Winter oyster mushrooms 🍄

A chilly afternoon in the Weald of West Sussex on one of those days in early January when you remember their names again. “Moonday” 9th January 2023 was appropriate seeing as the famous old block of cheese was up in the sky that night, howling back down to us. A wolf moon, indeed.

Moons are easier to come by than ‘shrooms, the main focus of my walk around a wet woodland reserve where the river ran free of its banks, merging among poplars like something from prehistory (i.e. no Internet).

A boardwalk cuts the edge of the wetlands where I usually expect to find velvet shank mushrooms. Along with scarlet elf cup, this is one of the winter gems of the fungal kingdom in Northern Europe. In truth, I didn’t find any that I could photograph without having to (theoretically) enter into a wetsuit or small boat.

Instead it was a coastal species that proved easiest to snap, if only in name. One of my favourite Twitter accounts and reader of this blog recently posted some oyster mushroom photos. Another timeline glimpse made me think – this is a seasonal trend, and I should keep an eye out in real life.

They’re a beautiful fungus with dark, purple-grey tops and pale, almost white gills underneath. They’re edible, but I was just there for the pics. You can buy them in the shops or grow them yourself at home. Another friend/regular reader even has them growing in her garden from timber sleepers. Well jel.

One of my favourite actual, single funguses lives here. I’m pretty sure it’s a willow bracket, growing from the bottom of a branch like a hat plucked off someone’s head below/a UFO/some kind of weird leather cushion from the Victorian period.

It makes me laugh every single time. A reminder: if some part of nature isn’t humouring you, “you’re not doing it right”.

Thanks for reading.

Fungi | Sussex Weald

Recent posts

Salmon egg slime mould 🐟

This is not a fungi post. If it’s anything, it’s probably closer to animals. It also may exhibit signs of memory despite not having a brain. Sounds like you’re in the right place.

Wishing you a very jelly Christmas 🧠

On a recent visit to Streatham Common in SE London, I was taken aback by the number of December mushrooms.

In SE England we’ve switched from -5 one day, to 12C a few days later. The seasons seem to be collapsing around us, and then reviving themselves. It feels like the only reliability we may have in nature is the amount of light. At this point the Earth isn’t moving off on a different course anytime soon.

Billionaires with ideas need not reply.

Looking through the Common’s oak woodlands I was quite taken by a standing dead oak tree. It was such an unusual shape and it was hard to tell if it was still alive. It wasn’t, in the conventional sense.

Moving around the tree I noticed the frills of what looked to me to be a brain fungus and what iNaturalist has confirmed as Phaeotremella frondosa. It’s what keeps me looking again and again for this strange stuff. It is always a surprise, and so varied and diverse that each week can provide you with something different.

And with that, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has read and/or commented on my blogs this year. I really appreciate the support and interest.

My website’s traffic boomed this autumn as some of my fungi posts appear to have made it into search engines and held prominent positions. That isn’t massively important to me, but it is quite funny to watch readers increase almost in sync with mushrooms in the woods.

Writing and posting photos on here is a massive anchor for me. If I could do this everyday, I would. I will try my best to keep it going strong in 2023.

Thanks, as ever, for reading. Wishing everyone a peaceful and restful Christmas and New Year.

Slava Ukraini 🇺🇦

Daniel

Earpick fungus in Hampshire 👂

Here’s an account of the final fungi walk of my calendar for 2022. It was held on Saturday 19th November on the birch and pine heaths of Bramshott Common, where Hampshire and Surrey cross paths. West Sussex isn’t far away either. It’s an area that is arguably Wealden in character, but inside the South Downs National Park.

I wasn’t able to take any photos during the walk, other than the header image (not visible in email). For a better account of the fungal communities at Bramshott Common, please see my blog from a couple of months ago.

Back in October this Ministry of Defence site contained basketfuls of mushrooms. On 19th November however, they had all gone on holiday. Where fly agarics had previously flung themselves onto paths, only one could be found across the entire walk, tucked away behind a heather shrub. Interestingly, I had been speaking to the person who did find it, moments earlier. She had grown up in Sweden and spoke about how as a child she was taught about mushrooms in school. This heathy, birchy, piney landscape must have been similar to landscapes she knew from Sweden.

