Is this England’s national mushroom? 🍄

No nationalism was expounded in the making of this blogpost.

On a recent visit to the National Trust’s Nymans Gardens I spotted some big, cream-coloured things in the lawns near the car park. No, these were not scones or cream cakes, or even pasties discarded by visitors. It clicked almost immediately for me that these might be St. George’s mushroom – and guess what? I found them on 23rd April, St. George’s Day!

That is definitely the most enthusiasm I have offered for this national day. If it were to be made a holiday, then we can talk.

Spring can be a time of shrooms, as the frosts end and the temperatures rise. We’ve had quite a lot of rain this spring in SE England and so some mushrooms will fruit in response. St. George’s mushroom is one of those springshrooms.

Like many people in the UK my sense of personal identity is not straightforward, and I don’t celebrate St. George’s Day. I have strong Irish roots and as a Londoner of 50% Scouse parentage I feel an affinity with a more regional, culturally complex identity, rather than one of red and white, chest-thumping ‘Englishness’, whatever that is.

It makes me wonder though – is this England’s unofficial national mushroom?

A simple online search shows up no such award, which is probably a good thing. Surely that accolade should go to honey fungus!

You may not be surprised to find that its common name changes depending on its location. In Germany the mushroom fruits in May and is known as Maipilz. That means ‘May mushroom’. In fairness to Maipilz, that’s only 8 days later.

St. George’s mushroom is also edible. I didn’t pick or eat this one, and it’s not on my radar to do so anytime soon. The above seems to have been nibbled free in actual fact. Also, I wouldn’t encourage people to forage from National Trust properties generally because I don’t want to get banned.

The cap turns brown over time making it look like a barbecued chicken piece

St. George’s mushroom appears to enjoy garden lawns, so if you’re lucky you may have one popping up outside your front/garden door. As ever, you should be cautious about eating wild white mushrooms as there are several toxic species which can be confused for edible ones.

Thanks for reading.

Fungi | Sussex Weald

Bogshrooms, and a life lived wild and free 🍄🐐

Mayo, Ireland, April 2023

I went for an evening walk down the old trackway to the foot of the mountain. The track was flooded, meaning that without wellies I had to find tussocks and rocks to move further. Where the track turned, I noticed a ram of some kind grazing up ahead. After a time, I realised it was a goat, most likely a wild goat from the flock that roams the mountain. I had never seen one so close before and began to feel some concern for it. Why was it down here in the floodplain rather than up there out of reach among the boulders and bogs?

Its bleating was weak, distressed. I felt anxiety rising, that I needed to act. I looked at my phone about guidance for finding a wild animal of this size, but it was stuff I already knew and I realised I wasn’t acting rationally. I walked forward, a little fearful that the goat may show aggression, so when it turned to look at me, I backed away and waited.

The goat lowered itself to a sitting position, bleating in a way that suggested distress, weakness. Its voice was breaking, fading. It tried to stand but its legs gave way. It lay with its head on the ground, bleating again. I hadn’t moved, realising what was happening. Its stomach stopped moving. I approached it where it lay, its ears and lips were trembling. Then, stillness. Its eye remained open, and did not move. It had passed away.

A life lived wild on the mountain had ended at its foot, in a very short space of time. There was very little visible suffering, though some fear as it realised it was losing its ability to graze and trot.

I continued on and headed up the mountain. Seeing the death of the wild goat made me want to press on, a gentle reminder that all life has its limits. To the west, Nephin appeared in the distance, Lough Conn as silvery as ever at its foot. In the south-west Croagh Patrick could be see behind a rank of wind turbines. As I reached a curve in the path, where a cleft had been carved into the hillside, a small group of wild goats appeared on the hilltop. We watched eachother for a while, before they headed off out of sight.

I reached the top for the first time since 2017. A broken flock of sheep circled me against the horizon of rocky outcrops, mountains and distant loughs. Being up there will always remind me of the times me and my Dad made it up, always out of breath and red-faced.

