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.
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”.
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…
In mid-October I met up with the Heathlands Reunited team at a Hampshire heathland in the Surrey borders. The meeting was to scope out a fungi walk I will be leading with them next month, and I thought it would be worth sharing some of the sightings. They will no doubt differ next month when autumn is well and truly progressing towards winter.
Very early on we found a perfect scarletina bolete (Neoboletus luridiformis)! This is one of my favourite species, having only seen one once before, on chalk on the South Downs Way in 2019.
Elsewhere in the bolete family, there were loads of brown birch boletes (Leccinum scabrum), most of which were in very good condition. Bramshott is a heathland so there’s a lot of birch there.
There were also plenty of Boletus edulis but they seemed to be mostly covered in mould after recent rain. This part of the Weald and Downs is quite misty and damp at times, so the mushrooms were probably quickly affected by the conditions.
There were lots of these red mushrooms that you may have heard of before. They’re enjoying a good year.
Less spotty amanitas included the highest numbers of tawny grisette mushrooms (Amanita fulva) I’ve ever encountered.
This grisette had fallen over. At the base you can see the ‘egg’ the fruiting body emerges from.
Along with those amanitas, the most common mushroom by a long, long way was the brown rollrim (Paxillus involutus). This is a poisonous mushroom which seems to be having a very good year.
Here’s a closer look at one of those grizzly bears. I first saw this mushroom when attending a walk from someone who taught me a lot – David Warwick – in Nunhead in SE London. He pulled what looked like a piece of rubbish from an old tree pit, what turned out to be the brown roll rim. I’ll never forget it!
As mentioned previously this season, the russulas are having a strong year. These lovely yellow ones, were appearing afresh from under the pines and birch. You can see a collapsed amanita in the background.
I have considered whether to try and spend more time learning to identify russulas. My focus is on learning families rather than getting obscure fungi down to species level. I am not completely a scientist in this and my aim is to produce photographs and write these blogs. It becomes all about how much time is available to you and what the best use of that time is.
As we finished scouting the route for the walk, we bumped into a group of women who were picking mushrooms. They had a woven basket full to the brim. From what I could make out they had picked a lot of honey fungus, ceps, a scarletina bolete and one of the leccinum boletes. We got talking to them and discovered they were Polish – I can speak a little bit, which I deployed here, always received very warmly! – and the woman in charge really knew her stuff. She said she was going to pickle them in olive oil and was happy with the slug-bitten state of that cep you can see on the lefthand-side.
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…
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.
In June I was down on the Sussex coast at the mouth of the river Cuckmere. During a bioblitz event I was supporting I discovered something I never expected to see. At the foot of either the first or seventh of the Seven Sisters cliffs, the fenceline and surrounding grasslands were alive with invertebrates. One large thistle plant was covered in all kinds of insects. I felt especially drawn to a beautiful orange and black ichneumon wasp clambering over the spiny leaves. But there was something else that caught my eye.
I noticed a dead fly in a quite unnatural position, a bit like an upside down koala. It was clamped onto one of the spines in a way that reminded me of the famous victims of the parasitic ‘zombie fungus’ cordyceps. Luckily I had my macro lens with me and could get a close-up of the fly.
The body looked an unusual shade for this species and, looking closer, you could see it was kind of mouldy. I showed everyone I could, taking away the images and several questions I needed to answer for myself!
That afternoon I put the photos on Twitter and had a quick reply from Lukas Large, a known fungi expert in the UK. He said it was a species of entomophthora, a group of fungi that kill flies, just as this one had done. It does much more than that beforehand, however.
Somehow, the fungus enters a final stage of mummification where it ‘gains control’ of the fly’s brain and therefore control over its functions. The fungus is then able to make the fly move to a high position in order to disperse its spores from the dead fly. That is mind blowing in more ways than one.
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…
In June I did a long walk in the Surrey Hills around the famous Box Hill. The North Downs are absolutely fantastic walking country, being so easily accessible from London via public transport, and having some of the UK’s rarest wildlife, along with dramatic hilly landscapes and views.
