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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The Sussex Weald: Autumn sunset at Cowdray Park

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#FungiFriday: hedgehog mushrooms

Fungi Friday 9th October 2020

A couple of weeks ago I visited the New Forest and saw hedgehog mushrooms for the first time. There are several species of hedgehog mushroom in the UK, all being edible. Since then I’ve been doing my research to try and learn more about them. This video has been helpful:

In short, hedgehog mushrooms are difficult to confuse with anything else because they have spikes where gills or pores are usually found, under the mushroom’s cap. If you want to eat any wild mushroom you should be sure you have used several different forms of identification and are completely sure of what it is.

I was out for a short photography expedition (walk) at the weekend and I discovered some more hedgehog mushrooms. Their numbers were so healthy and the shrooms themselves were in such good condition, I couldn’t help pick a few for myself.

I used my penknife to cut the mushrooms at ground level. I then used the knife (as in the video) to remove the spikes.

This may help with spore dispersal and allow more hedgehog mushrooms to spread.

This is what they look like in the wild. The caps of these mushrooms were a bit mouldy.

I got the mushrooms home as quickly as possible. I didn’t have an air-proof container to put them in so time was of the essence. I cleared the rest of the spikes from them and washed them, scraping off any excess soil.

I had no idea of a recipe for the mushrooms, I hadn’t even planned to eat them. I fried them in some butter and garlic until they were lightly browned.

In short, they were delicious. I think they would work well with something like chorizo.

Back to the woods where the mushrooms I had no intention of eating were doing really rather well.

The edge of the town I live in has a lot of conifer plantation, once heathland, a sandy, acidic habitat. There is plenty of silver birch which means fly agaric.

This was the best specimen I could find, a veritable pondshroom.

The leaf litter is becoming so damp from recent heavy rain that smaller species are coming up. Woodland soils are incredibly rich in life and our footfall can be very damaging if not managed in sensitive places. This small mushroom (mycena, I think) is one that can be easily found at this time of year. The time before leaves fall is an easier time to find fungi. This is also because after the leaves fall the cold weather comes and mushrooms are held back.

My favourite find of the week, despite the delicious hedgehogs, was this pink fungus growing at the base of a pine tree stump. It took me a while to work out what this species is. Bizarrely, it took the accidental viewing of a YouTube video to learn that it’s called plums and custard! It is a stunning shroom.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: 10 miles of mushrooms in the New Forest

Fungi Friday 2nd October 2020

I found so much for this week’s post that it’s a mushroom-packed blog!

The wait is over, the mushrooms are arriving. I had the pleasure of a 10-mile walk in the New Forest in September. It was a warm and sunny day. It was a special walk because it revealed two species I have never seen before. One renowned for its edibility, the other for its deadliness.

The New Forest is a National Park and Special Area of Conservation. It’s of European importance with places left like it in the continent. Its mosaic of woodland and heath is maintained by free-roaming animals owned by commoners. This in ancient land management practice which, around Europe, is often responsible for the conservation of rare habitats and species. The New Forest was established by William the Conqueror at some point after 1086 when the Domesday Book was created. Its old name ‘Nova Foresta’ translates directly to its current name. It certainly ain’t new anymore.

It’s also more heathland than woodland, an open habitat. ‘Forest’ does not actually mean woodland. It means ‘outside of common law’ or a place where Forest Law was enacted. Forest Law was implemented by the Normans to ensure recreational hunting for the aristocracy was protected from the foraging and ‘poaching’ of local people. Its enactments were often violent. The Vederer’s court still exists in Lyndhurst, where hearings took place regarding acts committed within the Forest.

The New Forest is home to lots of spectacular ancient and veteran trees like the hollowed out beech tree above. It has a feel to it that is unlike other places. It is spectacularly rich in fungi, or at least, compared to other areas of the UK.

Much of the land is owned by Forestry England and they discourage foraging.

The first fungus I found was in a car park, on a bank under pine trees. It’s cauliflower fungus, looking a little bit dry in the sudden burst of warm weather. This is an edible species.

In the buttress of an old oak was this beefsteak fungus, a bracket that looks like human organs. It’s an edible species that has also led people to call the police, thinking that a crime had occurred in the woods!

The most common species of the 10 miles was sulphur tuft. It responds quickly to rain and was popping up in lots of places. This is one of the most common species in the UK and is also toxic.

There was a good showing from the russula family (AKA brittlegills). This one had already been picked.

The crowded gills of russulas are a sight to behold. They are, of course, brittle and so break easily. The gills and stipe are always white or cream.

Unless it’s blackening brittlegill!

Deeper into the woods, this greenish species of milkcap was abundant in certain areas alongside the track. They were under either spruce or pine, shown by the needles here. I’m not sure of the species but they may be either Lactarius deterrimus or Lactarius quieticolor.

I think this is the same species, overcome with a blue-green colouring.

This is a wood or field blewit, which are usually found in grassy areas.

This is my first deceiver of the season, so named because it can be confused for others. I have rarely found that to be the case, though! This is a mega-common species and is also edible. It’s said only to be worthwhile in large numbers.

This doesn’t look great but apparently it tastes it! I knew when I saw these apricot coloured fungi that they were hedgehogs. This is a first for me. I looked for the spikes underneath the caps. They are described by professional foragers as one of the safest species to eat. That’s because they’re impossible to confuse with others due to the spikes and that all the hedgehogs are edible.

This is how they look from afar, note the beech leaves for scale. They don’t look like much.

Conifer mazegill is one of my favourite species of polypore or bracket. I love the velvet-like yellow edge to the bracket. It is a beautiful fungus. I think it’s one I’ve only ever really seen in New Forest plantations or heaths.

Fungi is an acquired taste. This is probably egghead mottlegill, on horse or cattle dung! Stay classy. It was alongside a road at the edge of beech woodland.

I wrote about the amanita family a couple of weeks ago. They were out in force in the New Forest. This is the first fly agaric I’ve seen this year. September is a great month for this iconic species. It has such a depth of cultural significance it deserves its own post.

The blusher is a common amanita which is so named for its pinkish colouring. I’ve read that it’s edible, which is weird considering the consistently poisonous nature of the family.

These are probably panther caps, a leathery-looking shroom. I’m not 100% sure because they seem too big.

False deathcaps were common in Mark Ash Wood, the target for the walk itself. It’s a beautiful ancient woodland with an old stream and wet alder carr running throught its heart. It was in the damp area, on a mossy tree root, that I found a special mushroom:

I had to put this out to Twitter to be sure. I think this is a deathcap, one of the most poisonous mushrooms in the Northern Hemisphere. Another first for me! That is a mushroom that definitely needs a post of its own.

Thanks for reading.

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