Fungi ๐Ÿ„: mushroom days are coming

A purple mushroom at the base of a tree stump in woodland

At long last some time in the woods! Get ready for a mammoth mushroom post to celebrate the start of the season. I am so annoyed to have missed UK Fungus Day due to work commitments (no time or energy to do writing, visit woods or take photos) and also I have at least one other mushroom post that hasn’t made it to the surface yet.

In south-eastern England we have finally had some rain after a very dry summer. iNaturalist and social media have shown lots of autumn mushrooms popping up, including the first fly agarics. This week I had the chance to check things out for myself, and was not disappointed.

I am fortunate enough to live near a large expanse of ancient woodland/wooded heathland which is part of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This landscape is fungal heaven in places that have been wooded for more than 400 years. It’s dominated by birch, oak, beech and pine, trees that have strong associations with fungi.

The early signs were good as I discovered a beefsteak fungus growing at the base of an oak tree. This is a species which can be mistaken for body parts, and though it’s parasitic, its impact is said to work more slowly than a tree’s ability to heal itself.

Amethyst deceivers are a common species at this time of year, often found growing in profusion. I spotted this tiny one growing in moss at the base of a tree.

Recent storms had created a realignment of the woodland canopy. A beech tree had broken off in high winds, opening up the woodland to light. The concentrations of deer are high here, so it will be interesting to see how well the woodland manages to renew in this sudden clearing.

No, this is not an amphibian! I spotted this holly leaf covered in a species of wart-like fungus which I think might be in this family. Please add a comment if you know what it is.

Lurking behind a fallen log was what I think is a deer shield mushroom. I saw far more in the proximity of fallen wood, rather than in the open woodland floor. Perhaps the heavy rain recently has washed things away.

This mazegill-like crust fungus caught my eye.

This small polypore, which I have not looked to ID yet, was in fine fettle on a little birch stump. Not unlike a thought-cloud.

A reminder that it’s not just humans that enjoy fungi. Not that anyone is in any rush to chow down on this one.

This crust fungus interested me as it looked like a map of Scandinavian islands.

It’s always nice to find a bolete. This is probably a birch bolete as it was growing underneath birch trees. I moved the beech leaf but it fell into this position purely by accident. Lots of autumn happening here.

There were two moments during this two-hour walk that I let out some expression of joy upon finding mushrooms to photograph. I don’t know what family this, well, family of fungi, are in, but they are beautiful. I love to find fungi in this state, at this time of year, before the leaves have fallen.

Autumn appearing in beech, birch and bracken.

As a lone male visiting woodland, I am very aware of the impact my presence could have on women who are walking alone. I saw a woman walking and turned away to walk a different path to ensure she didn’t have to experience the fear of having some weird dude approach in a secluded area or pinchpoint of woodland. I also have my camera clearly on show. Sometimes I have considered getting a hi-vis vest with a mushroom emoji on the back. I would implore other men to consider how you are perceived in similar situations.

The point here is that if I hadn’t turned off into the birch and heather, I wouldn’t have found these hedgehog mushrooms! I wrote about this species almost exactly a year ago, though I was not foraging for the pot here.

A pine tree had come unstuck and much of its bark had been pulled away. Looking more closely I could see some kind of root network. Now I’m not sure if these are aerial roots put on by the tree as it tried to consume its own decaying matter. Then again there was a lot of hyphae-like structure in among the roots, but the whole structure couldn’t have been all fungi. Here we have the foundation for much of life on earth, the partnership of fungi and plants.

It made me think of how Britain is faring at the moment. We cut our ties with our European neighbours in January 2021 (i.e. the wood-wide web), thinking we could grow taller and stronger alone. The truth is that everything is connected and we are diminishing in isolation because we need our nearest neighbours to thrive.

And then I found a mushroom I had never seen before – a webcap, probably violet webcap!

Seeing this mushroom sitting there took my breath away. It is a stunning fungus. The photographs just don’t do it justice.

Looking back at the photos I could see a spider using the underside of the cap as a place to find prey. It’s a smart move as many small insects and other arthropods are attracted to mushroom gills and caps.

One of the highlights of this walk, literally, were the spreads of yellow staghorn in the moss.

Their likeness to flames is really pleasing. I also love how they grow out of a tiny alcove in fallen wood as if from a little firepit.

Here is an example of how far and wide the little fires were burning.

This ominous pumpkin of a fungus is probably a russula of some kind. I saw something similar in the same spot in September.

As my mind was turning to thoughts of heading home, I saw this neon glow around a fallen oak tree. I had to wait for some dog walkers and their most-definitely-not-under-control dogs to leave the area before setting up shop in front of the log. I think it may be a coral slime mould, but I’ve never seen it so bright before. It made me wonder if in fact it could be bioluminescent, with the subject on my mind after an excellent recent Welcome to the Mushroom Hour podcast episode.

Here’s a short video showing the full extent of the slime I encountered!

