Fungi – fruits of the forest

Here’s an article I wrote for Whittle, the Woodland Trust’s volunteers’ page. Many of the photos of beefsteak fungus and chicken of the woods are from Sherwood. A good walk-through of the more commonly seen tree fungi!

Fungi covered:

Chicken of the woods
Beefsteak fungus
Dryad’s saddle
Shaggy bracket / Shaggy polypore/ Inonotus hispidus


Fungi – fruits of the forest

Helen Leaf, 2020.

Fungi have a whole range of habitats and niches. Many appear in the grass, or through leaf litter on the forest floor. Some appear on trees, and it’s some of these that I’d like to share with you here.

They’re often called bracket fungi, and they tend to emerge from a tree and fan out a little, rather than having a stalk and a top like a typical mushroom. What’s interesting to remember, is that the fungus is in the tree all the year round, and may live in the tree for decades or even centuries. What we might see and as the fungus, is more technically the fruiting body of that fungus.

You could think of it as being similar to apples, being fruit of the apple tree and not the tree itself. Both play a part in how the living thing reproduces, apples bearing seeds and being eaten, and fungi producing spores that are carried on the wind.

The rest of the time, the fungus is interacting with the wood inside the tree, recycling and repurposing it.

I’ve found it really interesting to follow some of the fungi through the season to see how they change.

Perhaps the two most common tree fungi are chicken of the woods and beefsteak fungus.

Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)

This can appear any time from early summer into the autumn. It’s a sunny yellow colour when new, and turns sandy and paler as it gets older. It often grows in clusters of wavy fans, sometimes in several places on the same tree. It tends to grow on oak trees.

Chicken of the woods just starting to grow in August



Fresh Chicken of the woods


Chicken of the woods growing on different parts of the same tree



Chicken of the woods as it’s getting older,
first turning a sandy yellow then a pale cream


Beefsteak fungi (Fistulina hepatica)

This usually appears from midsummer to the autumn, starting as a reddish swelling and developing into one or more firm flat brackets, reddish on top and creamy underneath.

Typical beefsteak fungi

It’s not always this shape though – sometimes it’s wrinkly and rounded, and a tree may have a combination of shapes. Sometimes the fungus exudes wet red droplets. It can appear at different places on the same tree and usually appears at different places from year to year. Often the brackets look ‘meaty’ and have a fleshy texture similar to steak. As they age, they can become darker, saggy, and slimy.

Rounded and wrinkly shaped beefsteak with droplets


The fungus can appear at different places on a tree,
sometimes in several different places

A beefsteak bracket with a section cut away,
showing the colour and texture of the inside

Older beefsteak fungi, turning wetter and darker


Dryads saddle (Polyporus squamous)

These are sandy coloured brackets with feathery markings on top, usually seen on broadleaved trees. They have a gentle, floppy appearance.

Dryad’s saddle on a horse chestnut tree


Shaggy polypore (Inonotus hispidus)

This is usually seen at various heights on ash trees, either singly or in a small cluster. It starts as a thick bracket with a gingery velvety top and paler lower surface. As it ages, it turns black and falls off the tree. Often the black fallen brackets lie on the ground next to the tree.

A fresh Inonotus hispidus bracket with its distinctive colouring


An Inonotus hispidus bracket on a high branch


The same cluster of Inonotus hispidus brackets,
in early August and late October


Old black Inonotus hispidus brackets on the ground next to ash trees


Ganoderma (Ganoderma applanatum, Ganoderma australe)

Unlike all the above bracket fungi, this has a perennial fruiting body. It has a tough texture, and new layers are added to the same bracket each year. It grows on broadleaved trees. Personally, I’ve seen this on many species: oak, ash, beech, birch, lime and horse chestnut, usually (but not always) quite low on the tree, sometimes growing on the inside hollow of a tree.

The lower surface can appear creamy or white, and the upper surface can sometimes look as though it has been dusted with cocoa powder – these are in fact the brown spores.

Ganoderma on beech trees


Ganoderma on oak trees


Ganoderma on a fallen dead oak


More thoughts

Hopefully this gives a better idea of what the more common tree fungi look like. It’s interesting to also think about what they’re doing there on the tree. The fungus itself is present within the tree all year round and may have been present for quite some time before producing what we would call the fungus. The fungus we see is technically the fruiting body of the fungus, much like an apple is the fruit of an apple tree. It’s there to produces spores, which then are carried in the air to other trees.

Within the tree, fungi specialise in different types of decay. Beefsteak fungus, for example, is associated with brown rot of the heartwood, and you can see this when perhaps a branch falls, revealing the inside of the trunk. The exposed heartwood, rather than looking pale, appears a reddish brown. Over time, the structure of the wood becomes cuboid, then crumbly and powdery.

Brown rot seen inside oak branches


Brown rot visible in this cavity, and spilling out of this dead hollow trunk


Brown rot is typically associated with veteran and ancient trees, and you may have noticed trees with this when you’re out and about.  As the wood is broken down and the tree or its branches become hollow, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a key part of a tree’s life, in becoming veteran and ancient.  The inner tree with brown rot becomes a niche habitat for very specialised invertebrates. Also, as the substance of the tree decays and changes, it becomes repurposed and available again, rather than being locked in place as wood. So fungi is about more than fungi really!

