The fungus in need of a piggyback ๐Ÿท

Plus other things seen on 7th October 2022

From over a decade of speaking to (often random) people about nature, wildlife, landscape, etc., I’ve noticed that one of the things that really surprises or troubles people is when things grow on/in other things.

On this list I would include trees, insects and fungi.

It’s messy out there – a West Sussex heathland, October 2022

The understanding that insects grew inside other insects was enough for Charles Darwin to doubt his own faith. The idea that cuckoo hatchlings are hard-wired to chuck out the eggs of the dunnocks, wrens, pipits or warblers it shares a nest with, is also deeply disturbing to people.

Imagine how you’re going to feel about mushrooms that grow from other mushrooms. Prepare yourself.

At least twice now I’ve found a white fungus growing from black mushrooms in the woodlands of the Sussex Weald. The first time was a few years ago on a National Trust property, on what turned out to be powdery piggyback fungus (Asterophora lycoperdoides) growing on the caps of blackening brittlegill (Russula nigricans).

The image above was taken on what may well be that species, but I’ve not done any work on identifying either of them. From the images I would guess it was more likely to be silky piggyback (Asterophora parasitica) which has a nice write-up here.

“The classic Asterophora picture is probably plate 5 in part 8 of Oscar Brefeld’s Untersuchungen aus dem Gesammtgebiete der Mykologie, published in 1889″ (via Australian National Herbarium)

Piggyback fungi are parasitic due to the fact that they ‘invade’ the tissue of mushroom fruiting bodies. It should be obvious, due to the prevalence of fungi in our world, that fungi grows on just about everything. But it’s rarely illustrated in such an elfin manner. Mould on a mushroom doesn’t have the same allure as ‘little mushroom guys’.

Elsewhere on this walk I spotted two common species gracing us with their presence for the first time this season. One of those was another parasitic species, but this one is much more well known and seemingly reviled in some quarters.

This is one of the honey fungi (Armillaria) which only this weekend (15th October ’22) was described as ‘the most destructive fungal disease in the UK’ by the Royal Horticultural Society. That, to my understanding, is not true. The only way to deal with that is in another blog post so we can crown the actual most destructive fungal disease in the UK. If you can’t wait for that, one of the most viewed blogs on this website is this one about honey fungus which I wrote previously.

Don’t worry though, this website is not a greatest hits archives just yet!

The Most Destructive Fungal Disease in the UK is quite beautiful when it appears in its natural habitat of ancient oak woodland.

Another fungus that decided to show its face is the common puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum). This is an edible species that I usually find alongside footpaths but is also often presented deeper into woodlands (sounds like a Yo La Tengo song). It always reminds me of the submarine rolls my parents would buy me from M&S as a kid during Saturday trips to the shopping centre.

Russulas have already made an appearance in this post with the shrooms they’re giving a piggyback to. I would say it’s been a strong year for this group of difficult to identify fungi, but they are often out in good numbers. This is a family that can be found with a clean, white stipe and white, brittle gills.

To finish, I went to check in on the stairway to mushroom heaven that I posted about last week. It was quite amazing to see that these edible stepping stones remained. Evidently the foragers in this particular woodland are few and far between, be they human or squirrel.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | The Sussex Weald

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

Latest from the Blog

Salmon egg slime mould ๐ŸŸ

This is not a fungi post. If itโ€™s anything, itโ€™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.

Winter oyster mushrooms ๐Ÿ„

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).

Fungi ๐Ÿ„: summer shrooms in Ashdown Forest

I was lucky enough to have a couple of hours to spend in Ashdown Forest last week. The light was beautiful and the views expansive across this famous part of the Sussex Weald. For those who don’t know, Ashdown Forest was the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. I very nearly titled this blog ‘Winnie the shroom bear’.

The mushroom situation at the moment in Sussex is one of a twilight late summer boom, with not really enough rain recently to feed the fungi and maintain the fruiting window. However, where there is shade there is moisture and therefore there is hope.

I followed a path into the woodland, away from Ashdown Forestโ€™s famous heathlands. The ground did look quite dry, so I wasnโ€™t expecting to find too much growing from the soil.

My first sighting was, in fact, in the soil. In the shade at the edge of the path I found a group of common puffballs.

This is an edible species, and though two looked in fairly good condition, I wasn’t looking to forage for food.

On the opposite side of the path a piece of wood was covered in feather moss. The moss was home to a gathering of glistening inkcap mushrooms. They were in wonderful condition, with varying stages of growth in the bright green bed of bryophytes.

Under a beech tree I noticed some large fallen wood sitting in heavy shade. This is always a good place to find fungi because there will be high levels of moisture and damp throughout the year. Especially under beech which casts heavy shade through its leafing phase.

