Earthstars are an enigmatic, strangely-shaped group of fungi. None of them are very common in Britain and the most frequently seen one, Collared Earthstar (Geastrum triplex), is a regular star of the show at the annual fungus foray in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. A group of them can look like an invasion of miniature alien spaceships (see the photo here).
Our borough is also host to a smaller, cuter cousin called Daisy Earthstar (G. floriforme) which looks just like a daisy with its round spore sac in the middle of 6-10 spreading rays (see photo above). These rays are strongly hygroscopic. That means that in dry weather they will fold right up and over the spore sac, thus cleverly limiting spore dispersal to good times for germination. When wet weather returns then the rays open out and the spores are available for release. This party trick can happen repeatedly and can be shown indoors if you wet them and then let them dry out, then wet them again, and so on.
But first you need to find your Daisy Earthstar. And it’s a rare species, not known from many sites in Britain and a lot of those are coastal. Luckily, Tower Hamlets has a colony of them in King Edward Memorial Park, Shadwell. This colony is at the base of the line of Leyland Cypress trees that borders the children’s playground there.
This is not just any old colony either. It’s been known about for five years, the colony fruits regularly every year in autumn and winter, and it produces hundreds and hundreds of fruit bodies at a time. Masses of them. There could easily have been nearly a thousand in the ideal conditions at the beginning of November this year. It’s perfectly possible that KEMP is the best site in the country for this rare and spectacular little piece of British wildlife.
To find out more about the Daisy Earthstar, see the Naturespot website.
Photo by John Archer