The brown birch bolete parties of the previous visit had dwindled to the last man standing, spotted somehow among the identical shades of fallen birch leaves on the ground. As my scouse family says, well in that lad.

Cassius V. Stevani, IQ-USP, Brazil, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

My personal highlight of the walk was when an attendee found a small bonnet-like mushroom among the leaves. I picked up the pine cone it was growing from. The spindly bonnet slumped, but it seemed to have bioluminescence. The one we saw is not the same species as the one in the image above (Mycena luxaeterna) which is found in rainforest in Brazil, but it had a glow and was a bonnet so that’s not too far off.

Does anyone out there know this magical bonnet mushroom in a European context?

Anyway, holding the pine cone up to show off the glow-in-the-dark mushlette – let’s call it that – I mentioned earpick fungus to the group, a species I had only seen once before that is found on pine cones. Looking at the cone again I noticed a small antenna poking up from the cone’s segments. It was earpick fungus! I wish I could have taken a photo with my macro kit but it wasn’t possible. I was surprised by how small and difficult to see the fungus was, only really spotted because it was so close to my face.

As I’ve said previously this autumn: visualise the mushrooms you want to see in the world. Sometimes it works out well.

Big thanks to Olivia and Dan from the South Downs National Park’s Heathlands Reunited project for putting on the walk, and to all the lovely people who came along and made it worthwhile!

Thanks for reading.

Fungi | South Downs

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Winter oyster mushrooms 🍄

A walk around a wet woodland reserve where the river ran free of its banks, merging among poplars like something from prehistory (i.e. no Internet).

Night photography: Jupiter snuggles up to the Moon 🪐

An article popped up recently highlighting the chance to see several planets in the sky at once. On the evening of the 29th December 2022, I took out my camera and tripod to see what was happening out there in the garden.

Five pines at Pulborough 🌲

There are five pine trees that stand together in the open heath, I always seek them out in this light.

Splitgill fungus, another weird one! 🍄

I encountered splitgill fungus again at the end of October. It’s a very attractive species due to its interesting ‘split gills’. But it also has a fascinating biological story. I considered outlandish titles for this blog post, including ‘the fungus that has 20,000 sexes and sometimes lives in humans’. After researching a bit more, that 20,000+ figure was so common it looked like clickbait. I have standards, people.

Visually splitgill fungus is known for its vein-like gills, as seen in some of the images here. Otherwise it’s known for its potentially serious impact on the lungs if you’re ever incredibly unlucky enough to have it make a home in, well, you. As Covid-19 has reminded us, despite our attempts to lord it all over nature, we are a habitat in ourselves, with fungal spores also being present in our bodies as they are pretty much everywhere in the environment.

The splitgill apparently has 28,000 sexes, which may not be as remarkable as us simple humans think. I don’t have the space to go into sex in fungi on this blog, it’s complicated, but it’s also not the same as it is for humans.

The splitgill is also perhaps the most widespread fungus in the world.

It’s a species I most often find on deadwood, usually on fallen beech trees in Sussex. It’s particularly visible in the winter months.

One of the best articles online about the splitgill mushroom is this one, from February 2000! I was a teenager just encountering chat rooms then via my parents’ 56k dial-up modem. Coincidentally, the author of this blog, Tom Volk, passed away in recent weeks. He obviously has contributed a great deal to people’s enjoyment and understanding of the fungal kingdom.

