Is this England’s national mushroom? 🍄

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.

The cap turns brown over time making it look like a barbecued chicken piece

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.

Thanks for reading.

Fungi | Sussex Weald

Bogshrooms, and a life lived wild and free 🍄🐐

Mayo, Ireland, April 2023

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 a goat, most likely a wild goat from the flock that roams the mountain. I had never seen one so close before and began to feel some concern for it. Why was it down here in the floodplain rather than up there out of reach among the boulders and bogs?

Its bleating was weak, distressed. I felt anxiety rising, that I needed to act. I looked at my phone about guidance for finding a wild animal of this size, but it was stuff I already knew and I realised I wasn’t acting rationally. I walked forward, a little fearful that the goat may show aggression, so when it turned to look at me, I backed away and waited.

The goat lowered itself to a sitting position, bleating in a way that suggested distress, weakness. Its voice was breaking, fading. It tried to stand but its legs gave way. It lay with its head on the ground, bleating again. I hadn’t moved, realising what was happening. Its stomach stopped moving. I approached it where it lay, its ears and lips were trembling. Then, stillness. Its eye remained open, and did not move. It had passed away.

A life lived wild on the mountain had ended at its foot, in a very short space of time. There was very little visible suffering, though some fear as it realised it was losing its ability to graze and trot.

I continued on and headed up the mountain. Seeing the death of the wild goat made me want to press on, a gentle reminder that all life has its limits. To the west, Nephin appeared in the distance, Lough Conn as silvery as ever at its foot. In the south-west Croagh Patrick could be see behind a rank of wind turbines. As I reached a curve in the path, where a cleft had been carved into the hillside, a small group of wild goats appeared on the hilltop. We watched eachother for a while, before they headed off out of sight.

I reached the top for the first time since 2017. A broken flock of sheep circled me against the horizon of rocky outcrops, mountains and distant loughs. Being up there will always remind me of the times me and my Dad made it up, always out of breath and red-faced.

Surrounded by bogs and scars of turf cutting, I looked down to try find an unusual species of some kind that I might not see elsewhere, due to the remoteness of the place. Down in a small bit of bog, with sphagnum and other mosses, a group of golden mushrooms were growing.

I had a second camera with me that had a macro lens attached for ease. I took some photos, unsure of the species. Its gills were not unlike a waxcap (hygrocybe) but I knew so little about boglife that I was happy simply to find some shrooms.

I’m still waiting on feedback on iNaturalist, so this remains a mystery. Unless someone reading this knows and can add some information in the comments?

I headed back down the mountain and along the track. There the wild goat rested. I hadn’t imagined its death, and it wasn’t trying to fool me. I went back to the cottage unnerved, reminding myself of a life lived wild and free in the Ox Mountains.

Thanks for reading.

Fungi | Ireland

Snowy disco fungus ⛄

Dulwich, London, January 2023

I’ve helped build a lot of ‘dead hedges’ in my time. Basically ‘fences’ of wood and branches piled between two posts. They happen to be particularly supportive of fungi, along with amphibians and sometimes even nesting birds.

Whilst constructing one on a chilly January afternoon I noticed one of the logs had a smattering of cup fungi. Looking more closely I guessed that these were a type of cup fungus known as snowy disco (Lachnum virgineum). It’s one of the fungus names that really makes people smile, and not in a weird way for once.

Then again, it does sound like a night club in Reykjavic.

I referred to my fungi tomes for more information on the snowy disco, and found that there were actually rather a lot of these tiny but very classy-looking fungi in Europe.

Cup fungi are a different group to the typical gilled mushrooms or ‘basidiomycetes’ that drop spores. The cup fungi are ‘ascomycetes’ – the type found in lichen complexes – shoot their spores from an ‘ascus’ (plural – ‘asci’) instead.

It’s just another reminder that for those who can, it’s a much better environmental option to leave fallen wood in a woodland so the disco can do its thing.

Thanks for reading.

Fungi

Salmon egg slime mould 🐟

This is not a fungi post. If anything, it’s probably closer to animals. It also may exhibit signs of memory despite not having a brain. Sounds like you’re in the right place.

Tuesday 10th January 2023 was one of those awful January days in London. It rained a lot, was windy, and there was no direct sunlight to bask in.

Add to this the fact that the night before a fireball enjoyed a spectacular demise in the night sky, and was easy to view across much of the UK. At the time – 20:00 GMT – I was outside, in the dark, being distracted by the massive moon and a neighbour saying she didn’t want to run me over. Somehow, I missed the fireball and lived to hear about it on the radio the next morning.

Anyway, back down to Earth. Though the woods can be ghastly at this time of year, I find them to be a decent shout for slime moulds. Not to be proven wrong, I was proved right by the sight of little (read: tiny) orange beans at the path edge on an old oak log.

These little droplets of tangerine dream are commonly known by slime people as salmon eggs. It is amazing how these declining fish can fight their way up through places where there are no rivers, to lay their eggs in a bit of wood.

You know that was a joke, yes?

Slime moulds thrive in damp, dark places, usually in decaying wood that has been saturated by winter rainfall.

