Page:VCH Surrey 1.djvu/106

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.

A HISTORY OF SURREY plants. Others again, as illustrated by the numerous forms of fungi popularly known as toadstools, derive their food from dead wood or decaying vegetable matter. The common mushroom and other kinds that grow in the ground might be supposed to obtain their food directly from the soil as flowering plants do. This however is not the case ; the spawn or mycelium of all such fungi derive their food from decaying vegetable matter present in the soil. Just about five thousand different kinds of fungi are natives of Britain and out of these two thousand have been found in Surrey. This number, although higher than that for any other equal area in Britain or probably elsewhere, does not necessarily prove that the fungus flora of Surrey is exceptionally rich but simply that one particular portion of the county has been thoroughly investigated. This portion is the Royal Gardens, Kew, where continuous attention has been paid to the fungi for many years past. The Gardens have an area of about three hundred acres, and in 1897 a list of the fungi was published which included 1,340 species (Kew Bulletin, April, 1897). Since the above publication some hundreds of species have been added to the list, hence after deducting 1 50 foreign species introduced along with exotic plants the number of native species is enormously in excess of any published record for a similar area. The latticed stinkhorn (Clatbrus cancellatus) is undoubtedly the most interesting fungus met with in the county, not only on account of its quaint form, beautiful colour and most abominable smell, but more especially as being along with two other commoner British species the outlying representatives of one of the most highly organized groups of fungi characteristic of tropical regions. In the vast majority of fungi the spores or reproductive bodies are dispersed by wind, but in the group under consideration (Phalloidea) the spores are produced on a body which at maturity dissolves into a dripping slimy exceedingly foetid mass possessing an intensely sweet taste and is much appreciated as food by blue-bottles and other flies which visit the plants in myriads, being attracted by the widespread penetrating smell and brilliant colour of the fungus. The spores after passing through the body of an insect germinate readily, and those that are deposited in a suitable locality give origin to a fungus in due course. The development of the fungus takes place underground, where at a certain stage it resembles in shape and size a hen's egg, feeling rather soft and elastic. When the spores are mature the egg-like structure bursts irregularly at the top and a hollow sphere bounded by an irregular network of a bright red colour and varying from two to four inches in diameter appears above ground. The foetid mass of greenish slime containing the spores is spread over the latticed sphere. It is interesting to note that the combination of smell and colour utilized by many flower- ing plants for the purpose of attracting insects to secure cross-fertilization should also be employed by certain fungi as an indirect aid in spore dispersion. Tremellodon ge/atinosum, Pers., another very remarkable fungus and 64