As mentioned earlier, splitgill fungus is also known for some extreme medical issues in isolated cases. Not that you should worry about it:

This is a very interesting YouTube video on the Learn Your Land channel. It lays out all the information about the fungus affecting people medically, and some examples, in a much more interesting way than I can here. Do have a look if you want to know more.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | Sussex Weald

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Wishing you a very jelly Christmas 🧠

On a recent visit to Streatham Common in SE London, I was taken aback by the number of December mushrooms. In SE England we’ve switched from -5 one day, to 12C a few days later. The seasons seem to be collapsing around us, and then reviving themselves. It feels like the only reliability we may…

Looking for birds in the frost and fog 🐦

As seen on Sunday 11th December, my final guided walk of 2022 for London Wildlife Trust. London woke to freezing fog with hoar frost in places, as temperatures stayed well below zero. These are difficult days to get out of bed, but the rewards of a foggy, frosty oak woodland are too good to miss.…

Oak timbers: Arnside Cottage, Hampshire

I was travelling into East Hampshire for work in August and realised it would probably be one of my last chances to photograph a cottage I had passed several times. Arnside Cottage is, as you can see, situated at the road side, in the village of Clanfield in East Hampshire. Technically it has been adapted…

White saddle: one of the weird ones🍄

On 24th October 2022 I spent the morning taking photos of fungi in the Sussex Weald, and was treated to one of the final flourishes of the season. There had been heavy rainfall in recent days and the beech leaf fall had begun, meaning that the mushrooms were beginning to disappear. This often marks the end of the main mushroom glut in autumn, from my experience.

To fast forward to the end, just as I was on my way out of the woods and putting my camera away, I noticed what looked like discarded tissue in a ditch at the edge of the track.

I soon realised that these were white saddles (Helvella crispa).

This is a very unusual looking fungus and isn’t the typical gilled mushroom despite their appearance of having a stipe and something resembling a cap. They’re actually ascomycete fungi, so spore-shooters, rather than the often gilled basidiomycetes.

Here’s an update on the status of the violet webcap which I blogged about again in 2022. It won’t thank me.

The sun shifted into the line of this false deathcap (Amanita citrina – about to become several different species!) and made a very nice autumn scene.

Brittlegills are some of the most photogenic little mushrooms, largely due to their clean stipe and gills, and fruit gum-like caps. I’m not sure of this species but I like it.

A Medusa-like group of honey fungus (the most feared fungus in the world).

A younger patch of fruiting bodies, where you can see the lovely honey colour.

I’ve not encountered much stagshorn this year, perhaps only during this walk, which seems unusual.

A puffball at the point of puff.

Elsewhere in the weird fungus stakes is this scalycap growing out of a hole in a beech tree. It was as large and intrusive as it looks here.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | Sussex Weald

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December leaves 🍂

One of my favourite things to photograph in winter is a frost-encrusted leaf. Where the frost remains long enough it allows for us non-early risers to enjoy some at lunchtime (to look at, rather than eat). On the morning of Thursday 8th December I could hear sycamore leaves falling in the garden. There was a…

Muggeridge Field path 🍂

There’s a field I pass by on walks near where I live. Recently I was walking along the path next to the field and took the photo above, the oaks turning to yellow across the landscape. The shadow of trees to the right, combined with the sunbeam, make it look like half of the Green…

Oak timbers: Old Stack Cottage, Amberley

In early December I was passing through the village of Amberley in West Sussex. It’s a very quaint village at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex.

Flushing woodcock in Dulwich 🦆

On Saturday 12th November I led a fungi walk for London Wildlife Trust at Dulwich Wood in south-east London. I only managed one photo on the day because I was working and leading the group around, but it was a pretty good one nonetheless.

When doing a pre-walk check I accidentally flushed a woodcock from the vegetation off the main paths. I never like to do something like that but they are so difficult to see, camouflaged down there in the leaf litter. It’s good to know they are still able to use to woods as a stop off on passage. It also suggests they are using woods nearby which have no public access, because this is one that has hundreds of thousands of annual visitors, so ones free of ‘disturbance’ must be even better.

John Gerrard Keulemans, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This isn’t new in Dulwich. Local ornithologist Dave Clark once told me a story of a woodcock smashing through someone’s window and landing in their bedroom. Because woodcock migrate, often by night, they sometimes get it wrong. Their long bills and speed of flight also mean they will crack glass quite easily. The bird in question was scooped up and taken to a vet, from what I remember it survived and lived to fly another day.