Elsewhere, the smaller polypores of turkeytail and the like were ‘showing nicely’ as the birders say, though rarely of a turkey’s tail around here.

Thanks for reading.

Macro | Fungi

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Praying for Everton’s survival among the wildflowers ⚽

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…

A spring epistrophe? 🐝

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…

Winter oyster mushrooms 🍄

A chilly afternoon in the Weald of West Sussex on one of those days in early January when you remember their names again. “Moonday” 9th January 2023 was appropriate seeing as the famous old block of cheese was up in the sky that night, howling back down to us. A wolf moon, indeed.

Moons are easier to come by than ‘shrooms, the main focus of my walk around a wet woodland reserve where the river ran free of its banks, merging among poplars like something from prehistory (i.e. no Internet).

A boardwalk cuts the edge of the wetlands where I usually expect to find velvet shank mushrooms. Along with scarlet elf cup, this is one of the winter gems of the fungal kingdom in Northern Europe. In truth, I didn’t find any that I could photograph without having to (theoretically) enter into a wetsuit or small boat.

Instead it was a coastal species that proved easiest to snap, if only in name. One of my favourite Twitter accounts and reader of this blog recently posted some oyster mushroom photos. Another timeline glimpse made me think – this is a seasonal trend, and I should keep an eye out in real life.

They’re a beautiful fungus with dark, purple-grey tops and pale, almost white gills underneath. They’re edible, but I was just there for the pics. You can buy them in the shops or grow them yourself at home. Another friend/regular reader even has them growing in her garden from timber sleepers. Well jel.

One of my favourite actual, single funguses lives here. I’m pretty sure it’s a willow bracket, growing from the bottom of a branch like a hat plucked off someone’s head below/a UFO/some kind of weird leather cushion from the Victorian period.

It makes me laugh every single time. A reminder: if some part of nature isn’t humouring you, “you’re not doing it right”.

Thanks for reading.

Fungi | Sussex Weald

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Is this England’s national mushroom? 🍄

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.

What this hoverfly doesn’t know 🐝

On Sunday 16th April my garden thermometer (kept in the shade, don’t worry) read 16C, and the garden was alive. Here’s what I found in the space of about half an hour.

Bogshrooms, and a life lived wild and free 🍄🐐

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…

Wishing you a very jelly Christmas 🧠

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 have in nature is the amount of light. At this point the Earth isn’t moving off on a different course anytime soon.

Billionaires with ideas need not reply.

Looking through the Common’s oak woodlands I was quite taken by a standing dead oak tree. It was such an unusual shape and it was hard to tell if it was still alive. It wasn’t, in the conventional sense.

Moving around the tree I noticed the frills of what looked to me to be a brain fungus and what iNaturalist has confirmed as Phaeotremella frondosa. It’s what keeps me looking again and again for this strange stuff. It is always a surprise, and so varied and diverse that each week can provide you with something different.

And with that, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has read and/or commented on my blogs this year. I really appreciate the support and interest.

My website’s traffic boomed this autumn as some of my fungi posts appear to have made it into search engines and held prominent positions. That isn’t massively important to me, but it is quite funny to watch readers increase almost in sync with mushrooms in the woods.

Writing and posting photos on here is a massive anchor for me. If I could do this everyday, I would. I will try my best to keep it going strong in 2023.

Thanks, as ever, for reading. Wishing everyone a peaceful and restful Christmas and New Year.

Slava Ukraini 🇺🇦

Daniel

Looking for birds in the frost and fog 🐦

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.

In the woods the fog broke in places, shifting north, making for very tricky birdwatching conditions. We were treated to the tapping of a great spotted woodpecker searching for food in dead branches. Flocks of long-tailed tit hurried through holly and ivy.

One attendee wanted to see redwing for their annual list, which came eventually in an energetic flock high in an oak, then low by a small pond where the guelder rose berries still remained.

I was fascinated by the perspective of a couple who joined us. They were astonished to find ring-necked parakeets in their garden, a bird they had seen growing up in, and one found all across, India. London’s woods don’t sound the same without their shrieking nowadays, whatever the view is on that.

There were a few mushrooms still to be seen, mainly sulphur tuft, the allseeing fungus (it’s just so common), and turkeytail.

Unfortuntaly we didn’t manage to find firecrest or anything as outrageous as lesser redpoll, but it was still a lovely walk.

The photos shared here are taken on my Fairphone in RAW format, then processed in Lightroom. It’s pretty impressive what you can do now with phone cameras.

Thanks for reading.

London | Fungi | Bookings

Earpick fungus in Hampshire 👂

Here’s an account of the final fungi walk of my calendar for 2022. It was held on Saturday 19th November on the birch and pine heaths of Bramshott Common, where Hampshire and Surrey cross paths. West Sussex isn’t far away either. It’s an area that is arguably Wealden in character, but inside the South Downs National Park.

I wasn’t able to take any photos during the walk, other than the header image (not visible in email). For a better account of the fungal communities at Bramshott Common, please see my blog from a couple of months ago.

