An Autumn Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

Parasol mushroom

Dear Readers, autumn in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery means a wealth of fungi. The cemetery is now open during the week as well as at weekends, so today I went for a walk with my friend A to see what was popping up. This parasol mushroom was a particularly fine specimen (though a closer look revealed that some little creature had been nibbling at the gills underneath, but there were lots of white fungi of various kinds. You need to be very sure about what you’re doing before you start nibbling at them, however tasty they look. I could imagine some of these bubbling away in garlic butter and finished with a touch of parsley, but personally wouldn’t dare to eat them. How about you, readers? Do you forage for mushrooms yourselves?

On the way to the cemetery, we were briefly detained by this rather unusual oak. It’s a street tree with a very upright habit – from a distance you’d almost think it was a larch. However, I suspect that it’s actually a ‘normal’ English Oak (Quercus robur) but of an upright variety known as fastigiata (otherwise known as the Cypress Oak, and becoming increasingly popular as a a council planting.

The oaks in the cemetery itself are frequently heavily infested with spangle galls, such as those in the photos below.  These galls are caused by the gall wasp Neuroterus quercusbaccarum. The wasp ‘persuades’ the plant to develop the outgrowth of tissue that covers and protects the egg and then the developing larva. In the autumn the galls fall to the ground around the oak tree, and the young wasps overwinter before emerging in the spring to lay their own eggs, normally on the leaves on the lower limbs of the tree because the wasps are poor fliers. Although they look unsightly, the gall wasps appear to live in relative harmony with the oak trees, and do no lasting damage.

Deep in the woody area of the cemetery we found this impressive sessile oak (Quercus petraea) with its surprisingly thin, elegant stems. I usually think of oaks as being robust, thick-set trees, but they can be lithe and graceful too.

And we are coming into the season for the Raywood ash trees to put on a show. These are a variety of the Caucasian ash tree (Fraxinus angustifolia ssp oxycarpa ‘Raywood), also known as the Claret ash. The variety originated in Australia but during the 1970s to 1990s it was a very popular street tree. Sadly, as Paul Wood reports in his book ‘London’s Street Trees – A Field Guide to the Urban Forest‘, Raywood ashes have a habit of unexpectedly splitting apart, not a great characteristic for a tree that comes into such close contact with people. Furthermore, it doesn’t respond well to pollarding, becoming ungainly. I shall make a point of appreciating these trees while we have them – their autumn colour is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will also have resistance to the ash dieback that is going to kill most of our native ash trees.

Some of the cedars of Lebanon are in flower: I always get confused between the cones and the flowers, but these seem to be the male flowers, just cracking open to release their pollen. The female flowers are smaller and green-coloured and, if pollinated, will eventually turn into the barrel-shaped cones that are so familiar.

‘My’ swamp cypress hasn’t turned rust-brown yet, but it has produced some round, green cones. The tree got its leaves very late in the spring, so I think we’ll have to be patient for the autumn colour,

We spotted this young woodpigeon pecking about – it hasn’t developed the white flash on its neck yet. Plus I think all immature pigeons and doves spend a while ‘growing into’ their beaks (much as I had to grow into my size 8 feet, which looked a bit daft until I grew to 5 foot 11 inches tall – at that point it seemed rather important to have big feet, otherwise I’d have fallen over).

On the way out of the cemetery, we were rather surprised when A suddenly spotted a dead animal bird of some considerable size laying beside the Payne mausoleum. It turned out to be a small white goose, maybe from the allotments that border the cemetery. I have spared you a photo of the ex-goose, but suffice it to say that it was definitely demised. Was it taken by a cunning fox, or did it fly into some solid object and meet an untimely end? At any rate, it was a most surprising thing to spot on an autumn walk. We alerted the cemetery staff, and no doubt the corpse has been removed by now. Life and death are everywhere in a graveyard, and not always in the way that you’d expect.

9 thoughts on “An Autumn Walk in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery

  1. K.E.S.

    On eating mushrooms foraged by me — never! Especially after reading John Lanchester’s “The Debt to Pleasure”.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      I love John Lanchester but haven’t read ‘The Debt to Pleasure’ – I assume that it includes some gruesome details of death by fungi?

      1. K.E.S.

        It does indeed, and wickedly funny it is too. (Disclaimer: not to be tried in real life.)

  2. Andrea Stephenson

    There are very few fungi I’m confident about identifying, so I’d never forage for them. I thought of you this week and your past post about ladybirds hibernating in the cemetery. I saw lots of them, not hibernating and not in the cemetery, but getting warmth, I believe by resting on metal barriers next to the road. There were some larva there too.

  3. Graham Wilson

    I live in Canberra, Australia – Raymond ash are widely planted as street trees in the city, providing a magnificent sight in our dry autumns. Sadly, we have the dieback problem here too, which is affecting many Raymond ashes.


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