Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Foraging mushrooms’

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This is not an omlette

Fungi Friday 30th July 2020

Welcome to one of those weeks that is little more than a lament at how dry southern England is. This week I’ve been in two different woods and the story is the same – the recent rain in Sussex has not given much of a boost to fungi. I managed to zoom round a local woodland one lunchtime and found a couple of things.

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To give a sense of the impact of warm dry weather, even in the space of about ten days, check out the difference here. What is now a very dehydrated piece of birch wood was previously alive with slime moulds and all kinds of other life.

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It is mainly a matter of rehydration, however, and when the temperatures drop and more rain arrives, the show can go on.

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This is a species of Ganoderma bracket fungus growing on fallen wood. I only later noticed that a snail is hidden away in a nook of the fruiting body! You can tell I was in a rush. I wrote a lot more about brackets recently.

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This is smoky bracket, not an omlette. I have seen this small community of brackets growing over the past few weeks. Again, it was only later that I noticed the other life, in this case a resting fly.

I was pretty disappointed in this mushroom hunt but then it was somewhere between 25-30 degrees (Celsius). The area which I’ve mentioned before, that has been opened up, is now experiencing more trampling, including mountain bikes coming through. From my experience of woodland management, that was predictable.

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But some management that was really positive was the creation of dead hedges of logs and branches in a well-shaded area. This was where the mushrooms were hiding! I found a nice patch of oysters that were swamped/protected by brambles. This is a nice edible mushroom, not that I’m picking.

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I also spotted this small mushroom, such a joy to find something. I like its veiny-cap and the reddishness. I’m not sure of the species.

Dry times such as these make alternative topics a pressing need. At the moment I’m researching an article on fungi and Chernobyl, so stay tuned for that.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi Friday 22nd May 2020

This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week. We all have mental health but in general many people lack an awareness of it.

In the UK this is not helped by hundreds of years of toxic interpretations of masculinity and the systematic oppression of women in society. There’s a grave stigma attached to even discussing mental health, due to centuries of extreme societal, political and, indeed, medical responses to psychological ailments.

In recent years, despite severe cuts to mental health services in the UK, the conversation has begun to change.

Nature, or at least our sense of it, has become a counsellor, allowing us to detach ourselves from societal roles and see ourselves as a single species in a vast web of biodiversity. Nature helps us to feel human. Fungi are a big part of that.

While this post is definitely not about hallucinogenic mushrooms or any such trips, dude, I thought I’d take the chance to share how fungi offers ideas that help me to cope with the stresses and anxieties of ‘normal’ life.

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1. Fungi and the diversity of life

Knowledge is one of the most important ways to overcome mental illness. For many people a diagnosis is crucial to overcoming a condition. In trying to cope with life generally I have found that small, incremental improvements to my own knowledge, especially around the natural world, can help to build a foundation of resilience through understanding. In a time when we are faced with the potential for a Sixth Mass Extinction, it’s important to appreciate that there is an immense diversity of biological life on Earth worth fighting for.

A big part of that diversity is fungi, it has a Kingdom of its Own. British conservationists are renowned for pummelling themselves with the lack of biodiversity we have. Yes we have lost wolves, bears and lynx, but we have an immense diversity of fungal life in comparison to other groups such as mammals.

In the UK there are thousands of species of fungi, in the world there are known to be around 100,000. Scientists believe there are in fact over 1million species of fungi with a huge percentage of them yet to be identified.

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2. Looking for fungi is good for you

Above is a photo of a fungi walk I led in 2017 for London Wildlife Trust. These walks had to be capped each time and extra dates put on (rock’n’roll) because the interest was so high. We are attracted to fungi by its mysteriousness, its beauty, the fact it feeds us, underpins the biosphere, and also that they kill us on rare occasions.

While opinions around foraging fungi are fairly divided, the act of looking for fungi can have a huge impact on your wellbeing. One of the most rewarding elements about spending time ‘in nature’ is that you are distracted by the largely artificial worries that we face in modern life. By that I mean the deadline you have to meet at work, the email you didn’t reply to or the fact you haven’t hoovered your bedroom for a month.

An appreciation of fungi can also help to deal with seismic moments in life. A recent book has shown how learning about fungi and seeking them out can help to overcome bereavement.

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Take the example above. This is a patch of sulphur tuft, one of the most common speciess in the UK. I used to pass this garden on the way to work every day. It was very manicured but these mushrooms had burst on the scene. If I were to anthropomorphise, I would say it was a big ol’ middle finger to people trying to control every inch of their gardens. Sorry if that’s you!

The act of looking is an act of defiance, of rejecting the status quo and seeking out something new. For me, what nature brings in fungi is a newness that will never end. There are too many species, too much to learn, even in Little Britain.