New Instagram page for The Oaks of Sherwood

Hi all,

just to say that I’ve now created an Instagram page for The Oaks of Sherwood. It’s @oaksofsherwood and the link is:

I’ll be posting lots of photos there, of trees and also of the small details of the forest that I see when I’m out. A work in progress, but there’s already plenty to look through.

If you’d like to get to know the forest in the way that I see it, then you’re very welcome to follow that. Or just browse and enjoy – that’s ok too.

Best wishes,

Let’s visit a tree….

I came across an interesting ancient tree recently, by a disused old path through a part of the forest that gets few people passing through. Let’s visit it…..

So, here it is, a wonderful burry trunk, covered in lichen, moss, and with so many things going on that it’s almost impossible to take it all in without really slowing down into ‘tree time’. It’s one of those trees where you need to pull up a chair and sit a while and really look.

After looking a while, you realise that the trunk in the middle is in fact dead, completely dead, and has been dead for some time. Bark is there in places, but most of the trunk is bare wood with the various greens of the moss and lichen on its bumpy surface. Definitely not a smooth straight trunk. The tree is dead, yes, but it’s also still alive and doing very well indeed. The living part of the tree is what was once part of the overall bark. At some point in the distant past the tree got to a point where it couldn’t sustain the bark all the way round. The tree decided, or life decided, to carry on as a tree in one section of the bark with healthy vitality and healthy roots. This strip of bark is now about 1.2m wide, and it has been living like this for so long that the edges of the bark are rounded and well healed over – something often seen in many Sherwood trees. You have to look closely for this, in a way, as the living bark is also covered in the greens of lichen and moss.

On the ground near the tree are pieces of what looks like the top of the trunk. They’ve been there for some time. There are also ferns growing – these tend to grown on wood, rather than directly in soil, so perhaps there are other, well decayed pieces of fallen tree on the ground beneath these ferns.

Walking around the tree, you can easily see how different the living bark is, and the dead trunk wood surface. In the photo on the left you see that the living tree only goes up the trunk a certain way before the branches start. By the time the central trunk truly decays away and falls, this (living) tree will hopefully be balanced and stable enough to continue on well into future years.

If you look closely at the photo on the right, there’s a bizarre surprise. There’s a sort of ‘gob cut’ like you’d typically see when a tree is being felled. A flat horizontal cut part way into the trunk, and a 45 degree cut coming in to meet it from above. Normally this is made to assist the direction of fall of a trunk. This is strange though – the cut is at chest height, and in fact there is a second one only slightly lower! The tree wasn’t cut down at all so what’s this about?

Here’s a close-up. Yes, it happened a huge amount of time ago. Also what’s really interesting is that it seems the cut was made by a two-handled saw. You can see where the cut of the saw blade grazes the trunk in an upward set of marks at the right side of the cut. This is strange as well – was it a really tall person on this side of the saw? Why cut the tree at this height? Why cut it at all if the tree was not going to be felled? A mystery without an answer.

So let’s walk around the other side of the tree for another surprise – the trunk is hollow. Well, not really a surprise. You’d kind of expect this really. Interesting to see the thickness of the walls of the trunk at the top. This hollowing must have been in place for some time, rather than being a new thing. So, inside the tree there will probably be leaves, debris and wood mould – a huge and vital habitat for many specialised small creatures. The environment inside the trunk will be fairly stable – mostly dry, slightly wet at times with the little rain that falls in the top opening. But stable, and held there by the walls of the trunk.

You can also see the branches of the living tree on the other side of the trunk. Because there are some young trees around about – the oak is not too overshaded though – it’s tricky to get a sense of the overall shape of the tree. But, stepping back a little and looking through other branches, then yes, here it is, the shape of the living tree that’s there.

You can see that one branch goes straight up! The tree is going for the light, but it’s also the tree acting in a vital way, being strong, alive, quite fine and healthy, behaving like a normal tree with normal branches.

I think it’s a really successful tree. A tree with some mysteries, a tree with many life stories to tell, and one which has a safe future ahead. Now that it has been ‘discovered’, some of the surrounding birches will be cleared and cut back, so that the tree has access to more light at the sides. It will still be a tree that sees few visitors, but I think that’s ok.



Wild honeybees and bee trees

Wild honeybees…..

yes, trees are their natural habitat, though the first image we might have of where they live, is of a beehive – typically a box of wood. We also might have the thought that bees are there to make honey, and that by keeping bees we might ‘save the bees’ as they’re in trouble. But, if we take a step back a little and see what the bees choose, in where and how to live, perhaps we can learn from them about what works best.

Traditional beekeeping might say that allowing bees to swarm is a sign of bad beekeeping. It might also might say with pride about the quantity of honey produced, and so on. There’s a growing interest in more natural ways of beekeeping – this way considers swarming to be the bees’ natural behaviour and one which keeps the colony’s bloodlines fresh and varied. The emphasis on honey production is removed from the situation, and bees are allowed to be bees. Some people have looked into the tradition of tree beekeeping, something which dates back to at least medieval times in the forests of Eastern Europe. Whichever way you approach the thought, it’s easy to arrive at the observation that bees like to live in trees.

In trees there are natural cavities, and these cavities provide an environment which have stable humidity and temperature throughout the year. It’s fascinating to read Tom Seeley’s books about honeybee behaviour, and how scout bees find and explore these cavities. A recent film called ‘A Bee’s Diary’ also shows this, and it’s so interesting! How bees communicate this information back to the colony, and how the colony decides which new home to go to after swarming, is something you can read about in Tom Seeley’s ‘Honeybee Democracy’. Such interesting reading, and a real step forward in understanding honeybees.

