No nationalism was expounded in the making of this blogpost.
On a recent visit to the National Trust’s Nymans Gardens I spotted some big, cream-coloured things in the lawns near the car park. No, these were not scones or cream cakes, or even pasties discarded by visitors. It clicked almost immediately for me that these might be St. George’s mushroom – and guess what? I found them on 23rd April, St. George’s Day!
That is definitely the most enthusiasm I have offered for this national day. If it were to be made a holiday, then we can talk.
Spring can be a time of shrooms, as the frosts end and the temperatures rise. We’ve had quite a lot of rain this spring in SE England and so some mushrooms will fruit in response. St. George’s mushroom is one of those springshrooms.
Like many people in the UK my sense of personal identity is not straightforward, and I don’t celebrate St. George’s Day. I have strong Irish roots and as a Londoner of 50% Scouse parentage I feel an affinity with a more regional, culturally complex identity, rather than one of red and white, chest-thumping ‘Englishness’, whatever that is.
It makes me wonder though – is this England’s unofficial national mushroom?
A simple online search shows up no such award, which is probably a good thing. Surely that accolade should go to honey fungus!
You may not be surprised to find that its common name changes depending on its location. In Germany the mushroom fruits in May and is known as Maipilz. That means ‘May mushroom’. In fairness to Maipilz, that’s only 8 days later.
St. George’s mushroom is also edible. I didn’t pick or eat this one, and it’s not on my radar to do so anytime soon. The above seems to have been nibbled free in actual fact. Also, I wouldn’t encourage people to forage from National Trust properties generally because I don’t want to get banned.
St. George’s mushroom appears to enjoy garden lawns, so if you’re lucky you may have one popping up outside your front/garden door. As ever, you should be cautious about eating wild white mushrooms as there are several toxic species which can be confused for edible ones.
On 24th October 2022 I spent the morning taking photos of fungi in the Sussex Weald, and was treated to one of the final flourishes of the season. There had been heavy rainfall in recent days and the beech leaf fall had begun, meaning that the mushrooms were beginning to disappear. This often marks the end of the main mushroom glut in autumn, from my experience.
To fast forward to the end, just as I was on my way out of the woods and putting my camera away, I noticed what looked like discarded tissue in a ditch at the edge of the track.
This is a very unusual looking fungus and isn’t the typical gilled mushroom despite their appearance of having a stipe and something resembling a cap. They’re actually ascomycete fungi, so spore-shooters, rather than the often gilled basidiomycetes.
On Sunday 28th May I forced myself, though tired, to go for a walk in the Arun valley in the South Downs. The aim was to try and distract myself from Everton’s final day game against Bournemouth, where my team could be relegated from the top division of English football for the first time in…
Another week of some sun, some showers, and some temperatures that got close to freezing. That sentence may turn out to be a spring epistrophe, but more of that later. In Scotland it reached as low as -5C. April 2023 has been a mishmash of seasons. Here’s what I encountered in my garden on 22nd…
On a recent visit to a local woodland, I accidentally stumbled into teletubbyland. I don’t mean some bizarre, super-rich person’s eco village, simply that I had bumped into one of the characters from this incredibly weird but very popular childrens TV programme.
Of course I’m not actually seriously saying that some giant purple baby thing with an antenna on its head was hanging out in the woods – wouldn’t surprise you though, really – but something in its image. I’m talking about a violet webcap (Cortinarius violacious).
Moving to less colourful characters, in the same area I found a large community of bolete mushrooms, a mix of bay bolete (Imlera badia) and ceps (Boletus edulis). I didn’t pick any if you were wondering, but I did take some pictures!
This is a rather tellytubby-esque bolete, with its friends in the background. There were huge numbers of fungi here, a lovely thing to see. I posted about these recently.
Of course it would be wrong to leave the wild emojis out of this post, which appear to be having a very good year indeed.
I was doing the rather annoying thing of using two cameras for this walk, which meant having hands full but trying to crouch down and not tumble downhill at the same time. I used my wider angle zoom lens for this lovely little russula. The sunlight touched its cap at the perfcet moment to create some very nice highlighting. More and more I think I prefer images where the mushroom can be seen within its habitat.
Here’s some more interesting perspective. I couldn’t work out what this bracket fungus was from afar. It was growing in the barkless section of a beech tree that had part collapsed.
This illustrates it a bit better. I’ve not done any work to try and identify it just yet so am not sure of the species. As ever, if you do know please pop me a comment below.
I struggled to get a picture I was entirely happy with here. This is a false deathcap (Amanita citrina), a common species in oak and beech woodlands. This one was in perfect condition. The light from the sun in the background was quite harsh. I used my phone torch to highlight the gills and stipe.
Here’s the mushroom again from above. You can see the veil remnants on the cap, which have become attached after it broke through from the ‘egg’ seen at the base of the stipe. Looking at the iNaturalist page it says this species is about to be broken up, taxonomically, into several species!