My guess for this species would be stump puffball which grows in large numbers on decaying wood. From a distance they looked like fairy inkcap, but were of course much larger when looking properly. As I knelt down to take these photos, the sunlight broke through on occasion and then faded away. It was a fateful fungi photo.

Off of the path, as I considered whether there was enough time to take things a bit deeper into the woodland, I found an incredible beech tree. This looked like an old beech pollard (regularly cut high) or perhaps a coppice (regularly cut to the stump for regrowth). It had lost a huge limb which lay in front of it, providing a home for a Ganoderma bracket fungus, as so many beech trees both standing and fallen do.

I donโ€™t know Ashdown Forest at all well. It feels to me quite an elusive place. This short walk allowed me to experience more of its quiet allure. I hadnโ€™t expected to see so many unusual beech trees, which would probably qualify as veteran with the discerning experts out there.

This is another wonderful beech tree which has experienced damage to its trunk. The image above shows the treeโ€™s own โ€˜aerialโ€™ roots feeding of its own decaying wood. No doubt fungi has its role here in helping the tree roots to feed on itself by softening up the wood with its own decay processes.

My hour was up and I had to head back to the car park. On the return leg I noticed some very small yellow mushrooms on the bank built up along the footpath. It clicked that they were probably chantarelles. I looked at the gills of one that had fallen loose and could confirm they were. There is a beech leaf in the left of the image above which provides scale โ€“ they really were tiny.

On the way out I noticed the heather was flowering, one of the final acts of summer. Itโ€™s always good when there are shrooms on show to support this darkening shift in seasons. The days are getting shorter, the leaves will soon be on the turn and the mushrooms will be arriving.

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms

#FungiFriday: a quick guide to five edible mushrooms

Epping Forest - 13-817 djg-41

Fungi Friday 21st August 2020

This week I thought I would write a post answering the most common question regarding fungi – which ones can you eat?

Disclaimer: I am not encouraging you to forage without following a code of respect for nature, wildlife, habitats and the environment. Your desire to eat wild food is not more important than the thing you are trying to forage or the habitats those species depend on to exist. Learn your foraging rights and exercise them with restraint. Respect habitats and know what you are picking.

Here are five well-known species:

Dartmoor 2018 djg (6)

Cep (Boletus edulis)

There are few other places to start with edible mushrooms. This mushrooms is known in Italy as porcini, America as king bolete, France as cep and England as pennybun. When finding ceps you’ll need to ensure they haven’t been eaten through by larvae from the ground up. This is done by cutting the mushroom where it’s attached to the soil and looking at the condition of the stipe. Ceps can be eaten raw in salads and are also good in risotto. I’ve only ever eaten them in restaurants. They grow in woodlands, plantations and on heathlands.

BenVrackie_Sept2018-10

Chantarelle (Cantharellus cibarius)

Chantarelles are a species I’ve only ever seen twice in the wild and I’ve never eaten one. I’ve eaten horn of plenty but they were a gift from Spain. This is the time of year to be looking for chantarelles (August-September). They are a yellowy-orange colour and look a bit like splattered egg yolk from above. People who reliably find chantarelles often have a patch that they return to each year. Not to be confused with false chantarelle. Later in the autumn trumpet chantarelles are another edible relative (that is a phrase you don’t hear often). I’ve found them growing on heathland.

Fungi - July 2018 djg-6

Chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)

I saw a couple of specimens of chicken of the woods this week, but the best time to find them is May-June. This is an easy to identify fungus which grows mostly on oak, but also on sweet chestnut and even yew. Often it grows on fallen tree trunks. Never, ever, eat this if it grows on yew. Yews are poisonous and the fungus will absorb the toxins. It’s important to know that some fungi absorb pollution, so be careful where you are picking things. They are best eaten when younger. This species is important for invertebrates so don’t hoover everything up. That should be the consideration at all times.

Epping Forest - 13-817 djg-41

Amethyst deceiver (Laccaria amethystina)

This is a very small, common mushroom in woodland. Sometimes they are so small you completely miss them down in leaf litter. In 2019 on a single visit to a favourite woodland I found thousands of them growing. They are a beautifully photogenic species and when in good light they have a lovely amethyst glow. They can be found from August to November. They have to be picked in larger numbers to be worth cooking.

Warnham - 20-10-2019 lo-res-28

Common puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)

Giant puffballs are famous for the their unusual size and the fact you can, well, eat them. A smaller cousin of the giant puffball is the common puffball. This species grows on the woodland floor and can be found throughout the autumn. I often find them at the edges of footpaths, which are not great places to find anything you ever want to eat. I think common puffballs look like submarine bread rolls with their speckled caps.

Thanks for reading. Don’t do anything stupid.

More mushrooms