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Saturday, 21 November 2015

A nice trip up Llanllwni mountain.

Claviceps purpurea.

Common name Ergot.

Once I'd spotted one they were all over the place!
This interesting little black blob has both a fascinating life cycle and history. It can be found in the autumn in its sclerotial stage (like in the picture) on many different grasses. When mature they fall to the ground, overwintering until late spring when tiny pinkish or purplish drumstick shaped fruiting bodies emerge. These then infect the grass for the cycle to continue. 
This small insignificant little fungi is deadly with recorded poisonings since the Middle Ages. It wasn't until this century that the connection between ergotism and eating infected grains was made.  Poisoning has two delightful forms, convulsive and gangrenous. Its symptoms meant it was known as Holy fire. Outbreaks were thought to be divine punishment on sinners. Nowadays its purified derivatives are used in medicines for migraines among others. 


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