I first started looking into this shortly after starting recording the trees in Sherwood. Many years ago I kept bees, and when I noticed more than a couple of bee trees, I realised that it could be something quite important. By studying each tree slowly and observing all aspects of the trunk and branches, I noticed more and more wild bee colonies. I’m currently monitoring 20 bee trees across Sherwood.

So what does a bee tree look like? Tricky to say really, but that’s one reason for documenting them. What bees like, is a tree with a certain size cavity, with an entrance that’s not too large and not too small. They would like a water source within flying range. They also need to find plenty of flowers, and/or flowering trees.

Bees have a definite cycle through their year. Swarming happens in the spring, which allows the new colony to find a cavity and build up stores enough for the next winter. If they find an old bee tree, where perhaps the colony died out, then this would give them a head start in that they wouldn’t need to build all of the beeswax comb before filling it with honey and their nest. The colony/tree where the swarm left from, will inherit that comb and will continue to live there – one tree in Sherwood, called ‘The Bee Tree’ has had bees living there for at least 30 years. Other trees may be bee trees for a year or a couple of years. It depends on many things.

The Bee Tree, Sherwood Forest

Often people may not notice the bees coming and going – they’re quite camouflaged against the bark. Also, it’s something they don’t expect to see, so they don’t see it. Here’s a bee flying in to the entrance – a pale streak against the dark opening:

The Bee Tree, entrance

Sometimes the entrance to the nest is higher up in a tree. A good time to see bees is in the spring, before the leaves appear and possibly hide the entrance. On a sunny day the bees may appear like dots of light:

Bee Tree, Sherwood

In this tree, the entrance is in a crack in the trunk – it’s a large crack, and the bees use quite a lot of it. Unusual in a way, but this is something to observe and learn from.

I’ve kept the locations of most of these bee trees secret for the time being, and am monitoring them carefully. There may be arguments against having wild honeybees present in nature, and there may be people (not necessarily in Sherwood) who would either wish to do them harm, or wish to catch a swarm from them, in order to populate their hives with disease-resistant strains. At present wild honeybees have no protection – there’s not enough data to classify them as fine, at risk or endangered. But one point is, that they are really happy living in trees, tend to be varroa resistant, and I personally think that they should be cherished, protected and respected. If there are arguments one way or another to protect or harm them, I’d like these to be open and on the table to be addressed.

A website has recently been created called Free Living Bees which has some good information:
People can send in their wild bee colony sightings, without giving away the exact location. As well as trees, bees find cavities in old church/castle walls, chimneys, etc. I think trees would be their first choice, and in some ways the  presence of veteran trees in our landscape is important to bees, the trees and the greater environment.

I wrote an article for Natural Bee Husbandry magazine about veteran trees which is now available on the Free Living Bees website:
It’s aimed at beekeeping community, who may not have thought about trees much, and ties in with one of my aims – to go into the information that’s missing from tree ID books.

So, if you see a bee tree when you’re out and about, send it it to the Free Living Bees website! If you see one in Sherwood, let me know!  If you want to keep bees, you could get a log hive, sun hive or similar, and let them find it and move in. Consider keeping bees for themselves, rather than as your own source of honey. Watch them, enjoy them, have a shallow dish of water for them, plant flowers for them, and see what you can learn from them. There’s certainly a lot to learn.


Wild flowers of Sherwood


Oak forests… you’d think that the wild flowers here are quite limited. In some ways they are. It’s such a niche habitat – oak trees, brambles, bracken. Birch, rowan, yew. Some foxgloves and some red campion, perhaps, here and there.

Sometimes, especially now in the ‘fruiting’ time of year, there are clues about earlier flowers. So seeing bird cherry, rowan, elderberries, a hedgerow damson, crab apples, remind of an earlier flowering. Not forgetting the wild raspberries that fruited earlier, that seem to happen all over the forest.

If you walk more, and explore more of the forest, then there are places where paths open out to light airy places, and here there are different flowers. By a wide, open path in the oak part of the forest there’s a large patch of tansy and St John’s wort, thriving, and always a joy to see.

There’s also the Forestry England side of the forest. Many people just go to the Major Oak from the car park and don’t get that far, but it’s well worth a visit. The tree species are varied, so there are beech, sweet chestnut, pine and yes, birch, as well as oak. But in this side of the forest there are more wide open paths, and, I think, a far wider variety of habitat and opportunities for wild flowers.

There are still St. John’s wort and tansy, but also knapweed, hawkweed, burdock, eyebright, and a whole list more. The other day I saw a figwort, which was quite a surprise. I often stop a while and watch to see which insects visit these flowers. It says a lot about the forest and its resources, that such a range of small creatures have access to this range of nectar sources. The knapweed seems a really important flower, growing in many places and visited by more or less every insect type.

It’s not just the obvious, who visit these nectar sources like bumblebees, hoverflies, buterflies and other bees. Saproxylic beetles, specialists of ancient woodlands, also need nectar giving flowers for some stages of their life cycle.

