Are you ready for this jelly?

I came across a few blobs of what appeared to be clear jelly growing on an unidentified fallen log in an open area within Birnam Wood a few weeks ago. I assumed that they were some kind of fungus, so I took a sample home with me to see what might happen if I grew it in the lab.



I later found out it is Exidia nucleata or crystal brain fungus, a translucent/opaque jelly cell-like formation, which is quite tough and rubberyI took it into the lab last week, and as it was quite hard, I held it with a pair of tweezers and rubbed it around on the agar jelly, before sealing it up to incubate.


I decided to try a new approach in photographing the growth; instead of taking the picture in the lab, or at the window, I went into the wood near to where I had found the specimen, wedged the petri dish between a small branch and tree trunk, and photographed the result with a bit of light behind it.


I cropped and sharpened the image and altered the brightness and contrast to give the result below.


I’m really excited by this result, and feel it is a great way of photographing the hidden aspects of a particular part of the landscape. I used the same approach in photographing another less vigorous result which I had grown this week also, again from a jelly like fungus, Tremella Mesenterica or Yellow Brain Fungus.

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Above :Tremella Mesenterica or Yellow Brain Fungus.

I really love the photo of the first growth that I took, as it is more abstract and less obvious. I want to experiment more with this approach and need to get back into the lab as soon as it is free so that I can cultivate some more growths.


All in the detail

IMG_6307Yesterday I acquired a microscope to do some of my own research at home. It is fairly old, but it is still very useful as it will enable me to magnify some of the different species I have collected, so that I can then filter out the most interesting ones to look at in more detail through a more powerful lens.

I began by looking at some of the leaf circles that I had cut out last week, which looked great under the microscope. When attempting to photograph them with my iPhone however, they were a bit small and I would have been more successful had I put a larger piece of leaf on the slide.


I found that the magnification worked best at 100x as anything greater was too dark and obscure. As well as looking at leaves, I also looked at some dried flowers such as birds foot trefoil, clover and a himalayan balsam petal. The results weren’t too bad for a first attempt, although the photography is really tricky, and the photos aren’t as clear as I would like them to be. There is a more powerful microscope at work, which will hopefully allow me to take more detailed  photos with better lighting too.

Below is a slide show and gallery of my results:


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Painting on Agar

Last week I spread some fungal samples from Birnam Wood onto Agar Jelly, and left them over the weekend to incubate.

When I returned to check on the gel plates, I saw some interesting results, varying from obvious spread marks and  feathery swirls to beautiful fantasy landscapes. 


Above: Pleurotus Ostreatus (Common Oyster Mushroom) 

The Common Oyster Mushroom gave a fluffy, cloudy pattern, and with the combination of the sample in gel, looked like a bird of some sort, with a brown eye.

Below: Pleurotus Ostreatus (Common Oyster Mushroom) swab grown on agar


Below: Boletus Subtomentosus (Yellow-Cracking Bolete)


The most beautiful were from the samples of liquified Boletus Subtomentosus. One sample had been spread over jelly, the other sample had been mixed with “broth”, a protein additive to feed the bacteria.

IMG_3136Above and below: Boletus Subtomentosus (without protein broth) – Looks like a rugged Romantic landscape on a moonlit nightdunsinanecircle1


Above: Boletus Subtomentosus sample with added protein “broth”

What I believe gave these samples (and the Common Oyster samples) an advantage over the others is the fact that they were spread using a glass rod spreader, as if one were making a crepe. This is the method I will use in future when I try out any more samples, as it covers the whole dish as opposed to a few spots here and there.

I’m in awe of these beautiful pieces of nature’s art, which appear as if drawn in pencil on off-white paper. To me, they are imaginary landscapes, where ruins balance precariously on a steep rugged hilly landscape, or where jagged rocks stand proud against the horizon. What is even more remarkable is that both plates resemble a curious resemblance to the landscapes depicted by  Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich, such as Rocky Reef on the Sea Shore (circa 1824) (below).Wandbild-C._D._Friedrich-Felsenriff_am_Meeresstrand-sinartty

Gazing into these petri dishes is not dissimilar to gazing into a crystal ball, seeing strange symbolic images which are often products of our subconscious. I feel as if these gel plates could be used as a sort of divination method, a bit like the ancient art of scrying, where the past, present or future could be told using such tools as crystals,glass, mirrors, water, fire, or smoke.

Painting on agar with fungal samples has allowed me to grow cultures which unlock a fascinating a parallel world, one which exists around us, but which is largely invisible without the use of scientific processes or equipment. These exciting results have made me keen to embark further onto an exciting voyage of research into microbial art and the landscape of Birnam Wood.




Lab work

Recently I have been collecting a variety of fungi from Birnam Wood, picking them and storing pieces of them into small sterile specimen bottles. I wanted to do some experiments which would involve taking swabs of them and growing them on agar jelly under lab conditions. Too often we get swept away with what we see around us, but forget about all the existing entities that we don’t see….I want to explore this theme through using bacterial growths and possibly microscopic images too.

I purchased a consignment of round petri dishes from Amazon, 150mm in diameter, and was also given some smaller 100mm diameter petri dishes from Maggie Fenton, the lab technician at work. She sterilised the dishes for me, and made up some agar jelly, which was poured into the dishes to set.

I took a few different samples up to her, and she showed me how to spread sample onto the plates, and also to bury small samples of the fungi into the jelly.


The petri dishes…I ordered the largest size which would fit into the steriliser, but wished I could have used some that were much much bigger!


Some of the samples that I used from Birnam Wood


The bottles had been sitting in my studio for a few weeks, and the smell was very strong when they were opened. They were held next to the bunsen flame to kill off any spores that might be present. Samples were sucked up and squirted onto the plate, before being spread around over the agar gel.




I did 9 samples altogether, which included Common Puffball, Oyster Mushrooms, Boletus Subtomentosus and Common Bonnet . Some of the samples were applied to both a small and large plate, and were distributed both by spotting and by spreading. IMG_2847


They were then put into the incubation unit where I have left them to work their magic. I’m feeling excited about what the results might be, but realise that they may also be a huge disappointment, so I’ll just have to wait and see. I’m going to leave them over the weekend, and will return on Monday to see what has developed.