There’s a really nice episode of the Golden Grenades podcast featuring woodcock that you can listen to here. It features Kerrie Gardner, a superstar writer, photographer and sculptor who is a friend of this blog!

On the fungi front, the mushrooms were very few and far between considering the time of year. There was a shaggy theme to what was there, in that two of the sightings were shaggy parasol and shaggy bracket. The most common species group were the bonnets (Mycena), along with small polypores like turkey tail and hairy curtain crust, which are all on decaying wood.

Some more phone pic bonnets on fallen oak wood

My sense is that the extreme heat and drought this summer, where temperatures reached 40C, has had a worse impact in smaller woodlands in places like London. More rural, larger woodlands are able to hold water and moisture more effectively, therefore being able to feed fungal communities far more easily. Those woodlands also have running water in the form of brooks, streams and woodlands that aid soil moisture. London’s woods look far drier in November than those in West Sussex, even after torrential rain.

It’s also very mild, around 15-18 degrees on the 12th November, which shows just how far-reaching climate change already is. The milder weather may mean mushrooms fruit for longer though, with the colder temperatures held off until maybe January or February. It’s just so hard to predict these days.

© jonatan_antunez, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC)

One interesting thing that a couple of people on the walk discovered was a species that was new to me. On a scaffold board used for steps, a small blue polypore (example photo above) was peeking out. Having seen it elsewhere on social media in the last week, I can confirm it was blueing bracket. I’m back there soon so will aim to get some *actual* pictures next time.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | London

Dog stinkhorns in Aldershot 🍄

On Sunday 6th November I led a fungi walk in Aldershot in Hampshire, on behalf of Brimstones.

Interesting fact: Aldershot means a piece of land (‘shot’) home to alder trees. It’s the same for the placename of Oakshot, sometimes with an extra ‘t’ included. Helpfully, there were plenty of alder trees on this walk and more than enough rain to keep them happy.

I whipped round the woodland to gather some specimens for the walk intro. The conditions were rough – high winds and lashing rain. I actually failed to find much of note for the first half an hour looking. It was only until moving into a heathy area of birch and oak that things began to pop.

Candlesnuff fungus – ever reliable

That said, I wouldn’t describe the mushroom situation as of 6th November as ‘popping’. More like slopping. There had been heavy downpours that morning and across the previous week. This means mushrooms are quite washed out or else just mush!

That said, when the attendees for the walk joined up and we began looking with all those extra pairs of eyes (and some lovely late afternoon sunshine) we found so much more than I could see alone in the rain. It’s a reminder that the role of a walk leader is not to know everything (ha) but to enable others to tune in and learn something yourself in return.

Local samples including white saddle and false deathcap

I collected a bunch of species, some already uprooted, to show to the group at the start and give a sense of what we were looking for. This included a brittlegill, false deathcap, brown birch bolete, coral fungus, sulphur knight, sulphur tuft, and white saddle.

Upon walking through the site I was thinking about dog stinkhorn and, moments later, I saw that very species collapsed in some bramble. Visualise the mushrooms you want to see in the world is my advice. The problem is that this is a visually challenging species.

Dog stinkhorn is one of the weird ones

Other less common sightings (for my eyes anyway) were elfin saddles. These are similar to the white saddles also seen here but are often smaller and have a blue-grey cap, if you could call it that. I took a pic but can’t bear to share it as it’s out of focus and very dark.

What I didn’t take photos of were lots of brittle gills, some fly agaric, and the hundreds of small bonnets in the leaf litter. It had the feel of a season passing its peak.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi

A basketful of boletes 🧺

As seen on Friday 14th October 2022

In mid-October I met up with the Heathlands Reunited team at a Hampshire heathland in the Surrey borders. The meeting was to scope out a fungi walk I will be leading with them next month, and I thought it would be worth sharing some of the sightings. They will no doubt differ next month when autumn is well and truly progressing towards winter.

Very early on we found a perfect scarletina bolete (Neoboletus luridiformis)! This is one of my favourite species, having only seen one once before, on chalk on the South Downs Way in 2019.

