Northern Ireland's Priority Species

Entoloma bloxamii – the big blue pinkgill

 
Entoloma bloxamii

Entoloma bloxamii (Berk.) Sacc.
Family: Entolomataceae

This species is atypical for its genus in that it is large, fleshy and bright blue. This contrasts with its pink spores and it is found in waxcap grassland sites which are typical of old unfertilised grasslands.

In brief

  • Found from seven sites in Northern Ireland, including Counties Fermanagh and Antrim

  • Found in old semi-natural grasslands, especially calcareous grasslands, of high conservation value

  • Fruiting bodies have been recorded from August to November in Northern Ireland

  • This species is scarce and declining, with Northern Ireland being the Irish stronghold

  • This is one of the few members of this genus that is easy to identify, which is important as Entolomas are a common constituent of waxcap grasslands

  • The main threats are due to agricultural intensification (especially the application of fertilisers), habitat neglect, reduction of habitat and lack of awareness.

Species description
Most grassland Entolomas are small and thin fleshed. This species, however, is large (with a cap up to 8cm and a stem up to 7cm high) and it is this fleshy chunky stature and its blue colours (on cap and stem) that make it distinctive. The colours can fade to brown with age; however, so old fruiting bodies have to be identified with care. It has a convex cap when mature and the cap surface, smooth when young, can get fibrillose and scurfy with age. The gills are white when young but change to salmon pink as the spores mature. The stem can be up to 3.5cms thick and is also blue. It has a weak to strong smell of flour. Entoloma spores are very distinctive under the microscope, being angular, and the spores of this species are 5-6 angled.

Life cycle
The earliest fruiting body recorded in Northern Ireland was found on 5 August and the latest on 9 November.

Similar species
This is normally a distinctive species with only two species that could be confused with it. Many species of Entoloma have blue colours but they are usually small with a thin stem about 2-5mm thick. The pink spore print and angular spores quickly identifies it as an Entoloma. A mature, blue, E. bloxamii could only be confused with E. nitidum, but the colours of this species do not fade; it is smaller in stature and usually found in woods. If the fungus is old and the colours have faded to brown, it could be confused with E. prunuloides. This has a strong floury smell and taste and a careful microscopic examination is needed to separate these species in this case.

How to see this species
This species tends to occur on either calcareous grassland (e.g. in Monawilkin and Legland Mountain in County Fermanagh) or on basalt which can have calcareous flushes (for example, Binevenagh NNR and Agnew’s Hill in County Antrim). However, it is also known from more typical acid soils elsewhere. The historical record for this species is from Shaw’s Bridge in Belfast in 1927. This is most likely to be Barnetts Demesne, but it has not been refound there. Like most ‘waxcap grassland’ species, it is usually found where the grass sward is short and no fertilisers have been applied. Relevant access permissions should always be sought prior to visiting any sites.

Current status
This species has been recorded from six modern sites in Northern Ireland. It is a widespread but rare species across Northern Ireland and the British Isles, although records are more concentrated in areas of calcareous grassland.

Why is this species a priority in Northern Ireland?

  • Scarce and declining, with Northern Ireland being the Irish stronghold.

It is an excellent indicator of old unfertilised grasslands. Data from the Northern Ireland Countryside Survey would indicate that this habitat is decreasing in extent. It is also listed as one of the proposed species of fungi for inclusion onto the Berne Convention.

Threats/Causes of decline
The main reasons for decline are agricultural intensification (primarily the application of phosphorus and other nutrients) and habitat loss. Grassland neglect where the sward becomes rank also restricts fruiting, although it is not clear if this affects the organism under the ground.

Conservation of this species

Current action

  • Three of the six recent sites are covered by either ASSI or NNR designations

  • A grassland fungi survey funded by EHS for the whole of Northern Ireland 2002-04 produced a good overview of the distribution of the species

  • Production of Grassland Fungi conservation leaflet by Fungal Conservation Forum

  • Implementation of the Northern Ireland habitat action plans for Lowland Meadow, Lowland Dry Acid Grassland and Calcareous Grassland.

Proposed objectives/actions

  • Maintain the number of viable populations of this species

  • Publicise conservation value and management requirements of this species amongst managers of existing / potential sites

  • Research into ecological requirements.

What you can do
This is a distinctive species that indicates that any site where it is found will be particularly rich in grassland fungi. Any new records should be reported to the Northern Ireland Fungus Group. Records can be sent in using online recording forms or by contacting david.mitchel@nifg.org.uk.

Further information

Links
Northern Ireland Fungus Group

Information on waxcaps

NBN Gateway

British Mycological Society

British Waxcap website

Berne Convention (fungal candidates)

Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans

Binevenagh NNR

Literature
Noordeloos, M. (1992). Fungi Europaei Vol 5 - Entoloma. Saronno. This is the best identification guide for the group, but is not easy to use.

McHugh, R., Mitchel, D., Wright, M. and Anderson, R. (2001). The fungi of Irish grasslands and their value for nature conservation. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 101B (3), pp. 225-242. (download as pdf from RIA website 650kb).

Newton, A.C., Davy, L.M., Holden, E., Silverside, A., Watling, R. and Ward, S.D. (2002). Status, distribution and definition of mycologically important grasslands in Scotland. Biological Conservation 111 , 11-23.

Text written by:
David Mitchel