Country diary: thatched roofs’ purple secret is revealed

Country diary: thatched roofs’ purple secret is revealed

Paignton harbour, Devon: Thatch is a welcoming home for many fungi, as it provides the damp conditions they thrive in

I had seen it so often I almost didn’t pause to look. I was re-ridging a thatched house on Paignton seafront. Below me and to my right was the old stone-built harbour; to my left, an arc of red sand beach backed by the Torbay arcades and beach huts as bright as boiled sweets. It seemed an unlikely place to find a rare woodland species.

But as I pulled off the thin lengths of ash that make up the diamond pattern on the old ridge (on top of the roof), there it was – the familiar bright purple pattern, spreading in blotches across the dead wood. I see this growth on over half the thatched roofs I work on in Devon. I have always assumed it is a lichen of some sort. But what is it?

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