There were many fine Russula mushrooms to be found, and many not so fine. They were perhaps at every couple of footsteps in this part of the woodland. I’m not sure of the species exactly but I like the droplets and the colour of the cap. Russulas also have lovely clean stipes when they first arrive. Doesn’t last though!
I took some mushrooms that had been naturally uprooted home to identify them. I was quite interested in this little group and picked one to take back for ID. Looking through my books and using iNaturalist, I think they are a species of chanterelle. Probably Craterellus cinereus or Craterelluscornucopioides.
Moving even further away from the more typical gilled fungi, I found a nice little grouping of coral fungi. The above look to me like little white fires in the moss. I’m not sure of the species.
These are about as far away from teletubbyland as you’re going to get in this blogpost, so a good place to end.
On a recent visit to the National Trust’s Nymans Gardens I spotted some big, cream-coloured things in the lawns near the car park. No, these were not scones or cream cakes, or even pasties discarded by visitors.
I went for an evening walk down the old trackway to the foot of the mountain. The track was flooded, meaning that without wellies I had to find tussocks and rocks to move further. Where the track turned, I noticed a ram of some kind grazing up ahead. After a time, I realised it was…
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.
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.
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 (Lycoperdonperlatum). 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.
My life inside a snail shell The Funguy: How suggesting I’m into psychedelics made me interesting to other peopleLiving in a badger sett for 15 minutes and other memories Dog poo diaries: a guide to chucking bags at treesMemoirs of a sexist birder: volume 9 and still they won’t edit me Seagull: a day in…
Hello! I wanted to do a blog update post as I have fallen behind with writing and photography, but am still in existence. Believe me it pains me not having the time or mental space to write anything, possibly more than it pains you to read this blog. I’ve just finished working on a short-term…
I’d seen lots of excited posts on Twitter showing fly agaric popping up across the UK. It was pretty clear that it would also be the same story locally to me. Fly agarics seem to fruit in waves, with September being a surprisingly good month for them.
One path I often follow may as well be signposted as mushroom alley, as each autumn it is studded with species like fly agaric and other Amanitas. Though something has eaten bits of this specimen, it’s important to remember it’s a pretty toxic mushroom that comes from a bad family. Fly agaric’s sinister uncles and aunts include destroying angel and deathcap. Panthercap is the cousin who you don’t hear about for a while but who is definitely not good news. Joking aside, these mushrooms are benign to look at, it’s just when you try and eat them that there might be a problem.
That said, they are by far one of the most beautiful mushrooms around. You have to wonder what someone who doesn’t know this thing exists must think when they see them pop up. They’re found in lots of different habitats (and may actually be invasive outside their native range) so that surprise encounter will surely touch someone.
“OMG, they have wild emojis here!”
Nearby were yet more untrustwothy Amanitas, such as this grey-spotted amanita or panther cap. You decide. It’s definitely not a blusher because its stipe isn’t rosy…
Here’s some good parenting, taking the kids out for an evening walk. Whether these are blusher or grey-spotted amanita is the accomplished mycologist’s guess.
Not too far away from that was a grisette, kindly showing off its wings from which it appears but is unable to adapt to flight. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time. That said, fungi do fly due to their spores being pretty much everywhere.
Soothing tree image to allow a moment of calm…
Another narcissist of the fungal kingdom was on fine fruiting form. Porcelain fungus is one-that-almost-always-grows-on-beech-trees. It seems like a lot of the big old beech trees near to me keep collapsing which allows to you to get nice clearance underneath a family of this photogenic fungus. What I mean here is that the limbs are raised off the ground. The situation with the beech trees actually isn’t good, because they’re significant ancient/veteran trees and would take hundreds of years to replace. I just don’t have that sort of time at the moment.
Have I written about this beautifully mucusy fungus before? Well I should have done. It’s actually edible from what I’ve read though you’d need to remove the viscidy stuff on the cap. They’re related to velvet shank, an absolute babe of the mushroom world, hence their photogenicity. I’ve never used that word before.
I’ve been seeing a lot of birch boletes this autumn, but they’re never in good condition. This orange birch bolete was growing under some lush grass growth. As all boletes do, it has pores not gills. At this point you realise how much impact you can have with-three-words.
This is how most of these boletes appear to me, nothing like the baskets that people show off on Instagram from countries like R****a or Poland.
Here we have brown birch bolete, one that always has a disappointment in store when you look under the bonnet. It doesn’t scream “nom, nom, nom” to me. I don’t think that out of focus slug minds too much, though.
In almost the same spot last year I found some nice tangerine-coloured mushrooms like this. I think they’re probably gymno-something or other, but I don’t encounter them often enough to peg their ID down properly.
This is a good place to end, where the world will probably end: surrounded by sulphur tuft. This species is having a good year, and it knows it.
