Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Amanita mushrooms’

Fungi Friday 2nd October 2020

I found so much for this week’s post that it’s a mushroom-packed blog!

The wait is over, the mushrooms are arriving. I had the pleasure of a 10-mile walk in the New Forest in September. It was a warm and sunny day. It was a special walk because it revealed two species I have never seen before. One renowned for its edibility, the other for its deadliness.

The New Forest is a National Park and Special Area of Conservation. It’s of European importance with places left like it in the continent. Its mosaic of woodland and heath is maintained by free-roaming animals owned by commoners. This in ancient land management practice which, around Europe, is often responsible for the conservation of rare habitats and species. The New Forest was established by William the Conqueror at some point after 1086 when the Domesday Book was created. Its old name ‘Nova Foresta’ translates directly to its current name. It certainly ain’t new anymore.

It’s also more heathland than woodland, an open habitat. ‘Forest’ does not actually mean woodland. It means ‘outside of common law’ or a place where Forest Law was enacted. Forest Law was implemented by the Normans to ensure recreational hunting for the aristocracy was protected from the foraging and ‘poaching’ of local people. Its enactments were often violent. The Vederer’s court still exists in Lyndhurst, where hearings took place regarding acts committed within the Forest.

The New Forest is home to lots of spectacular ancient and veteran trees like the hollowed out beech tree above. It has a feel to it that is unlike other places. It is spectacularly rich in fungi, or at least, compared to other areas of the UK.

Much of the land is owned by Forestry England and they discourage foraging.

The first fungus I found was in a car park, on a bank under pine trees. It’s cauliflower fungus, looking a little bit dry in the sudden burst of warm weather. This is an edible species.

In the buttress of an old oak was this beefsteak fungus, a bracket that looks like human organs. It’s an edible species that has also led people to call the police, thinking that a crime had occurred in the woods!

The most common species of the 10 miles was sulphur tuft. It responds quickly to rain and was popping up in lots of places. This is one of the most common species in the UK and is also toxic.

There was a good showing from the russula family (AKA brittlegills). This one had already been picked.

The crowded gills of russulas are a sight to behold. They are, of course, brittle and so break easily. The gills and stipe are always white or cream.

Unless it’s blackening brittlegill!

Deeper into the woods, this greenish species of milkcap was abundant in certain areas alongside the track. They were under either spruce or pine, shown by the needles here. I’m not sure of the species but they may be either Lactarius deterrimus or Lactarius quieticolor.

I think this is the same species, overcome with a blue-green colouring.

This is a wood or field blewit, which are usually found in grassy areas.

This is my first deceiver of the season, so named because it can be confused for others. I have rarely found that to be the case, though! This is a mega-common species and is also edible. It’s said only to be worthwhile in large numbers.

This doesn’t look great but apparently it tastes it! I knew when I saw these apricot coloured fungi that they were hedgehogs. This is a first for me. I looked for the spikes underneath the caps. They are described by professional foragers as one of the safest species to eat. That’s because they’re impossible to confuse with others due to the spikes and that all the hedgehogs are edible.

This is how they look from afar, note the beech leaves for scale. They don’t look like much.

Conifer mazegill is one of my favourite species of polypore or bracket. I love the velvet-like yellow edge to the bracket. It is a beautiful fungus. I think it’s one I’ve only ever really seen in New Forest plantations or heaths.

Fungi is an acquired taste. This is probably egghead mottlegill, on horse or cattle dung! Stay classy. It was alongside a road at the edge of beech woodland.

I wrote about the amanita family a couple of weeks ago. They were out in force in the New Forest. This is the first fly agaric I’ve seen this year. September is a great month for this iconic species. It has such a depth of cultural significance it deserves its own post.

The blusher is a common amanita which is so named for its pinkish colouring. I’ve read that it’s edible, which is weird considering the consistently poisonous nature of the family.

These are probably panther caps, a leathery-looking shroom. I’m not 100% sure because they seem too big.

False deathcaps were common in Mark Ash Wood, the target for the walk itself. It’s a beautiful ancient woodland with an old stream and wet alder carr running throught its heart. It was in the damp area, on a mossy tree root, that I found a special mushroom:

I had to put this out to Twitter to be sure. I think this is a deathcap, one of the most poisonous mushrooms in the Northern Hemisphere. Another first for me! That is a mushroom that definitely needs a post of its own.