For those insects who are able to fly a certain distance, it’s at this time of year that Sherwood has an abundance of flowing nectar, in the heather that covers Budby Heath to the north of the main forest. Wow, it’s heather, purple, as far as the eye can see! It’s great – like a moorland, but not on a high windswept place, and with trees dotted through it.

I had been booked to lead a wild flower walk a few weeks ago. Although that was cancelled for understandable reasons, I think this blog post visits a wider area than we could have done on foot. Like we’ve become nectar scouts, visiting all the flowers in a concentrated way.

Budby is still looking great, so if you can get there and have a walk in the heather that would be a good thing to do!


A tree for today

Let’s look at another tree…..

…this is a tree that’s growing right next to one of the paths through the forest. It’s quite easy to walk past and not really notice it as it’s so leafy – all of the growth is making the most of the light from the open space of the path.

Here’s a great example of why it’s interesting to look at all the different sides of a tree. It’s obvious from the girth that the tree used to be much taller, so that’s the first clue that there might be more to see.

Even on the way round the side of the tree, there’s so much going on –hollowing branches, and huge amounts of epicormic growth, large and small.

Looking up, it’s almost difficult to see the top of the tree, as all of these epicormic branches obscure the view. But, there’s one place where you can see the main trunk, and there’s lots going on there – broken branches, dead branches, branch stubs, holes, exposed wood of the trunk, healed over bark edges, broken top of the trunk, and yes, lots of epicormic growth as well.

The main surprise comes when you walk round the side of the tree that’s away from the path….. it’s completely hollow! There’s lots of epicormic growth on this side too, and the hollowing goes right up the trunk.

The living bark layer goes a long way round the central cavity, so the tree is quite stable without the solid central trunk. I wonder how long it took, for the dead trunk to decay away to nothing. There are enough roots to support such a large tree, and the tree seems to have a good strong vitality to be growing so actively.

I like this tree. It’s always a nice one to walk past.

A tree for today

There are so many trees in the forest, all interesting, all with stories to tell. I thought I’d start writing about them one at a time – I have so many favourite trees, but here’s one….

As you see, it has a very large trunk – it’s over 6m in girth, so is a fairly impressive tree. It’s growing next to a grassy path in the forest. I like walking past it and paying a visit every now and then.

Maybe it’s easy to just walk by and not notice a few things that are interesting…  One of the things I notice, is that all of the growth is at the top of the trunk, and that this trunk is shorter than it was when the tree was full height. There’s no epicormic growth on the mid and lower trunk at all, so the tree is fairly focused on the top of the trunk for its growth. The forest feels a little shaded in that area, sort of a dappled light-ish shade rather than sunny and open.

The bark goes all around the trunk, and is complete. Some of the Sherwood trees have bark that only covers half or part of the trunk, so it’s always good to see a big oak with all of its bark still there. The bark is smooth rather than burry.  Looking round the other side, you can see where lower branches used to be, and where there are now holes – there’s one hole that’s quite large, near the top of the trunk.


There are some really obvious ‘features’ lower on the trunk – one being this huge branch scar. It’s so healed over that only a small hole remains in the middle – wow, how many decades, even centuries, would this have taken to grow over, from the time when the branch fell?



Just round the tree a little are some short strips of missing bark – again, these wounds must have happened decades ago, as the edges of them are so well and thickly rounded over. The trunk behind/inside these wounds is still solid, rather than there being a cavity, but looks weathered and has lichen growing on it.


I stopped by this tree last April and was looking at the top of these two wounds, and saw a two-banded longhorn beetle!

I’ll write about other trees in the coming days – they’re all so interesting……

Self-coppicing and a fallen tree

Self coppicing? What’s that then? I’m not sure if it’s an official term, but it’s the best way I can describe a few trees that I’ve come across in the forest.

Sometimes when the trunk dies, a thin strip of bark carries on living on the side of the dead trunk, and eventually with the healing over of the bark edges, this forms a tree in its own right. It’s not that.

It’s more that the trunk has died, but (perhaps) epicormic buds at the very base of the trunk grow, in the same way they’d grow if the trunk were cut and coppiced – but with the trunk still present. Here are three examples:



Here are more photos of the one on the right. The dead trunk is peppered with many invertebrate holes, and there’s a fungus low down on the trunk. The living parts of the tree are on either side of this trunk – one smaller, one larger. When I first saw this tree I couldn’t quite make it out. Was it the sort of tree made from two healed over strips of bark? Two acorns conveniently planted at the very base of the dead trunk by a jay or squirrel? One of each? After seeing the other similar trees, it made more sense, though I still find it unusual.

When it’s in leaf, it’s easy to walk past it and not notice the dead trunk in the middle of the greenery. It’s right next to one of the footpaths through the forest. Out of interest, it’s a sessile oak.

A large branch fell of last summer – you could see in both the fallen branch and in the standing trunk, that the wood was solid and had brown rot in the heartwood:


This week I was in that side of the forest, and even from a distance noticed that something was not quite right – the trunk had fallen!!!



The trunk fell and broke when it hit the fence, so the inside of the top part is visible as well – the trunk was solid, with brown rot, all the way up.

The falling dead trunk must have clipped one of the branches of the larger living trunks on the way down, as there’s a split along a branch – not ideal, but it’ll be interesting to see how this split changes over time. The tree has great vitality, has access to lots of light, and is going about a second way of living its life as a tree (or two), so let’s see how it gets on now that its original trunk is down.

