A very rare fungus has been discovered at Awnells Farm in Much Marcle Herefordshire – one of eleven farms managed by the Countryside Restoration Trust. The orchard or apple tooth fungus (Sarcodontia crocea) – listed as one of the UK’s ‘vulnerable’ species – was found by a CRT monitoring officer and verified by experts at Kew Gardens. It’s only the fourth time this century that this extremely rare fungus has been recorded. There are only fifteen other known sites in Britain where it can be found.
The orchard tooth fungus is only associated with apple trees. Its most distinctive characteristic is its smell. Fresh, it has a pineapple-like aroma, but as it ages its smell is more reminiscent of rotting fruit. The fruiting bodies, which can be found between June and September, form encrusted golden yellow patches with tiny stalactites or teeth – hence its name – on cut, rotting branches or in rot holes. It feeds on the dead heartwood of the tree, but does not harm the tree itself.
The presence of fungal fruiting bodies on orchard trees is often – mistakenly – regarded as a cause for concern. In fact, few fungi are major pathogens. [An exception is A mellea, a species of honey fungus, which can attack orchard trees.] Most fungi play a vital role decomposing and recycling nutrients from dead wood and are believed to be key to prolonging the lives of the trees.
Traditionally managed orchards are rich habitats for a whole assortment of fungi, both grassland species, such as waxcaps, as well as those associated with dead or decaying wood of orchard trees. The removal of old orchards poses a serious threat to a number of species of great conservation value. Orchard tooth fungus, which has been identified as one of the most threatened or declining species under the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan, is particularly vulnerable as it is found exclusively on apple trees.
If you think you have seen this fungus please contact your local wildlife trust.