Thanks for reading.

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St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, September 2020

I walk my bike along the field edge, woodpigeons grazing the dry stubble of the field. It’s another hot day in Sussex and the land is thirsty and dry. In the distance, a hedge line with a number of small beech trees in it seems to have died. Ahead of me a small dustcloud rises and dissolves into some oak scrub. The shadows of dragonflies cross my own, a hawker coming close to my face, perhaps lured by the neon hi-vis helmet I’m wearing.

I’m heading for St. Leonard’s Forest knowing that some late summer and early autumn mushrooms are appearing. I just want to see what’s there, to maybe see something new. From the sloping footpath down into the woods, three mountain bikers appear, breathless.

‘Great sesh boys,’ one of them says. ‘I feel violated.’

Entering into this old heathy landscape, the whispering pines give a sense of endlessness. They remind me of the mountains of the Scottish Highlands and the Romanian Carpathians. Though this is southern England it feels so much like somewhere remote, wild and unchartered. I think that’s what makes these places so important.

The heather blooms still at the path edge, and up on the banks of crumbling soil where pine roots are exposed. I find small suede-capped bolete mushrooms in the shade and take pictures.

I get back on my bike and follow the old track where a couple of weeks ago deer roamed freely. Not today. I cycle slowly along the old ride that bisects St. Leonard’s Forest. In the ditches mushrooms appear: red russulas, blushers and some larger boletes. The sun shines in high contrast in the dark birch woods, where bracken still holds green. A hornet flies among fleabane flowers.

I follow a track down past bare-chested mountain bikers. Like deer, a group of people are crossing the track from one area of woodland to another. They have plastic bags full of things, reminding me of Czechia at this time of year. I slow down and hear a Slavic language being spoken. In a friendly way I ask them if they’re foraging mushrooms.

‘No,’ a younger man with glasses responds. He, too, is holding a plastic bag heavy with something.

I tell them I was just interested to know. I think they probably thought I was a warden or maybe some xenophobe. Really I just wanted to know where all the mushrooms were!

Further ahead the track thins and the woodland pinches: pine, birch and spruce. I get the feeling of a good place to find fungi. Out of the corner of my eye I catch the shape of large discs on a fallen tree. Bingo!

I dismount and take my bike off the path. There are two large bolete mushrooms growing from a log, another of the suede-capped variety half-chewed before them. I find more. Nearby, two small mammals, perhaps voles or shrews, follow each other underground in a way so direct they seem magnetised or attached like train carriages.

I take back to the track and grey-spotted amanitas appear at the track edge in their hundreds. They stand at the side like a crowd cheering me on towards the finish line.

The Sussex Weald

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Fungi Friday 18th September 2020

The moment is truly upon us: autumn is progressing and the mushroom world is waking up once more. One of the true symbols of autumn is, in my opinion, the arrival of a dangerous family of mushrooms: the amanitas.

It’s been a hot week of it in southern England, with temperatures coming close to 30 degrees (c). Of course this pales in comparison to what is being experienced in America, which I am very sorry to read about. If you are affected I wish you all the best and that you can find safety. I know of a few fungi people on social media who have seen their favourite woods burned by the fires. I hope Americans vote out the Climate Denier in Chief in November and we can get on with the global efforts required to tackle the climate emergency. It’s happening now.

I visited a local woodland patch with low expectations. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it(!) but there has been so little rain this spring and summer in Sussex. But woods are key resources of moisture, soil needs it to thrive and provide habitat for all the organisms which make it a living thing. Fungi are a key part of healthy soils. Though I wasn’t holding out hope for much, I was surprised to find that grey-spotted amanitas were out in force!

Now most amanitas are identifiable to me by their spotted caps, what are fragments of the veil the mushroom appears from, though you don’t find this as on toxic species such as deathcap or destroying angel. The most famous spotted amanita is the fly agaric, with its archetypal red and white cap, so significant to our species that it made it into Super Mario.

Here is fly agaric, a species which I have seen on social media this week, so it is now fruiting in southern England. I also found it last year in Scotland during September.