Elsewhere in the bolete family, there were loads of brown birch boletes (Leccinum scabrum), most of which were in very good condition. Bramshott is a heathland so there’s a lot of birch there.

There were also plenty of Boletus edulis but they seemed to be mostly covered in mould after recent rain. This part of the Weald and Downs is quite misty and damp at times, so the mushrooms were probably quickly affected by the conditions.

There were lots of these red mushrooms that you may have heard of before. They’re enjoying a good year.

Other amanitas found that afternoon include what is either panther cap or grey-spotted amanita.

Less spotty amanitas included the highest numbers of tawny grisette mushrooms (Amanita fulva) I’ve ever encountered.

This grisette had fallen over. At the base you can see the ‘egg’ the fruiting body emerges from.

Along with those amanitas, the most common mushroom by a long, long way was the brown rollrim (Paxillus involutus). This is a poisonous mushroom which seems to be having a very good year.

Here’s a closer look at one of those grizzly bears. I first saw this mushroom when attending a walk from someone who taught me a lot – David Warwick – in Nunhead in SE London. He pulled what looked like a piece of rubbish from an old tree pit, what turned out to be the brown roll rim. I’ll never forget it!

As mentioned previously this season, the russulas are having a strong year. These lovely yellow ones, were appearing afresh from under the pines and birch. You can see a collapsed amanita in the background.

I have considered whether to try and spend more time learning to identify russulas. My focus is on learning families rather than getting obscure fungi down to species level. I am not completely a scientist in this and my aim is to produce photographs and write these blogs. It becomes all about how much time is available to you and what the best use of that time is.

As we finished scouting the route for the walk, we bumped into a group of women who were picking mushrooms. They had a woven basket full to the brim. From what I could make out they had picked a lot of honey fungus, ceps, a scarletina bolete and one of the leccinum boletes. We got talking to them and discovered they were Polish – I can speak a little bit, which I deployed here, always received very warmly! – and the woman in charge really knew her stuff. She said she was going to pickle them in olive oil and was happy with the slug-bitten state of that cep you can see on the lefthand-side.

I’ve written before about the place mushrooms have in historically ‘Slavic’ countries such as Poland. This is not something you would often see in England, nor to encounter someone with the level of confidence in their knowledge. Of course no nation of people can be generalised or defined in any one way but the English culture has become one of mycophobia.

If anything is to be said in riposte to that, it’s that the level of interest and intrigue in fungi in England is growing. We were here to plan a route for a public fungi walk, after all!

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi

Enjoyed what you saw here? If so, please support my work: https://ko-fi.com/djgwild

Poplar fieldcaps in Dulwich Park

As seen on 23rd October 2022

The title of this post sounds like a type of east London headwear. As you may have guessed, it’s actually about a mushroom in south London.

I led my first public fungi walk of the year with the Dulwich Society at Dulwich Park on 23rd October, despite the thunderstorms either side and torrential downpour intro.

My Dad taught me to play football in Dulwich Park and I was born in Dulwich Hospital. It has many happy memories for me. But no, I didn’t go to Dulwich College!

It’s a fantastic park that provides space and enjoyment to millions of people each year. It was also good for fungi on this occasion and I was pleasantly surprised by some of the things we found. As a landscape it’s former farmland bequeathed to the local council for public enjoyment. Before being farmed privately it was likely wood pasture common land. The Dulwich Society have a FANTASTIC local history Twitter account which has a lot of relevant info.

Charlie and the shrooms

The most interesting find of the walk was a large group of fungi on the decaying stump of a poplar tree along one of the carriageways. From a distance I spotted what looked like litter sat on top of the stump. My colleague Charlie want to have a closer look and I soon followed with the group after she gave a confirmatory thumbs up. It was fungi, not rubbish.

I was baffled by these shrooms. The stump’s bark was peeling away and some honey fungus boot laces were present underneath the remaining wood. But the mushrooms didn’t have the features of any honey fungus I had seen. We did see some earlier in the walk, for comparison.