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3. Fungi feeds humanity

While you won’t find recipes on this website for anything other than life-affirming hiking experiences, we should remember that fungi make up an important part of our food systems. While wild mushrooms don’t really make much of a dent in that, the discovery of a delicious wild mushroom is a thought that can keep you going when the woods are far away.

I have only ever eaten one wild mushroom. It was picked by a friend in Czechia in a very large area of woodland. She gasped when she saw it, took out her pen knife and cut the cap off. ‘Are you sure that’s edible?’ I asked. She was crouched down, stopped what she was doing and glared at me: ‘I have been picking this mushroom my entire life.’

Nuff said.

When we got back to her house she battered it in breadcrumbs and fried it. It was incredible.

Fungi does also provide important meat-alternatives to help us to focus on consuming meat from sustainable, local sources. Mycoproteins make wonderful sausages and burgers. Fungi is also needed for cheese, beer, bread and wine. Now many of you would struggle to live without those things!

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4. Fungi = time in the woods

Every autumn I make sure to have at least one full day in the woods. I bring lunch, snacks, water and all the camera equipment I can carry. It’s a chance to slow down and tune into the rhythm of the woods. It’s better than I’ve made it sound.

Spending time in woodland is shown to improve our health. The air is fresh, the sounds, colours and textures give us a great feeling of calm. There are also chemicals which trees and plants release which support our immune systems.

Spending time in woodland also teaches us respect. As a woodland warden in south London I witnessed many people making their first visit to the woods and nigh-on trashing the place. They sometimes did that themselves, sometimes with their pets, sometimes with their friends. I remember one volunteer who had become an impassioned defender of wildlife at the wood, even though he probably did things several decades ago as a teenager, that he wasn’t proud of. Even when people are causing harm in nature, not through the devastation wrought by things like HS2, at least they are there and they can develop an appreciation of it. We all must learn these things one way or another.

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5. Fungi will save the world – perhaps us, too

Plastic is a blight on our planet. Fungi could help us to manage it and rid its waste from the landscape. Fungi is being developed as a disposable material to replace non-degradable or recyclable plastics. Fungi also has a role in the mass production of a bacteria that scientists recently discovered at a landfill, quietly digesting non-degradable plastics.

While fungi has an important role to play in these issues, it’s good to remember that in many ways, fungi are the world. Fungi have played crucial support roles in the evolution of woodland ecosystems, trees, plants and many more species. We should celebrate and attempt to understand as much as we can about this amazing biological group.

Thanks for reading, wishing you well.

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Fungi Friday 15th May 2020

I mentioned a fungi photo project which I was working on, watching the development of a fungus on my daily exercise ration. Both of those things have now been foraged and are consigned to the past. We can go out for a walk more than once a day, and my subject has been sliced and munched by someone who knows what they’re doing.

I was watching the slow mushrooming of a chicken of the woods fruiting body on a circular walk from my house but its progress was interrupted last week. Now the post looks wafer thin. Here’s how it played out on Twitter:

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I first saw this mushroom developing on 25th April on a fallen oak tree next to a footpath, lodged between farmland and a wooded estate.

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Three days later I passed it again under twilight and the advancement was pretty clear.

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I also felt it looked quite a lot like Mark Twain, one of the great American writers. His characters sure ate plenty a chicken in the woods, sure did.

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Chicken of the woods is a highly desirable edible fungus for people who desire that sort of thing. It’s one that’s easy to identify and is not known to have any serious side-effects. I have noted ecologists arguing that it should be left for the many species of invertebrate that find a home in it.

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The images above show a chicken of the woods fruiting body with some of the invertebrates hanging out on it. Believe me, there were so many more.

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At this stage, on May Day, the chick was beginning to make its way in the world.

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Four days later, it was positively enjoying life. Then, this happened:

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The moral of this story is: we all get foraged in the end.

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Here you can see the clean cuts of someone who knows what they’re doing. They’ve brought a knife with them on their walk and have made an attempt to not damage the mycelium which is attached to the dead wood itself, and not visible here.

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I’ve found some pretty epic chicks in the past, like this 1-2m long gathering on a fallen oak or sweet chestnut next to a river in West Sussex. It’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen. It does make me laugh how bites have been taken from the side, possibly the teeth of deer which are common in this area.

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This one is several months old and had begun the process of falling apart. This is in July and is probably a June fruiting body.

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This is the same day, and here Richard’s coat was not dissimilar to the fungus itself. He is a bit of a chicken in the woods at times, too.

Thanks for reading.