The human (as well as the natural) history of the North Downs is incredible, with much of the North Downs Way coalescing with the Pilgrims Way.
Early on in this walk, I happened upon an area of yew trees and spotted some chicken of the woods growing. It’s always a nice thing to see.
Lured in by the sight of the fungus, I then found a massive dryad’s saddle growing like a gramophone from a beech tree. This is a fairly common larger fungus to find in June. It’s a summer woodland species.
Having moved round to look at the ridiculous gramophone fungus, I spotted what looked like dead growths of a wildflower or maybe a garden plant that had been dumped. After a minute or so I realised it was in fact a type of orchid: bird’s nest.
This isn’t a species I had ever seen before. It certainly wasn’t at its ‘best’, even though it lacks the colourfulness of other species nearby like common spotted or pyramidal orchids. There’s a really good reason for that.
It has a dependency on fungi. Its lack of cholorophyll is because it receives its food from fungi in the soil, which is also in relation to the roots of trees. The orchids were growing under yew but with beech in close proximity. It’s just another reminder of the role that fungi play in maintaining diverse ecosystems.
Away from the orchids, June is a good time to find chicken of the woods. We’ve had a very hot and dry spring/summer in southern England, and along the trail I noticed that a lot of the chicken had collapsed in brittleness. It’s not even worth looking for mushrooms growing in the soil, it’s just so dry. Fungi once again, or lack of, will show you that we are living through hotter and drier summers in southern England.
The North Downs, like its southerly sisters, the South Downs, are a chalky landscape. There are lots of beech trees in this type of soil. This means the very large Ganoderma bracket fungus is a pretty common sight on the many beech trees that are found here.
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.
Thanks for reading my 600th blog post! Prepare yourself, there’s a lot to take in here.
I’ve been interested in the history of Chernobyl for several years, mainly after learning about the ecological experiment created from the complete abandonment of the area.
If you have the chance to watch the TV drama Chernobyl, do it. It is one of the best TV dramas I’ve ever seen.
A recent documentary covering the story of the nuclear accident Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes and the resulting clean up, is also worth watching. A warning of course that both are graphic and disturbing in their own ways.
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986
Recently I have read Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy. It’s a very sobering account of all that happened in 1986 and how it all came to be. It’s so grim I can’t read it for too long without needing a couple of days off.
I’ve been reading it during Russia’s second attempt to commit genocide in Ukraine (April 2022), after Putin’s ragtag army’s failed attempt to take Kyiv and exact regime change. Russia are doing terrible things in Ukraine and the people responsible must be held accountable. I hope I live to see Putin brought to justice.
When are you going to get on to the fungi – you might ask? I promise you, we will get there eventually, and it will be worth it.
Soldiers are thought to have dug trenches in this mind-bendingly radioactive landscape as part of their special radioactive military operation. The Russian military were seeking to invade via Belarus in the north and eventually control Kyiv. Famously, they failed spectacularly, committing war crimes in Bucha, Irpin and other areas before having to retreat.
It was the case at the time around the disaster that the Soviet Union denied the full impact of the accident. In reality many thousands of people will have been contaminated by the radiation from the damaged reactor, but according to the official toll only 31 people have died. It may even be that the soldiers invading Chernobyl did not know that it was dangerous. It beggars belief.
Though those soldiers will not have fared well with the radiation, it was discovered that a species of fungus does not just do well with the radiation, it is thriving inside the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl. Thriving. Inside. I know…
Cladosporium sphaerospermum is that fungus. It’s usually found growing on the leaves of citrus trees, but as a radiotrophic species it appears to find favour in environments like the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Scientists are looking to use its ability to protect from the ill-effects of radiation to protect people in certain environments in space.
The unusual thing about the fungi found in the reactor was that they were not exisiting in spite of the radiation, but because of it. It does go to show that if there is a nuclear holocaust, some fungi will survive and contribute to the world that follows. That world probably wouldn’t have many humans in it.
Far more problematic for us humans is the fact that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster released extremely dangerous levels of caesium-137 into the atmosphere. This of course directly affected ecosystems across Europe where the radiation spread. Fungi absorb their sources of nutrition from their surroundings, making them likely to absorb radiation also. This website has taken the incredible steps of listing which mushrooms are more likely to become radioactive, compared with those which aren’t.