The grey-spotted amanita can be most easily confused with the blusher, seen above in the same woodland last year. This species has a pink ‘blush’ to its cap. It’s easier to tell the difference when they’re mature. Again it has the same white patches of the amanita family and a collar.

Away from the amanita family, I was searching around a fallen beech tree when I noticed a small cluster of mushrooms growing from the tree.

I pushed deeper into the undergrowth where the tree had fallen, down into the ditch of an ancient woodbank. There I found one of my favourite mushrooms to photograph, porcelain fungus!

This is porcelain fungus when it’s just appearing, pushing from behind a dislodged piece of bark. It is an edible species, which needs the slimy coating removed before it can be eaten. I haven’t ever eaten them. I have only ever seen them on beech.

Other finds included blushing bracket, which is growing from a fallen log across one of the paths in the prime mushroom spot. It has continued to grow and grow over the past few months.

This is a time of russulas (or brittlegills as they’re ‘commonly’ known) but I think the lack of rainfall is hindering them. I am guessing these two might be charcoal burners. A pleasant surprise in adverse conditions for our mushroom friends.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi Friday 12th June 2020

At last, this week some rain arrived. I headed to my local woodland to see if any mushrooms had taken the bait. I went there with a slender hope of seeing anything because it has been so dry this spring.

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Common cow wheat

It was pleasing to see special woodland plants such as common cow wheat, another of those species which is not actually so common anymore.

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Juniper haircap moss

The bryophytes also looked more lush and watered after a day of rain in the past week.

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This stunning drinker moth caterpillar was chilling (literally) on a boardwalk. I moved my fellow redhead to safety before it got squished by evening strollers.

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My special summer patch was free of fungi, it may be another month before anything comes up there.

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The mycelium of green elfcup

Just like last week, green elfcup was evident in those beautiful blue-green stains on bits of fallen wood.

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I was quite startled to spot this growing out of the buttress of a tree. I think this might be rooting shank, a species which is often found at this time of year. It’s a signal of summer.

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The slugs are obviously hungry at the moment because much of the fungus had already been eaten. The slime trails below are the smoking gun.

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Nearby I saw what I thought was an old tennis ball. Upon closer inspection it was in fact a mushroom making its way up into the world.

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This is almost certainly a member of the Amanita family, home to fly agaric and the death cap. It could be tawny grisette. You can see it is appearing from a veil. There is the typical Amanita patchiness to the remnants of the veil. I did wonder if this might even be Caeser’s mushroom. I will try and check back in a few days if it can last that long.

Thanks for reading.

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Epping Forest, Essex, August 2019

Unlike most, I’ve welcomed the wet weather of recent weeks in southern England. In August, this means mushrooms. Hopefully not only an early burst in August but a good autumn clutch. ‘The coming of the fungi’ in autumn is an event in nature’s calendar that I would put in the same bracket as the first migrant willow warbler, swallow or swift, or the first butterfly. Autumn is a time of plenty. When mushrooms arrive en masse, we are witnessing a spectacle many millions of years old.

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A weekend visit to family in Essex meant a chance to visit the famous Epping Forest. This woodland is very close to London and is owned by the City of London Corporation (other sites outside London in Surrey and Hertfordshire also belong to them. I think they do a very good job). The Forest shows the scars of this proximity to one of the world’s biggest cities, namely the M25. It was interesting talking to family recently who grew up locally and their reminiscences of putting ‘stop the M25’ posters up in their windows. Epping Forest is also prey to nature writers (guilty as charged, but not published) framing their own ego against this ancient wooded landscape. The Forest and its mycelia feature in Robert Macfarlane’s recent award-winning book Underland, a book from a writer I love reading and admire greatly. However, I must to admit to disappointment in the lighting of a fire in that book. Even more so when I saw a tent and a fire in the Forest when I visited. The two obviously are not linked, but having been an urban woodland warden where fires were lit both in ignorance and violence, it is hugely galling (no pun intended). Leave no trace people, seriously.