Honey fungus ‘boot laces’ reaching out from behind the remaining bark

All I could say to the group was that it was likely the mushrooms, whatever species they were, was breaking down what what remained of the poplar tree.

I did some research when I got home that evening but it took me a while to establish what the species was. It didn’t help that this mushrom, what turned out to be poplar fieldcap, has a couple of scientific names and several common names: Poplar Fieldcap, Poplar Mushroom, Pioppino, Velvet Pioppini, Piopparello.

Perhaps the variety of common names is because this is seen as a nice edible mushroom. That’s what you find with something like Boletus edulis which is known as cep (France), porcini (Italy), and penny bun (England). I think it’s known as king bolete in North America. Those mushrooms which are either highly desireable or undiserable (deathcap) are usually subject to common names in different languages.

Thanks to everyone who came to the walk, it was a lot of fun! Great to see so many people despite the very wet weather. After all, that is what the mushrooms want!

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | London

Enjoyed what you saw here? If so, please support my work: https://ko-fi.com/djgwild

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Earpick fungus in Hampshire 👂

Here’s an account of the final fungi walk of my calendar for 2022. It was held on Saturday 19th November on the birch and pine heaths where Hampshire and Surrey cross paths. West Sussex isn’t far away either.

Grey heron at woodland edge

A grey heron (Ardea cinerea) at the edge of a woodland at Warnham Nature Reserve in West Sussex, Sunday 4th December 2022. The heron was looking back and forth across the reeds and wetlands. The temperatures have dropped to more typical winter levels, meaning birds and mammals that don’t hibernate will be under added pressure…

Books: On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester 📚

Another short book review to point you in the direction of a great read. On Gallows Down by Nicola Chester is a personal account of a life lived within a frame of chalk – Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire. It’s a story of major development threats, many of which prove unstoppable. We’re talking here about the…

New book: London in the Wild 🦡

It’s official, I am now ‘published’!

Along with several experts on London’s landscapes, wildlife and habitats, I contributed my own chapter to London Wildlife Trust’s London in the Wild: Exploring Nature in the City. It is now available to buy.

My chapter, as you have probably guessed is about fungi, with a focus on south-east London’s woodlands.

I attended the launch of the book along with my family at Camley Street Natural Park in mid-October. It was great to hear Kabir Kaul read his chapter about a young person’s perspective on the future of nature in London and to be in a room with so many people who care so much about London’s wild spaces.

Mathew Frith outlines the book’s place in London’s nature publications, October 2022

I’m grateful to London Wildlife Trust for reaching out to me and asking if I would like to contribute back in January 2021. Particular thanks to Laura Mason, Mathew Frith and David Mooney.

The journey to appearing in print has been a long one for me. I wrote a piece for a book a decade ago, my first paid gig as a writer. Being paid for writing is something that I have never managed to maintain, so it was a big deal. I pre-ordered the book from my local bookshop and marched in there on publication day. I picked up my copy, opened it and leafed through every page in the book.

I couldn’t find my piece.

In its place I found a generic (sorry) article about the landscape I had been asked to write about, and an illustration that looked like it had been chucked in last minute (again, sorry). That was a devastating experience for my writing career, and probably killed my confidence for years and in many ways stopped me from ever wanting to pursue writing as a career. The editors never contacted me to say it wouldn’t be included or to give any explanation. Publishers, that’s not a good way to do things.

There is something poetic about being published in the first book of an organisation that I have such fond memories of, and that gave me opportunities and a sense of trust that can be hard to come by in your working life.

You can buy London in the Wild from the big players and the indie bookshops too. I’m not sure Waterstones are doing so well with their online ordering systems at the moment so I would check that out beforehand.

Thanks for reading.

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The South Downs: old ash tree

This week’s single photograph is an old ash tree in Amberley, West Sussex, taken on 2nd December 2022.

White saddle: one of the weird ones🍄

On 24th October 2022 I spent the morning taking photos of fungi in the Sussex Weald, and was treated to one of the final flourishes of the season.