Back in October this Ministry of Defence site contained basketfuls of mushrooms. On 19th November however, they had all gone on holiday. Where fly agarics had previously flung themselves onto paths, only one could be found across the entire walk, tucked away behind a heather shrub. Interestingly, I had been speaking to the person who did find it, moments earlier. She had grown up in Sweden and spoke about how as a child she was taught about mushrooms in school. This heathy, birchy, piney landscape must have been similar to landscapes she knew from Sweden.

The brown birch bolete parties of the previous visit had dwindled to the last man standing, spotted somehow among the identical shades of fallen birch leaves on the ground. As my scouse family says, well in that lad.

Cassius V. Stevani, IQ-USP, Brazil, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

My personal highlight of the walk was when an attendee found a small bonnet-like mushroom among the leaves. I picked up the pine cone it was growing from. The spindly bonnet slumped, but it seemed to have bioluminescence. The one we saw is not the same species as the one in the image above (Mycena luxaeterna) which is found in rainforest in Brazil, but it had a glow and was a bonnet so that’s not too far off.

Does anyone out there know this magical bonnet mushroom in a European context?

Anyway, holding the pine cone up to show off the glow-in-the-dark mushlette – let’s call it that – I mentioned earpick fungus to the group, a species I had only seen once before that is found on pine cones. Looking at the cone again I noticed a small antenna poking up from the cone’s segments. It was earpick fungus! I wish I could have taken a photo with my macro kit but it wasn’t possible. I was surprised by how small and difficult to see the fungus was, only really spotted because it was so close to my face.

As I’ve said previously this autumn: visualise the mushrooms you want to see in the world. Sometimes it works out well.

Big thanks to Olivia and Dan from the South Downs National Park’s Heathlands Reunited project for putting on the walk, and to all the lovely people who came along and made it worthwhile!

Thanks for reading.

Fungi | South Downs

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Splitgill fungus, another weird one! 🍄

I encountered splitgill fungus again at the end of October. It’s a very attractive species due to its interesting ‘split gills’. But it also has a fascinating biological story. I considered outlandish titles for this blog post, including ‘the fungus that has 20,000 sexes and sometimes lives in humans’. After researching a bit more, that 20,000+ figure was so common it looked like clickbait. I have standards, people.

Visually splitgill fungus is known for its vein-like gills, as seen in some of the images here. Otherwise it’s known for its potentially serious impact on the lungs if you’re ever incredibly unlucky enough to have it make a home in, well, you. As Covid-19 has reminded us, despite our attempts to lord it all over nature, we are a habitat in ourselves, with fungal spores also being present in our bodies as they are pretty much everywhere in the environment.

The splitgill apparently has 28,000 sexes, which may not be as remarkable as us simple humans think. I don’t have the space to go into sex in fungi on this blog, it’s complicated, but it’s also not the same as it is for humans.

The splitgill is also perhaps the most widespread fungus in the world.

It’s a species I most often find on deadwood, usually on fallen beech trees in Sussex. It’s particularly visible in the winter months.

One of the best articles online about the splitgill mushroom is this one, from February 2000! I was a teenager just encountering chat rooms then via my parents’ 56k dial-up modem. Coincidentally, the author of this blog, Tom Volk, passed away in recent weeks. He obviously has contributed a great deal to people’s enjoyment and understanding of the fungal kingdom.

As mentioned earlier, splitgill fungus is also known for some extreme medical issues in isolated cases. Not that you should worry about it:

This is a very interesting YouTube video on the Learn Your Land channel. It lays out all the information about the fungus affecting people medically, and some examples, in a much more interesting way than I can here. Do have a look if you want to know more.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | Sussex Weald

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Apaches over the Downs

A walk from Steyning, along the field edge with those lumpy Downs caught in a smoke-like haze. The sun beat over the hilltops, the trees naked, grey and brown without leaves.

A tale of two hedges in the South Downs

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.

White saddle: one of the weird 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.

I soon realised that these were white saddles (Helvella crispa).

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.

Here’s an update on the status of the violet webcap which I blogged about again in 2022. It won’t thank me.

The sun shifted into the line of this false deathcap (Amanita citrina – about to become several different species!) and made a very nice autumn scene.

Brittlegills are some of the most photogenic little mushrooms, largely due to their clean stipe and gills, and fruit gum-like caps. I’m not sure of this species but I like it.

A Medusa-like group of honey fungus (the most feared fungus in the world).

A younger patch of fruiting bodies, where you can see the lovely honey colour.

I’ve not encountered much stagshorn this year, perhaps only during this walk, which seems unusual.

A puffball at the point of puff.

Elsewhere in the weird fungus stakes is this scalycap growing out of a hole in a beech tree. It was as large and intrusive as it looks here.

Thanks for reading.

Further reading: Fungi | Sussex Weald

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The deep blue sea comes inland 🌊

A lot of rain has fallen in Britain in January. One way I like to gauge just how much, is to visit the wetlands around Pulborough and Amberley in West Sussex.

Salmon egg slime mould 🐟

This is not a fungi post. If it’s anything, it’s probably closer to animals. It also may exhibit signs of memory despite not having a brain. Sounds like you’re in the right place.