Fungi ๐Ÿ„: amethyst deceiver

The day after last week’s post, I headed back out to another local woodland to check up on the fungal situation. Building on the violet webcap theme, I was this time lured down an amethyst deceiver rabbit-hole. Thankfully, I was able to return from it.

I saw a tweet recently from the editor of the Inkcap Journal about how she could never find these mushrooms. The question was whether they are as bright as people say, or if that was deceptive. They are, of course, deceptive by name but also in their appearance.

I was scanning the path edges along a usual mushroom route I take through this woodland when I spotted a very small, dark mushroom under the birch and holly. It was almost black in the shade but on closer inspection it was one of perhaps 100 amethyst deceivers in the local leaf litter.

As I slowed down upon finding the mushroom, I began to see more and more. They were everywhere. I was careful not to step or kneel on them. I took some photos of them in varying states.

Herein lies this family’s deception – they are often confusing because they can look so different in anything but colour. Perhaps their name also derives from the fact they are hard to see.

These blogposts can also be deceptive. Though I have found things to photograph, we are nowhere near a mushroom peak. Things are not in full flow. The Sussex Weald’s woods look dry still, with heavy rain not yet enough to provide the water for full-on fruiting across the board. In other words, the mushrooms remain small and sparse, but there if you look. This brittlegill was exploding onto the scene like the shark from Jaws.

Something that can always be relied upon is a hard-wearing polypore. This fan of small brackets is the sort of thing you can find all year round.

This yellow stagshorn was climbing every mountain.

There were more of the typical mushrooms, but mostly in the shaded areas under holly or lower vegetation. This crew of bonnets were growing in their hundreds.

On the woodland floor I spotted some very small mushrooms with conical hats. These tips look a bit like the famous magic Psilocybe mushrooms. After a bit of research I decided that they are in fact peaked webcap.

You can forgive me for seeing their similarity for liberty cap, the magic mushroom. In this photo you can see a small amount of the webbing which gives this huge family of mushrooms its general name.

Some of the more summery mushrooms were there to be found. This included the undisputed king of looking-like-they-just-burst-through-the-door, tawny grisette.

Another amanita to be found was this blusher, I think. It is quite difficult sometimes to tell the difference between a couple of relatives in this group, including the panther cap and grey-spotted amanitas.

The pinkish-hue and appearance of the stipe was enough to suggest to me that it’s a blusher, rather than a grey-spotted amanita.

I like the felty-caps of these two friends down among the old holly leaves and sticks.

Before making my way back home I happened upon another gathering of bonnets, again under holly in very shady woodland. It’s where the moisture is and therefore where the magic happens.

If you can, make some time to get out there and find yourself some mushrooms. You won’t regret it.

Thanks for reading.

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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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Unlocking Landscapes podcast: Being a Bee Doctor with Dr. Beth Nicholls

After a month off this summer, Unlocking Landscapes is back and this time it’s outside, with a guest! In August I met up with Dr. Beth Nicholls at Bedelands Local Nature Reserve in West Sussex. Beth is a researcher on the subject of pollinating insects, with a key focus on bees. She works at the… Continue reading Unlocking Landscapes podcast: Being a Bee Doctor with Dr. Beth Nicholls

Fungi ๐Ÿ„: keeping up with the polypores

This week I stumbled across two of the more charismatic polypores you can find at this time of year. Polypores are bracket fungi that grow like shelves, usually from a tree trunk but sometimes also at the base or from a branch.

On a morning walk I went to check on the progress of a polypore Iโ€™d spotted several months ago (pictured above in late June 2021!), growing at the base of a large oak tree.

Oak bracket is one I posted about almost exactly a year ago during a visit to Suffolk. It also goes by the name of weeping conk, with a scientific name of Pseudoinonotus dryadeus. Itโ€™s a parasitic species, which means that this tree may be suffering some internal, โ€˜mechanicalโ€™ trouble. I hope not because it’s one of the largest in the area and is right next to a path. This makes it much higher up the chopping order if public health might be deemed to be at risk. I will never forget being taught that trees werenโ€™t a hazard until we showed up.

This is a very attractive fungus, if you like a dough that drips caramel. It grows at a fairly critical part of the tree, where it meets the ground. Itโ€™s crucial because the tension of the roots holding the trunk upright.

Look into those hundreds of caramel eyes and tell me this is not one of the most beautiful fungi out there.

Later that evening I cycled out to the countryside on what was the end of a September heatwave. The landscape was very dry and smelly. I could smell the manure from my house two miles away in the daytime. That evening I became acquainted with the stench up close โ€“ muck spreading in the fields. It was absolutely rank, undoubtedly made far worse by the heat and lack of rain.

My route took me past the 800-year-old Sun Oak. Like the large oak I saw earlier that morning, this tree was also home to a charismatic polypore fungus.

This red button is a beefsteak fungus, Fistulina hepatica. It may also have been a red button โ€“ do not press the red button. Unless you want to continue watching this programme (BBC joke).

Oh go on then.