The light was growing dim as I made my way out, but these mushrooms were so bright I could see them from several metres away.

It was dark under the trees so I had to use a wide aperture setting (f4) to allow more light in, making the image quite dreamy. I think this is a species of dapperling.

Thanks for reading and make sure to get out there if you can. The mushroom days are coming!

Photos taken with Olympus E-M5 MIII camera and 12-45mm f4 lens. Photos are straight out of the camera, no edits or crops made.

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#FungiFriday: September shrooms in Scotland, part two – Ben Vrackie

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#FungiFriday 25th April 2020

For another week the Covid-19 pandemic is keeping me away from the woods and therefore the shrooms. This fungal breaking news desk has run out of scoops, so it’s more like a sports channel airing classic re-runs.

I had been intending to post about some fantastic fungal hiking experiences (sounds weird) from a 2018 visit to Scotland but work and life stopped me. I have three hikes to share with you which should get you through the next three weeks of lockdown. I do hope anyone reading this is doing well and that youโ€™re following the guidance.

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These posts remind me of my uncle Joe Reilly who passed away in November. Joe was a Glaswegian by birth who, along with my aunt Marg, introduced me to some of the most beautiful places the UK has to offer in Perthshire, among so many other gifts. I would visit Marg and Joe in Perthshire as often as I could, often in autumn when going to meet my hiking companion Eddie (seen here) for a jaunt in the Cairngorms.

Joe fell for fungi like I did in recent years and I will always miss his WhatsApp messages with mushrooms he had found on Perthshire walks. We miss his thirst for life terribly but carry it on just as he did.

Last week I was sharing fungi found on a walk around Clunie Wood in Pitlochry.

This week Iโ€™m reminiscing about a hike from Pitlochry up to the summit of Ben Vrackie accompanied by my friend Eddie. Below the tree line, a pleasing range of fungi were found.

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The walk leaves the town of Pitlochry and heads up through suburbs. This manicured field had a rowan so heavy with berries it looked like it was falling over. I have never seen so many on one tree.

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The day was warm and while I waited for Eddie to change out of his underlayers behind a tree I scoped out some shrooms in the first piece of woodland we encountered. I’m not sure what this species is. I found them pre-plucked at the side of the path.

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Further up through the woodland this common puffball was sitting among the leaf litter. This has to be one of the most common woodland mushrooms to find in the UK. This is always a good sign of what is to come on a longer walk. Puffballs can be an indicator of a good amount of fungi on the ground.

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The woodland broke into something more open as the moorland and hills approached, with large birch trees growing along the edge of the path. A tree stump held this gathering of yellow staghorn. I asked Eddie if he would help to add something to this pic! Probably one of my fave fungi photos.

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As we ascended towards the winding set of steps that take you to the top of Ben Vrackie, we saw two golden eagles floating above another hill nearby. This was only the second time I’d seen golden eagles in the UK. They are massive!

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The fungi in these areas thins out to small species connected to the habitat and the odd common species which is particularly good at spreading its spores and growing in a range of habitats (stuff like sulphur tuft on dead wood). For those who don’t know, this is heather moorland. Short on trees so not the richest place for fungi. Then again I haven’t spent enough time looking.

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This is a popular walk from Pitlochry. Lots of people were coming and going from the 841m summit of Ben Vrackie. Here is Eddie trying to get some soul signal from the gods. He failed.

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The views north into the Cairngorms were beguiling. Landscape photographers would have appreciated the range of weather available and the clouds which gave extra character to the views. While we sat up here eating lunch, a man and his two sons reached the top. He told them a story of when he had climbed a hill with ยฃ200 cash in his pocket. He knew it was a bad idea and half way up the money slipped out of his pocket and away into the landscape. He salvaged ยฃ20. His boys told him it had indeed been a bad idea.

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Rain following the River Garry through the valley from Blair Atholl. This photo has been enhanced to bring out the distant peaks and rainfall.

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Rain arriving in the hills.

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Descending back down through the tree line, we took the same path back. It’s interesting how you see things so differently when you walk a single route in another direction. Here was a very large birch polypore, also known as razorstrop fungus. It is a natural controller of birch trees and is possibly one of the easiest species to find.

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On the way back we found what I think is a birch bolete. It was reaching out from the path edge and had already been nibbled on by slugs. A real treat to find something like this.

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It was a pleasant surprise was to find a chantarelle, one of the most sought-after edible fungi. This one had already been plucked (I think).

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I’m really not sure what species these shrooms are, but they were a nice find.

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On the way back we visited this beautiful pub, the Moulin Hotel, with conifer beams holding up a balcony. It dates from the 17th century.

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The rain was coming and going throughout the afternoon. It reminded me why Scotland is so good for fungi. There is a high level of rainfall, large areas of woodland and acidic soils which seem so good for mushrooms.

Next week it’s fungal royalty in the Cairngorms.

Thanks for reading.

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