What this all effectively means is that any lingering radiation in the environment will remain in the ecosystem because fungi will absorb it. I don’t have the information but do wonder if there are some mushrooms which may never be eaten again within a certain range of the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
This article points to a very striking impact of the radiation in woodlands in the exclusion zone. Basically, higher levels of radiation are causing a build up of leaf litter and woody debris, because fungi are inhibited and unable to perform their core ecosystem function of recycling. This means there are higher chances of fires breaking out and redistributing radioactive material.
I bet you wish you never read this post.
Thanks for reading anyway. Solidarity with Ukraine 🇺🇦
Since 2013 I have been visiting a small area of ‘Celtic rainforest’ I know in Co. Mayo in Western Ireland. It’s hard to find much ecologically significant woodland in Mayo, a place of vast peat bogs, wetlands and where the woodlands are largely low diversity plantations of spruce and larch. Nine years ago I found one woodland on the map and asked my parents if they wouldn’t mind dropping me off there. In March 2022 I had about 30 minutes to check in on this real gem of an oak woodland.
I don’t want to give the name of the woodland openly because it is incredibly sensitive and is already experiencing the impacts of anti-social behaviour (fires, litter, human waste… not that you would head straight there to mess it up!) but if you want to know the details you can contact me via email for info (email@example.com). It’s one of the special Western Atlantic oak woodlands which the western edges of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland are known for. This woodland is rich in ancient woodland plantlife and is also good for fungi, as you might expect due to the long-term stability of ancient woodland species communities.
Upon entering I spotted the little red traffic light of a scarlet elf cup in among the moss. This is a species which thrives in damp and shady woodlands near water.
The woodland here is close to a large lough so it is never short on moisture.
I was astonished to find this naturally-occuring terrarium on the woodland floor. Someone had chucked a jar here and the mosses and other plantlife had colonised it.
After a few minutes of searching where I had found it back in 2017, I saw this. It is a seriously impressive species.
I was so pleased to find the tree lungwort again. It’s unlike similar organisms we find in the UK. It makes far more of its fungal elements than other lichens through its size and spread. Remember: in lichens, fungi provide the physical structure and fruiting mechanism (usually a cup-style spore shooter), while the cyanobacteria or algae are able to photosynthesise and harvest energy from the sunlight.
The oak trees in Celtic rainforest provide habitat for plants as well as lichen. There are often modest ivy vines trailing the trunk, as well as other epiphytes such as ferns and mosses:
Another thing I noticed was oaks leafing on the 31st March. This may be the earliest I have ever seen oak come into leaf, but the race between ash and oak is certainly a contest. The old saying of “If the oak before the ash, then we’ll only have a splash, if the ash before the oak, then we’ll surely have a soak” doesn’t quite play out from my experience. The very warm March we’ve experienced in the British Isles has possibly more of a role to play in this than traditional benign weather or climate patterns might.
One thing I learned from observing the other communities of tree lungwort were that the lichen seemed to prefer younger trees. I didn’t observe any on more mature specimens of oak. There didn’t appear to be a lot of oak regenaration but then again there was no danger of overgrazing due to the quite isolated nature of the woodland, its lough-side location and livestock being nowhere near.
Another lichen I observed was one of the pixie cup lichens in the Cladonia group but I couldn’t tell you the exact species.
There were many candidates for #StickOfTheWeek, so much so that there wasn’t even much of a stick to look at!
Last week I went for a walk in rather grey and glowery weather. It was in hope of seeing some earlier spring signs but was more a reminder that winter persists.
I found a small collection of glistening inkcaps, along with one of my favourite large brackets. Those are pictured here with my hand for scale.
Otherwise there were some small polypores (probably turkey tail) and a few lichens that had been enriched by recent rain.
Life is rather full-on at the moment so I’m not finding the time or energy to write something longer or more detailed. It’s also a mental thing, just don’t have a lot to say. Photography will be the focus in posts for a little while.