What an interesting tree!

Two fallen trees

After weeks of storms and wild weather, I finally got out to the forest this week to carry on with my recording. As far as I can find out, all the living veterans and ancients are fine, and just a few birches have fallen. That’s good then.

But… a couple of the standing dead trees didn’t do so well. One is a tree that I came across in September. It’s right next to a grassy path, a hollow shell of a trunk that had a wide long opening on one side.

I remember it well because of a very distinctive hollow root – maybe the root was damaged when the army were in the forest during the war? Or before? The tree was alive at that point, and healed the edges around the damaged area, but the wood inside the root had decayed away since then, leaving a cavity. The tree still had bark on when I saw it, and had only died within the last ten years.

This week I was walking on that same path, and it was a case of ‘hang about, there’s that hollow root’ but the tree was on the ground!

Interesting that the hollow root stayed right there in the ground, whereas most of the others tore out of the ground. The foxglove is still there.


Elsewhere in the forest, but not too far away…..

Another fallen tree – quite a different one! This one was a tall dead oak with many holes, one that has been dead for quite some time. This was definitely a fresh fall – the brown rot was such a vibrant colour, and was spilling out of the trunk. Actually it was really interesting to see just how hollow the trunk was/is, along its length, and what the inside is like – often quite difficult to tell from the outside.

So this tree was quite solid still, lower down, but the brown rot was sort of crumbly, alongside the more solid deep/rich brown wood. The brown rot didn’t look cuboid, like it sometimes does. The outside of the barkless trunk is a weathered grey-buff colour.

Definitely not at the stage of being a hollow shell yet – or at least in the lower trunk.

The upper trunk is more like a hollow shell and it broke apart in the fall. The inside decaying wood couldn’t hold the trunk together

Some of the wood at the very top of the tree was interesting – full of invertebrate holes:

I’d been to this area back in the autumn but had decided not to record some of the trees on that visit – the nettles and undergrowth were too dense, and yes, it’s definitely easier to walk in that area now. I did take photos from a distance – useful, in hindsight. Here’s what I think is this tree (have to double check all my notes…) while it was still standing:

I wish I’d have recorded it fully back then – it would have been really interesting to see if there were any cracks or flaws that meant that it broke where it did. I’ll go back to it over time now, to see how it changes now it’s on the ground. Certainly a different habit niche for different invertebrate species.

That’s it for now….

Coming soon – trees with props under their branches.

What happens when trees fall?

Well, what does happen when trees fall? With today’s gales it’s something I wouldn’t want to see, but it might happen.

I’ve noticed quite a few fallen trees in the forest – some dead, some alive, and actually not all the same in how they’ve fallen. I saw one recently that got me thinking about this – it’s spectacular and thriving, so I’ll write about that at the end of the blog. It’s great!


So I’ve noticed with some fallen dead trees, that some have ripped out their rootplate as they fell:

Many of these trees are hollowing or hollow now, so it’s not obvious what they were like when they were standing. But I was thinking, perhaps they were reasonably solid when they were upright, and the strength of their trunks meant that the rootplate came out of the ground when they fell. It’s quite interesting to see what the roots look like from this perspective.


But, there are also quite a few dead fallen trees where the rootplate is still in the ground:

Some of these are hollow and look recently fallen, or give the sense that they were not robust and solid when they fell – maybe when the standing dead tree is not so solid, the rootplate stays in the ground?


Other trees were definitely cut – you can see the stump in the ground with a clean horizontal saw cut from decades/centuries ago, and the trunk lying nearby:

Often, the trunk has been removed, and just the cut stump remains. I still record the stumps as it’s quite interesting to see where the trees grew so long ago. It’s not clear why some trunks were removed and others left in place. Maybe when they cut the trunk they discovered it was starting to hollow, rather than being smooth clear wood for timber? It’s too far back in time to know. The tree in the photo on the right is a completely hollow shell now – I sometimes see squirrels playing in and around it. Actually one tree that was cut, and decided it would carry on living, is Medusa, in the north of the forest:


What about when a tree is alive and it falls? Well, I saw a great tree last week that reminded me that trees are very aware of gravity and where the sky is. The young oak fell for some reason, but is now growing several new vertical trunks from what would have been its branches:

There’s another tree elsewhere in the forest which I think of as the ‘mossy log tree’ – the trunk is most definitely on the ground and the tree is happening at the ‘top’ end of it:

Another tree that has done this phoenix behaviour is a tree I call the ‘look again tree’ – it’s really easy to walk past it, think that it’s just a mass of brambles/bracken/undergrowth and not realise that it’s a mighty tree! When it was upright, it had a dead hollow trunk, and a living, rounded-over strip of bark. The dead trunk fell one way and the living tree fell another way – it’s very much alive and carries on growing:

See what I mean? The dead trunk is to the left and the living tree is to the right. Very easy to walk past and not see!


If the tree has healthy roots still in the ground when it falls and enough vitality, then the urge to grow will carry on. Here’s the tree I met the other day which shows this perfectly. As I approached the tree I saw how massive the trunk was, but also saw that the bulk of the trunk lay on the ground. This tree fell a few years ago. From the ‘open’ side of the trunk I could see how the inside was full of brown rot, and had been hollowing for some time:

As the tree is really close to the road, I thought I’d check on Google streetview to see if I could find a view of the tree while it was still standing. Sure enough, it was there in 2011, with a tall and impressive trunk:

With all of that trunk’s worth, and root capacity for vitality, there was no reason that it should stop growing, and wow, look at all the growth it’s done since falling!