I was visiting a local and very popular woodland on 2nd October when I discovered an incredible scene, like something out of a folk tale. To the side of the path were four bay bolete mushrooms (Imleria badia) growing on the mossy mound created by a fallen tree. They were aligned in some hilariously synchronised arc from the bottom left to the top right.
I couldn’t believe that no one else had noticed this display, seeing as it was so close to the footpath and there were lots of families in the area. I suppose it makes a difference that I was actively looking for this sort of thing. This species is bay bolete, an edible mushroom in that most famous of families, which I have found before in Sussex but never in such a photogenic state. I didn’t pick the mushrooms.
Another important way to identify boletes and their relatives (or allies, as they are oddly known), is to look for pores rather than gills under the cap, as can be seen above.
They really were a joy to find! These kinds of encounters are what make this time of year so special.
There were more great mushrooms sightings to be found during this walk, what will probably go down as one of the best days of the season for me. This is a gathering of sheathed woodtuft (Kuehneromyces mutabilis) on a fallen tree. This is known to be edible but can be confused with the drop-dead poisonous funeral bell (Galerina marginata).
The lighting and recent wash of rain made the mushrooms lovely to look at. Once again you can see where the idea for lampshades probably came from.
I got into an interesting conversation with a man who approached me when he saw I was taking photos of this patch. He said he had been taking photos of mushrooms for years with his phone, and that this would be a very good year because ‘the rollrims were out’.
I think the mushrooms above are rollrims, a group that are renowned for their inedibility and toxicity. The man I spoke to was convinced that their abundance was a pointer to a strong showing to come from the mushrooms. That’s new information for me, and something I will consider as the season progresses.
I judge the potential of a mushroom season by the amount of rain. For example, the woods now (10th October) look as dry as summer only days after heavy downpours. I would put this down to drought in the local area and the lack of deeper levels of water that trees can draw up and provide to the fungi around them or the wider ecosystem. Trees are known to trade water with mushrooms in return for certain minerals and things they can’t capture alone. The rain had swelled some of the gills (streams, as they’re known in Sussex) that had remained dry throughout the summer.
I found one rather boggy area to be covered in thousands of an orange species which I’m not able to identify.
Here’s a closer view for anyone who may have an idea – please let me know in the comments!
Blushers (Amanita rubescens) were out in force, with some really beautiful specimens to be found. This very nicely set mushroom caught the late afternoon light from its position in moss. I would consider this a portfolio mushroom image!
Another nice species to find is porcelain fungus (Oudemansiella mucida) which almost always occurs on dead beech wood (Fagus sylvatica). Nice images of these mushrooms can be achieved when you focus your lens on the underside of the cap to see the dramatic gills.
These days when mushrooms dominate the woodland floor are a reminder that you need to keep pushing yourself to learn more, and not just about the colourful and common species. The better quality leaf litter was, well, littered with grey and brown-capped fungi that I am unable to identify. The photo above gives a good example. I’m not sure if these are Russula or something else.
Under the hollies there were lots of Amanitas appearing, with this potentially being a grey-spotted amanita (Amanita excelsa var. spissa).
Sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) was as common as it usually is, probably making up about 15% of all sightings. It’s a very nice species to photograph due to its colour and the shapes of the mushrooms when young.
These bonnets (Mycena) were a nice find, very hard to miss alongside a main path on a mossy branch. The one on the left really does look like an alien spacecraft.
To finish, one of my favourite things to see at this time of year is the twig parachute (Collybiopsis ramealis). You can potentially take some incredible images with this species, as it sprouts along twigs and other bits of wood.
I didn’t do that on this occasion(!), but the most important thing is to get out there and experience this fleeting time of year. The mushrooms are calling.
The light was low over the Arun valley. To the south the Sussex coast was a band of grey concrete, the horizon between sky and sea broken only by the pale sticks of the offshore wind farms. The Isle of Wight rested out at sea to the west like a great sleeping sloth.
I’m in the middle of reading an excellent book called The Way Through the Woods by Long Litt Woon. It’s about rebuilding her life after the sudden death of her husband, in part by becoming an official mushroom identifier in her native Norway.
This wonderful book has also taught me about my own case of mycophilia (a love of fungi):
The mycophile endeavours to minimise the risk by adopting an extremely cautious approach to mushroom picking – ‘defensive mushrooming’ – and by continually increasing their knowledge.
p.99: The Way Through the Woods – Long Litt Woon
I love this definition. I am extremely cautious about eating mushrooms (actually quite cautious about most things I eat) and look to add knowledge slowly and surely. ‘Defensive mushrooming’ is a role I am happy to undertake.
Now, I’m not much of a forager, for all manner of boring reasons that probably need a blog of their own. But over the years, after finally recovering from a devastating encounter with a tub of M&S cream of mushroom soup, I have learned to enjoy eating mushrooms.
