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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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: nipping to The Mens

Last week I dropped in on a favourite Sussex Wildlife Trust woodland. It’s a place I only ever visit when travelling to or from work. It’s a place with a funny name, The Mens. It’s even funnier when I tell others I’m going to The Mens after work. The name is said to derive from the word ‘common’, a place where local people would have had foraging and grazing rights in centuries past. It’s now a significant ancient woodland in the Sussex Low Weald, holding National Nature Reserve status. It’s special because of its naturally occuring beech and holly, though I’m no expert on its specifics. It is a uniquely beautiful woodland. It is highly sensitive, and when I go I do my best to treat it with a high level of respect and care.

It’s one of the few places in SE/central southern England outside of the New Forest, that I have visited, where moss and algae cover tree trunks. Above is the typical assemblage of mature beech, oak and a surrounding sea of holly.

You can see indicators of how many mushrooms are likely to be in fruit when you first enter a reserve. I saw the above within the first few paces. It’s is a mushroom called spindleshank Gymnopilus fusipes (to my knowledge, happy to be corrected), which grows around the buttresses of oak trees. In a separate recent walk, it was the most common fungus I saw, and so is enjoying a key fruiting period.

In terms of tree health, I wouldn’t say it was a ‘good’ sign because there is some decay going on and it is defined as a parasitic species. In a woodland like this, it is normal and part of the life of the woodland. It helps to disconnect ourselves from our normal notions of life and death when in woodlands, it doesn’t play out in the same way there. Dead and decaying trees are crucial to a woodland’s life and longevity.

Spindleshank is often first seen like the group below, bursting on the scene. It is probably attached to a root or piece of wood under the soil.

This was the only fruiting mushroom I found during the short walk but there was a large abundance of slime moulds growing on fallen wood and some standing trees.

These orangey-pink blobs are a slime mould known as wolf’s milk Lycogala epidendrum. It’s famous because you can pop it and it emits a gunk of the same colour. It’s quite cool.

You will find it on decaying wood that has been in situ for several years, often in shady and damp conditions.

This species looks a bit like slug eggs. As with most slime mould I find, I’m not sure of the species.

We have had a very wet time of it in southern England, which should be cause for celebration, really. This same species was making the most of the conditions.

Behind the scenes on the slime mould shoot

My camera is capable of doing in-camera focus stacking. This means it can take several images at different focus depths and merge them together to make an image with everything in focus. This is a dream come true for macro photography, especially when the subject is so tiny.

This is a species of coral slime mould. I have seen so much of this in the past few days spent walking in oak woodlands in West Sussex. It’s clearly striking while the woodland is wet.

And so is this little slug.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: plenty of mush but not much shroom

Fungi Friday 27th November 2020

It’s nearly over. Mushroom season 2020 has been a short, sharp shock of fungi in southern England. I spent some time this week scouring local woodlands and walking on the rural edges. I found little in the way of soil-based mushrooms. To me this is a sign that autumn is over and winter has made its claim. We’re entering into the Tier 3 of seasons.

A good sign that mushroom season is over is when you are only able to spot very small species on moss or in tree bark. There are micro-climates in trees and mosses that allow for humidity and the fruiting of some species. This is a moss bell in the family Galerina.

I did find some mushrooms on the woodland floor but they were mostly mush, collapsed in on themselves after heavy rain. I found one emerging blusher (Amanita rubescens) in an area of heathy pine woodland.

As you can see, most of the trees had shed their leaves but for younger silver birches which still held some colour.

I found most of my fungi on a massive fallen beech tree. Beech jellydisc was just fruiting.

It’s easily confused with jelly ear, which is usually found on elder rather than beech and grows much more floppy. Perhaps beech jellydisc is also more pale in colour.

I was pretty intrigued by this weird crust fungus, wrinkled crust. It was lovely and vibrant, with an interesting orange fruiting body appearing from its base.

December is a month when I really begin to notice slime moulds, maybe because the woods are growing bare.

Though not a fungus, this very small slime mould is a Lycogala, with the common name of wolf’s milk. You can pop it with your finger and liquid gushes out. It’s harmless and quite fun. That may also help the organism to reproduce.

The following day I went for a walk from my house and found these shaggy inkcaps trespassing on a deserted golf course. Golf, like other outdoor sports, has not been allowed during the UK’s recent lockdown. It was eerily quiet and I was the only person there.

I thought these mushrooms were charming, like a parent protecting its offspring all at sea in the grasslands.

Grasslands seem able to hold fungi later into the year than woodlands. I think that’s down to the leaf-fall in woodland, which may repress some species from being able to push through. Just an untested theory.

I’m confident this is a species of waxcap, perhaps snowy waxcap. Waxcaps are indicators of ancient grasslands and have suffered in Britain due to agricultural intensification. The chalk grassland of the South Downs is a great place for them, but churchyards and even some moorlands can be good, too.

One lunchtime I made a break for the woods, with much lower expectations than previously. I spotted this blusher pushing through in the cradle of a tree root. Only later did I notice that an ichneumon wasp had landed, in focus, on the cap of the mushroom. It was a complete accident. You can read more about ichneumon wasps in my Macro Monday blog.

A new find for me (and once again not a fungus) was this coral slime mould. It was spreading across a small piece of wood at the side of the path. Slime moulds are fascinating because they are something of a mystery to science. They are believed to show early evolutionary forms of memory and are not closely related to fungi. I still need to buy the ID book.

Thanks for reading.

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