Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘Grey-spotted amanita’

St. Leonard’s Forest, West Sussex, September 2020

I walk my bike along the field edge, woodpigeons grazing the dry stubble of the field. It’s another hot day in Sussex and the land is thirsty and dry. In the distance, a hedge line with a number of small beech trees in it seems to have died. Ahead of me a small dustcloud rises and dissolves into some oak scrub. The shadows of dragonflies cross my own, a hawker coming close to my face, perhaps lured by the neon hi-vis helmet I’m wearing.

I’m heading for St. Leonard’s Forest knowing that some late summer and early autumn mushrooms are appearing. I just want to see what’s there, to maybe see something new. From the sloping footpath down into the woods, three mountain bikers appear, breathless.

‘Great sesh boys,’ one of them says. ‘I feel violated.’

Entering into this old heathy landscape, the whispering pines give a sense of endlessness. They remind me of the mountains of the Scottish Highlands and the Romanian Carpathians. Though this is southern England it feels so much like somewhere remote, wild and unchartered. I think that’s what makes these places so important.

The heather blooms still at the path edge, and up on the banks of crumbling soil where pine roots are exposed. I find small suede-capped bolete mushrooms in the shade and take pictures.

I get back on my bike and follow the old track where a couple of weeks ago deer roamed freely. Not today. I cycle slowly along the old ride that bisects St. Leonard’s Forest. In the ditches mushrooms appear: red russulas, blushers and some larger boletes. The sun shines in high contrast in the dark birch woods, where bracken still holds green. A hornet flies among fleabane flowers.

I follow a track down past bare-chested mountain bikers. Like deer, a group of people are crossing the track from one area of woodland to another. They have plastic bags full of things, reminding me of Czechia at this time of year. I slow down and hear a Slavic language being spoken. In a friendly way I ask them if they’re foraging mushrooms.

‘No,’ a younger man with glasses responds. He, too, is holding a plastic bag heavy with something.

I tell them I was just interested to know. I think they probably thought I was a warden or maybe some xenophobe. Really I just wanted to know where all the mushrooms were!

Further ahead the track thins and the woodland pinches: pine, birch and spruce. I get the feeling of a good place to find fungi. Out of the corner of my eye I catch the shape of large discs on a fallen tree. Bingo!

I dismount and take my bike off the path. There are two large bolete mushrooms growing from a log, another of the suede-capped variety half-chewed before them. I find more. Nearby, two small mammals, perhaps voles or shrews, follow each other underground in a way so direct they seem magnetised or attached like train carriages.

I take back to the track and grey-spotted amanitas appear at the track edge in their hundreds. They stand at the side like a crowd cheering me on towards the finish line.

The Sussex Weald

1 Comment

Fungi Friday 18th September 2020

The moment is truly upon us: autumn is progressing and the mushroom world is waking up once more. One of the true symbols of autumn is, in my opinion, the arrival of a dangerous family of mushrooms: the amanitas.

It’s been a hot week of it in southern England, with temperatures coming close to 30 degrees (c). Of course this pales in comparison to what is being experienced in America, which I am very sorry to read about. If you are affected I wish you all the best and that you can find safety. I know of a few fungi people on social media who have seen their favourite woods burned by the fires. I hope Americans vote out the Climate Denier in Chief in November and we can get on with the global efforts required to tackle the climate emergency. It’s happening now.

I visited a local woodland patch with low expectations. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it(!) but there has been so little rain this spring and summer in Sussex. But woods are key resources of moisture, soil needs it to thrive and provide habitat for all the organisms which make it a living thing. Fungi are a key part of healthy soils. Though I wasn’t holding out hope for much, I was surprised to find that grey-spotted amanitas were out in force!

Now most amanitas are identifiable to me by their spotted caps, what are fragments of the veil the mushroom appears from, though you don’t find this as on toxic species such as deathcap or destroying angel. The most famous spotted amanita is the fly agaric, with its archetypal red and white cap, so significant to our species that it made it into Super Mario.

Here is fly agaric, a species which I have seen on social media this week, so it is now fruiting in southern England. I also found it last year in Scotland during September.

The grey-spotted amanita can be most easily confused with the blusher, seen above in the same woodland last year. This species has a pink ‘blush’ to its cap. It’s easier to tell the difference when they’re mature. Again it has the same white patches of the amanita family and a collar.

Away from the amanita family, I was searching around a fallen beech tree when I noticed a small cluster of mushrooms growing from the tree.

I pushed deeper into the undergrowth where the tree had fallen, down into the ditch of an ancient woodbank. There I found one of my favourite mushrooms to photograph, porcelain fungus!

This is porcelain fungus when it’s just appearing, pushing from behind a dislodged piece of bark. It is an edible species, which needs the slimy coating removed before it can be eaten. I haven’t ever eaten them. I have only ever seen them on beech.

Other finds included blushing bracket, which is growing from a fallen log across one of the paths in the prime mushroom spot. It has continued to grow and grow over the past few months.

This is a time of russulas (or brittlegills as they’re ‘commonly’ known) but I think the lack of rainfall is hindering them. I am guessing these two might be charcoal burners. A pleasant surprise in adverse conditions for our mushroom friends.

Thanks for reading.

More mushrooms

2 Comments