, I noticed some things on the lawn, near to the rotary clothes dryer. I thought perhaps they were blackened pieces of newspaper blown from somebody's garden bonfire or maybe feathers evidencing a cat's dawn assault on some unsuspecting blackbird. Returning from my digging expedition, I observed that the stuff was still there. This time I crouched down and quickly realised that I was looking at strange black fungi spears poking through the turf. I'd never seen such a fungi before - or maybe I had seen it but just didn't take the time to notice it.

As we all know, autumn is the best time for fungi. In forests, on rotting trunks, in meadows and on lawns, toadstools and mushrooms quietly appear poking their strange little heads at the sky. One day you don't see them and the next day you do. Mostly we expect them to have little stems supporting heads of different hues with little gills beneath. Unless we are fungi foragers or botanists specialising in the field we don't expect fungi to look like the odd black growth shown in the photograph above.

There must have been at least thirty of the little black spears within about a square metre of lawn. They were all between half an inch and two inches tall.

Internet research tells me that not only are there over 100,000 different types of known fungus in the world with thousands more still to be catalogued but it also tells me that the little black spears are commonly known as "Earthtongues". However, there are many different sorts of "Earthtongue" and ours may be either "geoglossum cookieanum" (as in the photo) or "geoglossum fallax". In reality, I think it would take an expert with a microscope to say for sure.

I come to realise that it would be possible to spend a lifetime simply studying "Earthtongue", recording its geographical distribution and the characteristics of the many different types. Apparently, this odd fungus can be found in many parts of the world but until Thursday morning I had no idea of its existence. And it wasn't in the Serengeti or the wilds of Alaska - it was just outside our back door.


  1. Eh up, Lad. You haven't got any of them there traffic wardens buried under your lawn have you?

  2. JENNY Sometimes I wish I had just dug a pit and pushed them in but presently they are being "re-programmed" by the Taliban in some remote mountainous region of Afghanistan. I don't think they'll be writing out any more parking tickets for quite a while!

  3. Ah, but what will they be doing when they have been reprogrammed? You may have opened a big can of worms there...;)

  4. Absolutely gross!

  5. I can sense the start of a monster movie coming on

  6. Fascinating (really). I've never before heard of "earthtongues" much less seen a photo of one. It's amazing what one can find in one's own back yard!

  7. Last year the lady I work with found some strange mushrooms in her yard. The next day her little Norwich Terrier found them. $2600 and a week later the dog was barely alive. It was down for almost a month, but recovered. Now she routinely tromps around the yard with a pot of boiling water to kill mushrooms as they sprout. I don't have a dog, so I let them grow because they're interesting. Is this the first year yours have come up? Where do you suppose they came from? Maybe you carried spores home on your shoes from some exotic place.

  8. HELSIE/HELEN Your response puzzles me. If you have a fear the best thing to do is confront it so I will be sending you some Earthtongue spores to dust around your garden. Let's hope the fungus doesn't follow the example of Australian rabbits!
    JOHN GRAY You could be the star of that movie, grappling with giant Earthtongues as they invade North Wales.
    PAT ARK That's the amazing thing. There are many things still to be discovered very close by if we only learn to look.
    JAN I have never seen them before. The fact that they are concentrated under the rotary washing line suggests to me that perhaps the spores were brought to our garden by birds which often perch on the washing line. Sad story about the dog. I think that part of the fascination with fungi is that there is an aura of mystery and danger around them. My research proved that types of Earthtongue are certainly found in various places in California.

  9. How absolutely bizarre!

    Word on the street is that the traffic wardens were moved to Yemen.

  10. I've never seen those! Fascinating! In our garden we've gone in for the traditional red-and-white spotted type, usually with an elf on top.


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