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This post is part of my Woodlands project

View my full gallery of New Forest photos on Flickr

One of the great rewards of cultivating an interest in wildlife is the freshness and newness, the constant change. In spring it’s the woodland flowers breaking through the soil, in summer the bees, wasps and butterflies, and in autumn I seek out mushrooms on the woodland floor. This autumn, however, has not given the third kingdom of biological life, the fungi, what it needs. It has been very dry in the south of England. In October 2015 clouded and trooping funnels were romping across the woodland floor but this year there is very little soil-based fungi. Thanks to the astute minds of woodland conservationists who leave deadwood ‘in situ’ there are still mushrooms to be found and photographed for those of us who seek it. As I’ve said before, I’m not a forager for no good reason other than that I just enjoy photographing mushrooms. The New Forest has received publicity recently for its mushrooms and the Forestry Commission’s ban on all picking.

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Sure enough the signs were up when entering Forestry Commission land. I put similar signs up in my professional life and wish more people would respect the landowner’s wishes. But I sympathise with both sides in this case. Peter Marren argues that the Forestry Commission do more damage than a forager ever could with the use of heavy duty forestry machinery. Mushrooms are just the fruiting body of the fungus itself and the most important thing for any soil-based fungus is the mycelium in the soil. When heavy machinery is used in a forestry setting the soil is churned up and the mycelium destroyed. Even when the biggest band of foragers comes to raid the nest, they will only really be doing what the organism wants – spreading the spores released by the mushroom and leaving the mycelium intact. I sympathise with both arguments and feel that Marren may have the edge scientifically.

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Conservation debates aside, there were lots of mushrooms to be seen. It has only been in the final weeks of October that honey fungus (Armillaria) has begun to appear and I came across large spreads of this most attractive and demonised mushroom. It is necrotrophic and often takes more from a tree than it gives in return in the symbiotic sense, meaning that the tree can often fail. It’s a native species often indicative of ancient woodland, so it’s been killing and breaking down trees for millions of years in Europe. But when it costs people money, people get angry.

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Honey fungus is the common name for a number of different types which are more difficult to identify straight away. I came across this charming clutch at the base of a beech tree. To think that fungi is in the fossil record as far back as 700 million years ago, while the Homo genus we have evolved from broke from other primates 3 million years ago. I feel we owe these unthinkably ancient organisms respect, which means not taking more than we should and protecting their habitats and allowing them to be, well, mushrooms. I think this species is Armillaria mellea owing to the ring and the colouring in the centre of the cap.

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Though I have complained about the lack of fungi this autumn on the soil sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) has had a great year. It took it a while to come out last autumn but it has been first past the post this time. It is one of our most common species, found on the surface of logs and fallen trees.

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Looking back at this macro image of a bonnet mushroom (Mycena) I noticed the small shower of spores leaving the gills and flowing off towards the left. I’ve never seen a mushroom with a cap do this and certainly did not notice until I looked more closely later. To think one of those spores could end up producing a beautiful mushroom like this somewhere nearby.

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Spore dropping mushrooms are known as basidiomycetes, pointing to the basidium which, in mushrooms with gills, is where the spores are produced. Alternatively ascomycetes are spore shooters and myxomycetes are slime moulds, which aren’t fungus at all. Still there? On Halloween you could be forgiven for thinking these were the fangs of a vampire mushroom. But vampires don’t exist, and it’s a mushroom. This is a species from the genus Amanita.

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Though it can be disappointing if you’ve travelled a long way to see a big show of mushrooms in the woods and find nothing much, there is pleasure in finding  a little mushroom down in the leaf litter. This little bonnet was sticking its head above a parapet made of beech leaf litter, hence the brown and faintly orange blur throughout the image.

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Somewhat more incongruous and rock like was this earth ball in the genus Schleroderma.

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No, I am not saying this is a mushroom. It’s the reproductive parts of a moss seeking to spread its spores across the woodland.

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In the plant kingdom the bracken, such an important resource for people and their animals in the New Forest, was rainbow-like. The greens were so dark they almost appeared blue.

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The New Forest is an ancient landscape that supports species of conservation importance across Europe. In England the wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis) is far less common than it once was but Roydon Woods NNR is a good place to find the odd individual tree. I had never seen its autumn colour until this year.

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Out of the woods I found this parasol mushroom hiding in the shelter of bramble. If this was a tabloid article there would be a band of European foragers coming round the corner there with sacks full of mushrooms. There was only a lady walking her dog.

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One of the things to remember at this time of year is how quickly the light fades. On Halloween bats were hunting at 4 o’clock, ready for their upcoming hibernation. Is this why they are such a key part of Halloween’s iconography, because they hunt so close to dusk in autumn we come into contact with them, their shapes imprinted in our minds. I left with the shapes of New Forest ponies grazing the misty horizon of Balmers Lawn, imprinted upon my camera’s memory card.

See more in my New Forest archive

 

 

 

 

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