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I mentally (and verbally) built up my visit to Epping Forest due to the rain throughout the week. The mushroom boom in my eyes (let’s call it that) was spilling out from every path and Epping Forest’s many visitors were tripping up over them. The early signs upon entering were not good. The ground was battered by recent rain and the sloping nature of the landscape had meant the soil was scarified by the heavy downpours. Mushrooms, washed away. The first wildlife encounter of any note was the above robberfly which I noticed out of the corner of my eye on the brim of my (it needs to go in the wash) sunhat. These predatory flies (not of humans) have had a good summer and I’ve seen more than I ever have before this year. #LifeGoals.

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It was only getting near to Ambresbury Banks (Aims-bury) that the mushrooms were in any way ‘common’. A slug-munched Boletus edulis or cep lay prone at the trackside. Then, half eaten, I found this:

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Moving my little camera around to the right angle, you would never know the cap on the other side was almost completely gone. This is a tawny grisette (Amanita fulva). This was probably the least photogenic specimen I’ve ever found, but with the green flow of woodland behind and a bit of bokeh, anyone can look good.

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Cheered by the sight of a half-eaten mushroom I checked out the swampy dog-poo realm alongside a path. There I spied these beautiful white parachutes (Marasmius) in wet soil amongst bramble twigs. My books are telling me they are Marasmiellus candidus AND Delicatula integrella. A woman passing by on her Saturday jog asked what I was looking at. She said how much she loved spending time in the Forest and that she was moving away soon. She said how important is was for her to see the seasons changing and how different the trees were in different parts of the Forest.

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She’s not wrong. The bizarre pollard areas near Ambresbury Banks are unique. Their pollarding stopped as a local practice some 150 years ago due to a wrangle of Acts of Parliament – who could lop what and where. They are of significance to the whole of Europe (ecosystems are European-wide, people). In some areas holly dominates and things get a lot darker.

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In one of the those areas I found an oysterling (Crepidotus) on a twig and found a nice tree to perch it in for its close-up. The gills look like flames to me and not of the campfire kind. See the darkness of high canopy beech and holly understorey? Creepy. A deer was hiding away here.

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Ambresbury Banks is always worth visiting. This is an ancient earthwork or Iron Age Hillfort, which was likely created by the pre-Roman (-AD43) inhabitants of Britain. Legend has it that Boudicca battled the Romans here in AD61 but people say that about so many hills in London, trust no one. Also for anyone espousing ‘Indigenous British’ as a phrase about themselves as a pedestal for their polticial views, those Britons who built Ambresbury Banks were probably the last group of people who could say that. It is now populated by ancient beech pollards which have no view on Brexit, other than that it may remove their Natura 2000 protections as a site of European Significance. But then again we may not have food and medicine by 1st November.

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In all fungal seriousness there were actually a pleasant number of ‘shrooms around this Iron Age propaganda ditch. Spindle shank (Collybia fusipes) was bubbling up nicely at the roots of beech trees, likely nibbling away at their wood under the soil. Bridges of beech are likely to be built across those ancient earthworks in the decades that come, if you get my drift(wood).

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For photography brittlegills (Russula) are one of the most annoying. I have seen grey squirrels pull them from the soil and chew their gills down like some turbo corn-on-the-cob eating contest. Slugs also love them. Thankfully for you I found this Russula largely un-squirreled with some pleasant bokeh to be had in the world above. I lit the gills with my phone torch.

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Another sign that autumn is not actually here yet was the state of the Amanita mushrooms. Two years ago I found many, many of these beauties near Connaught Water in the holly woods (nope, not that Hollywood) and they were in the same state. If I’ve learned one thing from mushrooms it’s:

You can’t hurry poisonous fungi

There is no basis of fact in that. Not that it matters nowadays. Fake ‘shrooms.

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When you see so many Amanitas pretending to be beech nuts, you know autumn is tickling your toes. Winter is snoring.

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This cheery chap was reaching out from under a ghastly bit of deadwood to say good afternoon. I’m not sure of the species and it will require a bit of rifling through the field guides to get a general idea. Answers on a postcard in the comments box please.

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A beautiful morning in Epping Forest but what did fungi teach me? If you just walked in and found everything you ever wanted in fungi terms there would be no fun and you wouldn’t learn anything. Also, appreciate every chance you have to spend time in these special places and try not to make a campfire. Next up: Autumn.

Thanks for reading.

Explore my wood-wide-web

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