In reality this fungus will grow out to form something that looks like a human bodily organ (hepatica). It’s often on oak or sweet chestnut, especially more mature trees. It’s another parasitic species but it’s said to grow too slowly to ever cause the tree structural problems. We should remember that these fungi have been growing with their hosts for potentially millions of years. It’s the impact we have had on their habitats that have made the trouble. Check yourself before you wreck everything else.

Hereโ€™s a recent example that cost me several milligrams in blood as the mosquitos were hanging out under this tree waiting for me to arrive. Beefsteak indeed.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: September deathcaps

This week Iโ€™ve been researching an article about deadly mushrooms. That post will appear here at some point but I felt like I needed to fit in some quality time with fungi in real life, especially as we have technically entered autumn. I visited somewhere in the Sussex Low Weald which is one of the most reliable fungi reserves I know.

In reality I found almost nothing, but for one of the most deadly mushrooms in the business: the deathcap (Amanita phalloides).

I found these two deathcaps growing close together underneath a beech tree. There was something so very strange about this, seeing as I’d spent the previous day reading about them, and only the second time I’ve encountered the species. Both sightings were in September. The bite taken out of one of the mushrooms is a good pointer to the fact that other animals can eat this fungus and not die. Unlike many people who have sadly passed away after mistaking this fungus for something edible.

To find mushrooms to photograph in these dry periods, one of the best bets is to seek out large deadwood, particularly wood in shade. Sulphur tuft was the other mushroom I found, another toxic species. Seriously, what is that all about! Back off, nature.

In truth, sulphur tuft is one of the most photogenic species you can find. At this time of year when there is less rain it looks fantastic. It’s also supposed to be bioluminescent, glow-in-the-dark:

Barisandi, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re interested in that, this excellent podcast episode of The Mushroom Hour is a must listen. I learned that it could be the case that many more species of fungi were once bioluminescent. Over time, they have lost it.

Lichens are, fundamentally, ascomycote fungi. This means that they are much happier in wet weather. I was looking around an old oak stump when I found this beautiful heart-shaped Usnea lichen.

It’s nice to end on a fungus that won’t kill you.

Thanks for reading. Don’t eat poisonous mushrooms.

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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.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: amazing woodland unicycles!

A few weeks ago I visited a local woodland with high hopes for a summer burst of mushrooms. A couple of years ago in July this woodland was showing up some great soil-based mushrooms, species like blusher (Amanita rubescens) and the brittlestems (Russula). Though I didn’t find that this time, there were huge numbers of one species – twig parachute (Marasmiellus ramealis).

The image above is one taken with my camera’s in-built focus stacking, as illustrated below. It takes several images at different focus points and blends them to provide an image which is completely in focus (I don’t know why the halo-effect is happening, for info). With this cluster of mushrooms it’s able to tell the whole story.

When I posted this pic on social media, a couple of people came back with their own descriptions: Julian Hoffman called them “amazing woodland unicycles”, which has to be my favourite. In respect to my aunt who may be reading this, she got there first with “bicycle wheels”.

The set-up needed to get this image is a camera like an Olympus E-M5 which has in-built focus stacking, a small tripod-like thing, some extra lighting and a remote shutter release. You also obviously need a mushroom. The remote trigger allows you to take a photo at very slow shutter speeds which are susceptible to blurring if there is movement. That’s the beauty of fungi and other stationary subjects, you don’t need a huge full-frame camera with exceptional low-light ability. You can just use slow shutter speeds instead.

Though it is of course not fungi, this was another focus-stacking subject on that walk in the woods. Alongside a footpath, on a piece of wood being used as edging, I found this dog vomit slime mould (Fuligo septica)… yes that’s its common name. It was in the process of covering the surface of the wood and extracting nutrients and minerals along the way. Look at the networks of slime as they build across the wood.

And here is another of the VIP behind the scenes phone photos. It’s nice to put the image in context. A vari-angle screen is also incredibly helpful in these situations. If you want any advice on this kind of fungal or slime mould photography, do post a question in the comments and I’ll happily let you know what works for me.

By the way, I was using a 30mm macro lens (60mm outside of Micro Four Thirds camera/lens config). You can actually see the settings if you look at the screen.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: spring inkcaps

Last week I went to visit a woodland that was for sale. I wasn’t buying and the woodland was quickly snapped up anyway. I hope it went to someone who will care for its wonderful ancient woodland wildlife, and that the badger sett within it will go undisturbed. Leaving this beautiful snippet of the Sussex Weald, I found some mushrooms growing in an area of grassland alongside more woodland.

Common inkcap

We have been inundated with rain in the past 10 days, after a very dry April in southern England. Things are leafing and flowering later than last year, and there have been no spring mushrooms from what I have seen. These were mushrooms that were so plain I really wasn’t sure what they were. I took some photos and posted them on iNaturalist.

They are common inkcaps. I’m not sure how I’ve missed this species before, as this was my first known sighting of them. That wasn’t the final grassland inkcap I was to see in that week.

I have a small garden which is ‘managed’ for wildlife and gentle recreation. We’re currently in the midst of #NoMowMay, an initiative in the UK to let any grasslands grow so flowers can thrive, and all the life that comes with that. It’s not just about flowers, though. I was pleased to see (and nearly step on) a tiny inkcap in the lawn.