I guess there’s never a best time to fall, but keeping your roots in the ground is a good start.

Winter, odd things noticed and wildlife in the forest.

We’ve had some mild but fresh winter days recently, and it’s been a pleasure to be out in the forest recording trees. Some people think of winter as a fairly black and white season, but there have been some amazing colours, what with the bracken, the birch and the skies.

I often notice odd and unusual things, so here are a few from this week….

First, a fairly regular tree I walk past. It has a large fallen branch which reveals the brown rot inside, and a noticeable holly air tree, but this week I saw something else, something I’ve seen a bit of recently – a squirrel, just sitting, mid morning, on the sunny side of the tree, maybe warming up in the sun’s rays. I know squirrels have a mixed review, but they’re part of the forest here. I’ve watched other squirrels do this over the past weeks, and it’s only when something noisy happens nearby that they seem to break out of their resting and move along.

Some days are very much ‘wildlife’ days, though not so much seeing the birds and animals, but rather seeing where they’ve been. I’ve often noticed in this past few weeks that there are little tufts of moss scattered around the bases of trees, and wondered what might be doing this. A nuthatch? various birds?

I’m still not sure, but I did see a bluetit working its way along a branch investigating all of the moss on top. Not so much pecking it off and scattering it, but definitely on a mission and looking.

Around the base of that same tree I saw a raptor pellet – definitely from someone with a sharp beak and big talons… and elsewhere, a big tuft of deer fur.

Oddly, I saw a pigeon egg, or perhaps it was from a stock dove, as there are a lot of these in the forest. An odd thing to see – maybe the following day it will have gone, eaten by the badgers or foxes. Odd to see it on the forest floor though, and also odd to see it this time of year.

I’ve seen some interesting moss and lichen recently as well – some of the moss is in sort of tufty forests. Also some of the fungi around the forest are doing things. I’m still seeing earthballs, and saw this ochre coloured fungus last week, moving from being a patch on the side of a dead branch to being a frilly bracket – I’ll have to find out what it is!

The next blog will be about trees, and what happens when they fall over…..

Ancients with halos, and clearings in the forest.

I’ve been spending time in the Forestry England part of the forest recently, and have been visiting and recording some amazing trees there.

Here’s one which is ancient and special….

It’s a hollow, fragmented and dead trunk, with a strip of bark on one side which is very much alive!

Actually the living strip of bark wraps around/up/over a dead branch stub. On the ground by the tree there are branches and massive parts of the shell of the hollow trunk. It looks like there has been a fall recently, of some of the dead trunk, and there is a sort of hill of brown rot spilling out of the gap.

What’s interesting, is that the tree has been haloed recently, and I was thinking that people either know what this means, or don’t. It’s when a clearing is created around a tree such as this, maybe to 5m or even more, so that the tree has access to as much light as possible – crucial for an ancient like this, so that it can develop any epicormic growth if it wants to, or just have access to more light, make more nutrients, allocate them around itself as it sees fit, and just improve in health and vitality. It’s also useful to clear surrounding trees to prevent them falling on ancient trees like this, and perhaps causing damage. You can see how dense the birch was by looking at the surrounding tree growth in the background.

So this tree is in its own clearing. Actually, looking around the clearing you can see that the birch is starting to regrow, but it will be a while yet before this starts to compete for light. What’s also interesting in this clearing is that there are lots of foxgloves starting to grow, with their basal leaves settling this year ready for their flowers next year. It’s a reminder of the old/traditional coppice cycles, with plants benefiting from cleared areas of woodland.


Elsewhere in the forest…

… are other trees that have been haloed. Here’s one I visited recently, and you can see from the regrowth of holly from the cut stumps that it was haloed quite recently. The hollies nearby and the size of the holly stumps give an impression of how crowded the tree may have been. The sense that I got from the tree was something like ‘I feel great!!!’. It’ll be good to see how this tree grows in the years ahead.

Here’s another tree that was haloed before – the hollies around it have regrown slightly more. But the tree has responded well, and has put on a little epicormic growth at various places on the trunk, burrs and branches.

Another haloed tree has made some great new twigs and leaves this year…


And elsewhere in the forest again…… a great haloing story, this time with a before and a very good after.

Here’s the before, when I visited the tree last winter. To get to the tree I felt like I had to swim through a sea of birch, but I was determined to visit the tree as I could see it above the sea of birch. It was tricky to photograph it and get far enough away to see the whole tree.

But then later on I heard chainsaws, and realised that this area was having some work done….. and 6 months later when I revisited…..what a difference, wow!

It’s one of my favourite trees, one of many!…..

Burrs on trees, and a mystery.

Sometimes I notice something interesting which starts me mulling things over, and this happened recently with burrs. I saw two young trees growing with their bases together – one with a smooth trunk and one very burry. The burry one was burry all the way up the trunk, and was even more burry at the top of the tree. It wasn’t quite clear why the two trees should be so different, but seeing them reminded me of various odd and interesting burrs that I’ve seen around the forest.

I’ve seen many other burrs, often larger, on trees in the forest. Some on dead trees and some on living trees. When they’re on a dead tree, on the trunk or branch, it’s interesting to see how the burr seems to emerge from a point on the trunk or branch, and then wrap around it.