Surrounded by bogs and scars of turf cutting, I looked down to try find an unusual species of some kind that I might not see elsewhere, due to the remoteness of the place. Down in a small bit of bog, with sphagnum and other mosses, a group of golden mushrooms were growing.

I had a second camera with me that had a macro lens attached for ease. I took some photos, unsure of the species. Its gills were not unlike a waxcap (hygrocybe) but I knew so little about boglife that I was happy simply to find some shrooms.

I’m still waiting on feedback on iNaturalist, so this remains a mystery. Unless someone reading this knows and can add some information in the comments?

I headed back down the mountain and along the track. There the wild goat rested. I hadn’t imagined its death, and it wasn’t trying to fool me. I went back to the cottage unnerved, reminding myself of a life lived wild and free in the Ox Mountains.

Thanks for reading.

Fungi | Ireland

Snowy disco fungus ⛄

Dulwich, London, January 2023

I’ve helped build a lot of ‘dead hedges’ in my time. Basically ‘fences’ of wood and branches piled between two posts. They happen to be particularly supportive of fungi, along with amphibians and sometimes even nesting birds.

Whilst constructing one on a chilly January afternoon I noticed one of the logs had a smattering of cup fungi. Looking more closely I guessed that these were a type of cup fungus known as snowy disco (Lachnum virgineum). It’s one of the fungus names that really makes people smile, and not in a weird way for once.

Then again, it does sound like a night club in Reykjavic.

I referred to my fungi tomes for more information on the snowy disco, and found that there were actually rather a lot of these tiny but very classy-looking fungi in Europe.

Cup fungi are a different group to the typical gilled mushrooms or ‘basidiomycetes’ that drop spores. The cup fungi are ‘ascomycetes’ – the type found in lichen complexes – shoot their spores from an ‘ascus’ (plural – ‘asci’) instead.

It’s just another reminder that for those who can, it’s a much better environmental option to leave fallen wood in a woodland so the disco can do its thing.

Thanks for reading.


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

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A spring epistrophe? 🐝

Another week of some sun, some showers, and some temperatures that got close to freezing. That sentence may turn out to be a spring epistrophe, but more of that later. In Scotland it reached as low as -5C. April 2023 has been a mishmash of seasons. Here’s what I encountered in my garden on 22nd…

Is this England’s national mushroom? 🍄

On a recent visit to the National Trust’s Nymans Gardens I spotted some big, cream-coloured things in the lawns near the car park. No, these were not scones or cream cakes, or even pasties discarded by visitors.

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 🇺🇦


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, 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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What this hoverfly doesn’t know 🐝

On Sunday 16th April my garden thermometer (kept in the shade, don’t worry) read 16C, and the garden was alive. Here’s what I found in the space of about half an hour.

Bogshrooms, and a life lived wild and free 🍄🐐

I went for an evening walk down the old trackway to the foot of the mountain. The track was flooded, meaning that without wellies I had to find tussocks and rocks to move further. Where the track turned, I noticed a ram of some kind grazing up ahead. After a time, I realised it was…

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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Spring 2023 blog update

Hello! I wanted to do a blog update post as I have fallen behind with writing and photography, but am still in existence. Believe me it pains me not having the time or mental space to write anything, possibly more than it pains you to read this blog. I’ve just finished working on a short-term…

Apaches over the Downs

A walk from Steyning, along the field edge with those lumpy Downs caught in a smoke-like haze. The sun beat over the hilltops, the trees naked, grey and brown without leaves.

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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A tale of two hedges in the South Downs

The light was low over the Arun valley. To the south the Sussex coast was a band of grey concrete, the horizon between sky and sea broken only by the pale sticks of the offshore wind farms. The Isle of Wight rested out at sea to the west like a great sleeping sloth.

The deep blue sea comes inland 🌊

A lot of rain has fallen in Britain in January. One way I like to gauge just how much, is to visit the wetlands around Pulborough and Amberley 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