This is a golden haired inkcap, quite easily confused with pleated inkcap, I would say. The most obvious difference is the size, with the former much smaller.

After all the rain we’ve had, quenching the woods’ thirst, I’m hopeful of some more shrooms appearing in the next week or so. Fingers crossed!

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: witches’ broom

A deformity in the branches of a birch tree

For a long time I’ve noticed an explosion of twigs among the canopies of birch trees but never taken the time to find out what it was. Recently I read that this unusual grow pattern, if that’s what it was, could be caused by fungi. Last week I was out walking in a woodland not far from home when I saw a fine example of this strange occurence.

You can see how this could simply be confused with mistletoe, a similarly bushy growth high up in the tree. But mistletoe is caused by the sticky seeds of the plant becoming attached to a branch. The ‘deformity’ in birch trees looks all the more unusual. I took some photos and had a look online when I got back. When I submitted the record to iNaturalist for some help, I got the result of a fungus with the scientific name of Taphrina betulina. ‘Betulina’ relates to birch in Latin, Betula pendula.

A sunburst lichen with the ascomycete fungi visible in the form of the fruiting cups

This fungus is an ascomycete, related to cup fungi and the fungal fruiting bodies found in lichens. Unfortunately I couldn’t get close enough at this point to ever see those details on the witches’ broom.

It could easily be confused with random birds nests, and you have to wonder if they may actually form decent nesting habitat for some species, probably woodpigeons more than anything else. One thing I notice about the cultural significance of the species is its name – another reference to witches. It must be that anything which looked unusual in nature was referred to as the work of ‘a witch’.

Yellow brain fungus

In the fungal lexicon (is that a thing?) there are a host of jelly fungi which go by the name of witches’ butter. It may be in the case of witches broom that the cluster of twigs looked like the flying broom of a witch, as per the old folktale. That or Harry Potter, anyway.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: online fungi talks this spring

There may not be many mushrooms around at the moment but I do have some good fungi-related news to share. In April and May I’m giving fungi talks on Zoom for two London-based charities!

On Tuesday 6th April at 18:30 I’m giving a talk entitled The Weird and Wonderful World of Fungi for London Wildlife Trust. This is part of the Trust’s Great North Wood festival. The talk is going to be focusing a lot on London’s fungal ecology in terms of woodlands, in keeping with the theme of the festival.

You can see more on the Trust’s website. The event is free but donations are welcome. London Wildlife Trust is a fantastic organisation dependent on the support of people who care about London’s wildlife, so please donate generously!

On Tuesday 18th May at 19:00 I’m giving talk for Bell House, a learning charity based in Dulwich, south-east London. This talk is entitled Fungus amongus: common mushrooms in England and will be about common mushrooms you can find in the UK. This will be more about the basic identification of species rather than the myriad avenues you can disappear off to in the world of fungi.

You can see more on the Bell House website. There is a suggested donation for this event of ยฃ5.

If you can’t make it don’t worry as there will be YouTube recordings to follow.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: scarlet elf cup

On social media in recent weeks one of the dominant fungi photographed has been a bright red cup fungus. This species is one of the most visually stunning, standing out like an elf’s sore thumb in a winter wood. I’m talking about scarlet elf cup.

I visited an area of woodland I have featured many times here, but a place I haven’t been to this year. I don’t know why, it’s close to home but usually requires a car journey because it’s awkwardly difficult to walk to. It’s a mixed ancient woodland with a stream running through it and heathland on its upper slopes.

In the UK heathland is a sandy habitat dominated by heather and pine. In terms, dry lowland heath is rarer than rainforest.

This woodland is managed with the support of volunteers. I don’t know the people who do the good work there but they clearly spend a good amount of time building what I know as dead hedges. These are barriers or piles of cuttings, branches, twigs and sometimes logs. They are there mainly to protect sensitive areas of soil where ancient woodland plants grow. It’s to keep people on the paths, which is best for the health of a woodland overall. These dead hedges also happen to be excellent habitat for wildlife like fungi.

From my experience in the woods and by looking at other people’s photos, I would say scarlet elf cups are happiest in damp, shaded areas. I would even say they are so keen on dampness that alongside streams and rivers is usually a good place to find them. This was a bit of a way from a stream but it ticked all the other boxes. You can see here that it’s growing from a small stick.

This is a nice example of this gorgeous fungus (not something you hear often enough). They grow on something similar to a stem but are a different set of fungi to the usual stipe-based mushrooms. Cup fungi are ‘ascomycetes’ (ask-oh-my-seets) and are spore shooters. ‘Basidiomycetes’ are spore droppers, most of them being the gilled mushroom types.

This area probably had hundreds of scarlet elf cups growing in this long stretch of dead hedge. It will be good habitat for lots of other species as well, including invertebrates and sometimes they’re big enough for small birds like wrens to nest in. The specimen above was snug as a shroom in a trug.

From what I know it’s an edible species, but I wasn’t about to clean out all these fungi from their wild habitat. I had mushrooms in my fridge that were a couple of days close to their best!

Thanks for reading.

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