This tree is alive, but has a big hollowing trunk, large dead branches, and lots of large burrs:

Here’s a tree with a really large burr part way up the trunk:

I’ve noticed on some living trees that sometimes the burrs don’t have their bark, and that the living bark on the trunk around them has healed-over edges. The tree in the second photo is interesting – it has two large burrs on the right side. The top burr has no bark, and when I visited it in the autumn I noticed the burr starting to degrade, and saw tiny mushrooms growing on the top. Also interesting – the lower burr (the one with bark on), like the burr in the first photo and other trees that I’ve seen, had weeping black juice coming from right underneath the burr. The fourth photo is of another tree with several large burrs – this burr is decaying and hollow inside – maybe it was like the third photo many decades ago?

And then there’s the big burr mystery… I went to record a tree the other day which was very burry. It was an amazing tree, with so much going on! Mushrooms growing  in the hollowing trunk, a tree slug on the trunk’s bark (even though it was a frosty day) and all sorts of holes and hollows. But the big surprise was when I walked around the other side…

Someone had cut the tree’s burr off! Why would anyone do such a thing?! It must have happened many many years ago, maybe in the extremely distant past. The tree has grown rounded over edges over the edge of the cut burr place, and has even grown another burr partly over it as well. Maybe a landowner wanted some burr wood for an ornamental table? Or for a turned object? Or some other reason? Was it fashionable at some point in the past, I wonder? Burry wood is certainly a type of figured wood much prized today. You can really see the convoluted grain of the wood where the burr has been cut.

I’ve seen this on only one other tree in the forest – there may be others that I’ve not recorded yet, but this seems quite a rare thing. Here’s the other tree – this tree is dead, though you can see by the way that the wood rounds over at the edges of the cut, that it lived for some time after the burr had been removed.

So that’s the burr mystery of Sherwood – when were these burrs cut from the trees, and why?

Frost in the forest, icicles, and a tree called Twister.

It’s been cold this week, with a bit of early winter frost the other day…. I wish I’d have been there at dawn, as I’m sure it would have looked amazing.

One tree even had some icicles….. it must have been where the frost water was melting, and freezing again like a stalactite and stalagmite. I’ve never seen that before and it was an interesting thing. The tree itself was interesting. It’s one of the dead oaks in the forest, dead for many decades and probably longer. It doesn’t have any bark, but when it did still have bark, when alive or dead, it experienced a forest fire. You can see some drastic charring from the fire on the trunk, and also see where the bark was present, where the charring pattern stops.

If you look at the charring, you can see that it happened when this lower bit of the trunk was already hollowing a bit – the trunk is definitely not whole and circular here. Since then the tree has hollowed some more, and it’s at the entrance to this little cave-like hollow where the icicles were. I reckon they’ve melted away now.

Elsewhere in the forest….

…is a tree called Twister! So-called because of its completely twisted shape. It’s like a tornado in slow motion.  Sometimes the oaks here will have a twist, but this is really spiralling. It’s completely hollow now, and has lost its top. Maybe it’s easy to be distracted by the amazing twist, and not quite notice how fragile the structure is.

Only part of the tree is still alive, and this living strip of bark twists around the trunk space, going up to one main branch and then smaller branches. Other parts of the trunk do this twisting as well, but they’re dead, just the outer layers of what was once the trunk. I wonder how many years it took for this trunk to become so hollow.
The tree hasn’t grown any epicormic branches on its lower trunk at all, so all of the crown of the tree is at the top – well, the current top. The tree is lower than it was when the it was full height, as you can see in this photo from earlier in the year. It’s making the most of the light and has a good spread of branches. I hope it will be there for many more years. What a great tree!

Autumn is here, and a tree called Stumpy

Autumn is definitely here in the forest…..

The leaves are turning and falling, and the colours on the forest floor are definitely changing.


Some of the trees in the forest have names. Well, I’m sure they all do, in their own language, but some have been given names by the people who work there. This tree is called Stumpy and is next to a crossroads of footpaths. It’s a magnificent, squat-shaped, ancient tree, and is quite distinctive. In the spring there are usually always nuthatches there.

This large straight side branch is dead, and will fall at some point in the medium-term future. It has a young birch air tree growing in it!

In the winter when the bracken is gone, it’s possible to get up to the tree and have a good look at the trunk. There’s moss at the base, lichen, and assorted burrs and convoluted areas all over the trunk. Some of the branches are alive, and others are dead. Some of the smaller living branches go on quite a few twists and turns – it’s interesting just to stand and look at them.

The trunk is low and squat, and is hollowing – very hollow at the top, at least. There are no big holes in the side of the trunk, but at the top, where the trunk broke off long ago, the living bark is healed over and some of the dead part of the trunk is still there. It’s got so much going on.

Some of the trees around it have been cleared, so it has access to light. It has some epicormic growth on its trunk and branches, so will go on for a good while yet. Definitely worth a visit!

Why epicormic growth is a good idea

Epicormic growth – very important for a tree!

In the forest this week I saw a tree that hadn’t developed any epicormic growth on it’s lower trunk….