The majority of fungi that I consume are in the form of mycoproteins in products like Quorn and other ‘plant-based’ (LOL) sausages and meat replacement things. If you thought science was slow to identify that fungi are not plants – officially in 1969 – then wait until you see what supermarkets are up to. I’m also partial to shiitake mushrooms which I use in broth or soups with pearl barley, garlic and ginger.
Back in November I headed out to a place where an edible mushroom, the winter chanterelle (Craterellus tubaeformis), fruits in big numbers. I wanted to gather a small amount to try in a pasta dish. Previously my partner bought me some dehydrated horn-of-plenty from Spain, my only experience of eating from this family of delicious fungi. I didn’t use them in the right way and so probably wasted them, to be honest. I needed to put that right.
I had seen and identified winter chanterelles in the past, in the same wider woodland area. They’re easy to ID because of their yellow stipe, the time that they appear, and their ‘false gills’. One of the chanterelles had kindly confirmed its spore print, as can be seen above on the caps of a couple of nearby shrooms.
Here are those beautifully networked ‘gills’ and the strong yellow stipe (commonly known as a stem, of course) which help to identify the mushroom.
We gathered a small number of mature mushrooms and took them home in a plastic box.
At home I washed the mushrooms (the white spikes are from some hedgehog mushrooms) in a colander. There were some nematodes and other bits of soil so you do need to be careful to clean them. The nematodes were placed outside in my garden somewhere suitable for them. You are probably completely put off eating wild mushrooms after that sentence…
Then I laid the mushrooms all out – hedgehog mushrooms on the right hand side – and you can see they’ve been cleaned up.
I then fried some onions in butter and garlic. Or maybe it was olive oil, I can’t remember!
I chopped the chantarelles in half down their centre and added them to the softened onions and garlic in the pan.
The pasta of choice here was gnocchi (is it officially pasta?) which is part potato, part wheat. It’s really easy to cook. I think I boiled it first but you don’t always need to do so. We consumed it like this. I can confirm it was really delicious and that the chanterelles had a lot of flavour.
Things to remember
I would suggest to anyone reading this who wants to go and find wild mushrooms to eat, to consider the following:
Are you able to correctly identify the mushroom you want to consume?
Is the mushroom definitely edible?
Do you have permission to pick mushrooms in the relevant location?
Is the location uncontaminated and therefore safe to consume things that have grown there?
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 spindleshankGymnopilus 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.
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.
An article popped up recently highlighting the chance to see several planets in the sky at once. On the evening of the 29th December 2022, I took out my camera and tripod to see what was happening out there in the garden.
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.
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 week’s encounters with the fungal kingdom (that I know about), are piecemeal. I am still sticking close to home, so no woods or wildernesses, if you even believe in the latter. You might think fungi can only be found in specific places, but we’d all be wrong about that. Let me tell you, fungi are everywhere. We’re the ones who are harder to find.
On a walk at a local estate garden in the Sussex Weald, I found and nominated this lichen-encrusted twig for stick of the week. I’m not sure where the hashtag #StickOfTheWeek started but I think it has something to do with the illustrator @Bernoid.
It’s not common that I personally find any unusual lichens in south-east England. Usually you need to go west to Devon, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland or up north to Scotland. This massive oak tree had a sheath of moss growing on its trunk, which was then home to a colony of beard lichens!
I think these are a species of usnea lichen, species I’m more used to seeing in Ireland and on Dartmoor. I learned from a fellow blogger recently that you are supposed to say ‘on Dartmoor’, because ‘in Dartmoor’ means you’re in the prison. I’ve been to the prison museum and have no intention of being ‘in Dartmoor’ no matter how good to lichens are on its doorstep.
On a lunchtime march from home I re-stumbled upon a gang of velvet shank (Flammulina). I was actually drawn to the site of the first cherry blossom of spring, when I spotted that this churchyard stump was still sprouting shrooms. This is fungus is hard as nails, in terms, because it has toughed it out through the snow and continued to put out fruit. It’s a prime candidate for snowcapped shrooms.
I have some exciting mushroom-related announcements to make in the next couple of weeks. I’m also about to start Merlin Sheldrake’s much anticipated Entangled Life. Have you read it, is it as good as everyone says? Maybe I’ll share some of it in the weeks ahead.
On a recent visit to Streatham Common in SE London, I was taken aback by the number of December mushrooms. In SE England we’ve switched from -5 one day, to 12C a few days later. The seasons seem to be collapsing around us, and then reviving themselves. It feels like the only reliability we may…
As seen on Sunday 11th December, my final guided walk of 2022 for London Wildlife Trust. London woke to freezing fog with hoar frost in places, as temperatures stayed well below zero. These are difficult days to get out of bed, but the rewards of a foggy, frosty oak woodland are too good to miss.…