Who spread the Warlock's Butter?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday, 15 December 2018 15:41

I absolutely LOVE the English names for fungi. They are so wonderfully creative, it's so hard to tell which were the ones that were made up in recent years and which have been here for generations because the modern names have been so well thought through. With other taxa, I am yet to see any species names created in bulk that work so well. The bryophytes for example are too long, logical and structured with too many hyphens and syllables. They are therefore not widely used (but I get they also perhaps don't lend themselves to such creative names lacking the plethora of shapes, colours and smells that fungi have). I often find myself drawn to finding a species of fungi just because it has an unusual name. It's this that's lacking in other taxa and I do hope that we learn from this. You're not just classifying species for identification when creating these lists of names, you're creating a piece of our national heritage. It should be fun as well as informative. I think it's usually too big a job for just one person to do and perhaps the national specialists are not always the right people to do it. Having a great imagination and an ability to take risks has clearly worked for fungi.

So when I saw a black Exidia fungus that didn't look quite right for Witches' Butter, I was pretty sure it was the less common Warlock's Butter Exidia plana.  A key that Clare Blencowe provided came up with the same answer (thanks Clare). It's been recorded there before but it's not common, with less than 20 county records. This was growing on a fallen Beech in the southern end of Ebernoe. Here is a close up.


Thanks to Bill Mansfield for putting me back in contact with the paper written by Liz Holden in 2003. You can see it here. I think this quote from the paper says it all:

"Word play and humour have been included wherever possible. Names such as Crowned Tooth, White Knight, Funeral Bell, The Flirt, Strathy Strangler, Dogend, and Nettle Rash hopefully reflect this".

They sure do! And also the fact that so much 'folklore and legend' were also put into it makes me very happy. Yet here's the thing. I have written all this and I can't see Warlock's Butter on the list! But all of the above still applies. I would be very proud if I had given this great gift to the world of natural history to use and enjoy so I wanted to celebrate Liz Holden's work, my autumns are annually richer for this great work. I often think about how enjoyable it must have been putting the names together. Yet where did this specific name come from?! Who spread the Warlock's Butter?

16/12/2018 UPDATE: Thanks to Richard Shotbolt, it turns out there was a second and maybe a third tranche of names from the consultation group headed up by Liz Holden. So we can thank Liz for Warlock's Butter too.

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