All of the growth is in the top half of the tree. Maybe in other situations this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but with this tree, it’s perhaps not so great. The trunk isn’t solid – in fact, if you have a look at the base, you can see that at some point long ago part of the main trunk fell. The trunk here is dead and has been decaying for some time – the living part of the tree is wrapped around this at the base, with sturdy healed-over edges, and supporting a good healthy canopy of leaves. But….. the living trunk has holes and is hollowing, and is slightly top heavy on one side, which happens to be on the side that’s slightly downhill. All of this has happened over a very long time, which you can tell by the amount of healing over of the bark edges – they look really rounded over, rather than just a little bit rounded over.

If the tree were to bring some epicormic buds into play, it could develop some branches on its lower trunk before anything happens to the top of the tree in the decades ahead. If anything falls before new branches are established, there may not be enough leaves to capture sunlight, to sustain the growth and needs of the tree. Will the tree develop any epicormic growth on its lower trunk? Only time will tell.

Elsewhere in the forest…..

There’s another tree that’s decided that epicormic growth is definitely what it wants to do! It was haloed over the winter, after being quite crowded by other trees. It already had a low ancient form, but when it got access to more light, wow, it did lots of growing!

So now this tree will be able to improve its vitality, by making more leaves, capturing more sunlight, making more energy, and generally having more resources to decide what to do with. It might decide to grow some of its branches in a certain way, maybe heal over a wound, or develop some of its roots a little more. Or maybe bits of everything. Oaks love having light, and being able to awaken epicormic buds out of dormancy is such a great skill. Epicormic growth – definitely a good idea.

An interesting tree

Another interesting tree in the forest…..

This tree is completely hollow, but the inside of the trunk space is full of leaves to about a metre high. The low trunk has quite a stocky appearance, but then has some tall branches with a good canopy of leaves. What used to be the main trunk is now dead, and the living part of the tree is the layer of bark wrapped around this. This bark layer is almost in two parts, and with a definite section missing. The two living parts are actually joined at the base on one side, and have a gap on the other side.

The smaller of the two parts has a distinctive little burr on the side, and leans out a bit. Care has been taken so that the tree is not at risk from falling branches from trees nearby, but at some point this leaning branch may fall. But for the moment, it’s there, and the bed of leaves is sitting nicely within the trunk. I often wonder if a fox or a mouse might hop up there and have a little snooze.

Beefsteak fungus

I’ve been noticing a lot of beefsteak fungus in the forest recently, and thought it would be interesting to show some photos. Normally in books there’s one photo of a typical beefsteak fungus, but they do vary, and they change over time as well. They’re typically associated with heat rot in ancient trees, so Sherwood is a good place to see them at this time of year. Actually the fungus is present all year round – what we’d call the fungus is the fruiting body, like an apple is the fruit of an apple tree. For the rest of the year, the fungus is doing its thing inside the trunk or branches.

Sometimes the bracket fungi appear low down, at the base of the tree, and sometimes higher on the trunk, or in the exposed part of a hollowing branch. Sometimes they’re in more than one place:

Most often, they’re a fan shaped bracket, but they’re also sometimes like little bulges with droplets on:

I’ve been photographing some over several weeks, watching how they grow. Here’s one that’s mid-way up an oak tree’s trunk, seen each week over a month:

Here’s another, at the base of a tree. I didn’t see it when it first appeared, but it has multiple brackets and it’s interesting to see how it has grown. Interesting also, that someone else noticed it, and cut the fungus off… ah well, it’s perhaps more interesting, as you can see the cross section of the fungus:

Fungi, and hornets

This week in the forest I’ve been seeing more fungi – mainly on the forest floor, and mainly on fallen branches. It’s just that time of year really…

I’ve also been watching a hornet’s nest, which is really interesting. It’s in a tree that’s right beside a footpath, and I think that most people walk past without realising that so much hornet activity is going on above their heads – it’s very busy! I often stand nearby and watch the hornets coming and going. I’ve not been right up to the tree as I prefer to give them space. If one flies past me when I’m in the forest, the sound is strong and distinctive, and it’s definitely a moment of ‘what was that buzzing past me?’. They seem to just get on with their lives, and not be too bothered about people. Saying that though, this tree is one I’ll measure in the winter when the hornets are less active. The photo on the right is of a hornet I saw last winter – the colours are so beautiful. They’re gingery and tawny, and when the sun catches their wings, they have a warm golden glow.

An interesting tree

… Thought I’d write about an interesting tree. There’ll be many posts with this title!

This ancient tree is in the middle of a fairly clear area, so it has lots of space and light to grow as it wishes, without any competition from surrounding trees. When you walk towards it from this first side, you can see from the thickness of the trunk that the tree was once tall and large. At some point the top has fallen, and you can see the ragged broken wood at the top of the trunk. The trunk itself is dead, with living bark part way around it. When you get up close to the tree you can see where the edge of this living bark is well healed over, and is wrapped well around the dead trunk. Looking up to the leaves, it’s clear that the tree is a sessile oak – the leaves are on stalks, and the base of the leaves are slender and graceful in how they leave the stalks. The surprise of the tree is round the other side, and it’s a huge surprise. At one time this tree experienced a forest fire, at a time when the trunk was already hollow. The fire charred the inside of the trunk, and you can see how charred and burnt the inside is. On this side of the tree, you can see also that the trunk has a huge opening, and has a large section of the dead trunk completely missing. But, even with all of this, the tree is alive, carrying on growing its low branches, and seems happy enough to carry on for a great many years yet.