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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Evergreen Trees and Fungi at Box Hill Surrey. 17.11.23

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

I reached Box Hill be taking the train from Brighton to Box Hill and Westhumble station (hourly service, 90 minute journey time). It is a short walk to the bottom of Box Hill, but the walk to the National Trust Old Fort café Box Hill | Surrey | National Trust (where I started the Juniper Top trail) is a steep up hill climb.

All sections of text in italics are quotations, sources sited.

I am only an amateur naturalist; thus all identifications are provisional; if you note a mistake in identification please feel free to tell me. If you want to contact me about any aspect of this blog, email me at simeon[underscore]elliott[at]gmail[dot]com

From the café I followed the Juniper Top trail; see: Box Hill Juniper Top circular walk | Surrey | National Trust This is a four mile walk which takes 2-3 hours to walk.

Box Hill

Box summit of the North Downs in Surrey. and is part of the Surry Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Surrey Hills AONB | Discover a Magical National Landscape The hill is named after the ancient box woodland found on the steepest west-facing chalk slopes overlooking the River Mole. The path from the Burfield Bridge which I took to the Old Fort café goes through the Box woodland. The western part of the hill is owned and managed by the National Trust. The village of Box Hill lies to the east.

Box Hill forms part of the Mole Gap to Reigate Escarpment Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The north- and south-facing slopes of chalk downland has rare orchids and other rare plant species. The hill provides a habitat for many species of butterfly; and I have visited Box Hill frequently in Spring and Summer to see the flowers and butterflies. Extraordinarily there were species of wild flowers on bloom that typically finishing blooming in September; a sign of global warming.

From the Mole Gap to Reigate Escarpment Site of Special Scientific Interest specification

On the lime-rich chalk slopes, the dominant trees of the best developed woodland are beech, ash and yew, together with field maple Acer campestre and whitebeam Sorbus aria and occasional large-leaved lime Tilia platyphyllos, which is scarce as a native tree. In some cases, the woodland over chalk has developed only recently from former chalk grassland or scrub, when it may be almost pure beech or yew. ...

Box Buxus sempervirens is rare as a native tree; and is only native at this site and a few other places in Britain. Three areas of box woodland occur within the site, the largest and best developed of these is on the steep slope of Box Hill above the River Mole. Here it grows with holly Ilex aquifolium, yew, and elder Sambucus nigra. ...

Some areas on the scarp are dominated by juniper Juniperus communis, another scarce species on the chalk. [Since the specification was first written, 1975 , it would appear that the number of Juniper trees has decline; I saw only one] MoleGaptoReigateEscarpment ( The decline of J. communis in the lowlands of southern Britain was already apparent by 1960 and by 2000 losses in other areas had followed. Juniperus communis L. in BSBI Online Plant Atlas 2020

When walking through the Box Hill woods in late autumn, the evergreen tress really stand out as the deciduous broadleaved trees have either lost their leaves or their leaves have changed colour to yellows and golden browns.


Yews and Beech

The needles of the Yews and Box and the red berries of Hawthorn, standing out from the yellow leaves and bare branches of deciduous trees.

There are only five native evergreen trees in the UK, and only four in the south, as Scots Pine is not native in the south, and when seen in the south it is an introduced tree. At Box Hill you can see all four - which is very unusual for a single place in the south Below are photos of the autumn fruits (berries) of Yew, Box, Juniper and Holly.

Box (Buxus sempervirens) - typically a bush and is found mostly in the Southern parts of the UK; box woodlands like that at Box Hill are very rare

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) - common tree or shrub throughout the UK

Juniper (Juniperus communis) - a large shrub or small tree. Greatly in decline across the UK

Yew (Taxus baccata) - All parts of the tree are toxic


There was great abundance and diversity of fungi on Box Hill; there were wax caps and other meadow fungi on the chalk grassland, and many woodland fungi in the woods of the Juniper Top trail.

Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria

Probably Saffrondrop Bonnet, Mycena crocata

Probably Artist's Bracket, Ganoderma applanatum

This beautiful Ganoderma applanatum is parasitic (it kills its host) and saprophytic (it digests/recycles the carbon of the wood of the host) and has nearly killed this Beech, Fagus sylvatica. This beech has one branch with leaves left. The fruiting bodies (where its spores are released) of Ganoderma applanatum are "Artist's Brackets/Conks"; the underside is creamy white and can be scratched with a sharp point to leave brown marks and so produce artistic images. This Beech only has one branch that still produces leaves.

Mutualistic symbiosis between fungi and plants is much talked about at the moment (e.g. mycorrhizal network) but symbiosis is not always mutualistic; parasitic symbiosis is a relationship in which a symbiont lives all or part of its life in or on a living host, usually benefiting while harming the host in some way. This Ganoderma applantum (a single organism despites its multiple fruits) is killing its host, Fagus sylvatica. A significant proportion of tree pathogens are fungi. But this fungus serves a useful ecological function in recycling the tree's carbon.

Probably Jelly Rot, Merulius tremellosus with possibly a parasitic fungus of slime mould on its top surface

Possibly Root Rot, Heterobasidion annosum

Possibly False Puffball, Reticularia lycoperdon

Candlesnuff Fungus, Xylaria hypoxylon; very abundant on rotting logs at Box Holl, and every wood I have walked in over the last month

A Plasmodial slime moulds (Myxomycetes),slime mold) not a fungus.

Slime molds are an unusual group of organisms that have previously been classified as animals, fungi, and plants. Like plants, slime molds have cellulose in the cell walls of their spores. Unlike plants, slime molds are heterotrophs! Though they were formally classified as fungi, slime molds do not have chitin in their cell walls and have a diplontic life cycle These organisms move about as amoebae engulfing bacteria (unlike fungi, who digest food externally). When conditions become unfavorable, whether due to lack of food or lack of moisture, they form spores. They can be found in damp substrates with ample bacteria and are most frequently found on decaying logs and forest duff.

There are several different lineages of organisms commonly referred to as slime molds. Cellular slime molds ... are groups of unicellular amoebae that collaborate to form fruiting structures to disperse spores. Protostelids make small fruiting bodies that have cellular stalks. Plasmodial slime molds (classified as Myxogastria or Myxomycetes, form a large, multinucleate amoeba with no cell wall that will eventually wall off individual nuclei to form spores. Slime Molds - Biology LibreTexts

Sulphur Tuft, Hypholoma fasciculare; one of the most common fungi of rotting wood in the UK

Possibly Shaggy Parasol, Chlorophyllum rhacodes but probably Macrolepiota procera, Parasol

Tiny fire-lighters with an embarrassing story, King Alfred’s cakes are named after the king’s poor baking skills. Spot them growing in broadleaf woodland where they can last for years. King Alfred’s Cakes (Daldinia concentrica) - Woodland Trust

Smoky Bracket, Bjerkandera adusta

Fungi on the chalk grassland slopes of Box Hill

Meadow Waxcap, Cuphophyllus pratensis

Toasted Waxcap, Cuphophyllus colemannianus

A vulnerable species (VU) according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. A taxon is Vulnerable (VU) when the best available evidence indicates that it ... is therefore considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Probably Wood Blewit, Lepista nuda



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