Saturday, April 4, 2009


In Victorian times it was socially acceptable to possess books devoted to smut – provided that the smut was of the fungal variety. It’s hard to imagine that a book entitled Rust, Smut, Mildew and Mould: An Introduction to the study of Microscopic Fungi would sell well with the general public today but M.C. Cooke’s volume of the same name, published in 1870, apparently did. “In these latter days, when everyone who possesses a love for the marvellous, or desires a knowledge of some of the minute mysteries of nature, has, or ought to have, a microscope,” Cooke began confidently, “a want is occasionally felt which we have essayed to supply”. His book seems to have satisfied that want, since the preface to the second edition states that it was produced as a response to “demands from the public encouraging the publisher to proceed with a new edition”. So more smut – together with rust, mildew and mould, is what the public got. One of the plates illustrates the bright coloured patches that appear on bramble leaves, caused by the fungus Phragmidium violaceum, showing its distinctive club-shaped resting spores (teleutospores) that are released from purple pustules on the leaf undersurface (middle left illustrations). I scraped some of these onto a microscope slide and photographed them – a comparison with the plate from Cooke’s book shows that his illustration is pretty accurate. Wight Rambler has recently written about brilliantly coloured bramble leaves at

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