Entangled Life: the book fungi have been waiting for ๐Ÿ„

Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life has been sitting on my bookshelf for well over a year. It might even be two years. It almost certainly has fungal spores on it, probably mould.

I knew it was going to be an excellent book that contains huge amounts of fascinating info about the fungal kingdom because I’d read the first 50 pages. Alas, I couldn’t find the mental space to take it all in. The reviews have also been almost universally positive, from a broad cross section of readers. This includes people new to the study of fungi and those who are more experienced.

Recently I have had a bit more of that required mental space, after a year of being swamped. I’ve now read the book and It. Does. Not. Disappoint. You get the impression that Sheldrake could write books for the rest of his days focusing on one of the themes chaptered each time, such is the depth of each subject.

It’s the kind of book fungi have been waiting for to tell their stories, as the meme below so totes hilariously illustrates:

I read it with the sense that Sheldrake was using his extensive knowledge and research into fungi to campaign for a better appreciation before it is too late. That said, there isn’t the overarching doom narrative of a lot of nature conservation messaging, more a sense of awe regarding how little we know and have the potential to uncover. This is a book about hope and new possibilities, while understanding some of our planet’s oldest secrets.

It becomes clear halfway through the book that fungi are not an add-on to plants, they are the reason that we even have those bright green things as they are today. It’s a point I often labour at public events and to people not yet convinced by the importance of wilder, species-rich landscapes – without fungi we would not exist.

Suzanne Simard is namechecked as the founder of the ‘Wood Wide Web’, showing that plants actually behave far more communally and that fungi are the lifeblood of the mineral and resource exchange that builds the world we have evolved in. Sheldrake also features several other female academics, a welcome move in a community dominated by middle-class, white male perspectives and privileges. Simard’s book, Finding the Mother Tree is an absolute must-read and is included as a hugely important character in this narrative.

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The more I read about fungi, especially in Sheldrake’s writing, it just makes me think how little we know about anything. We spend a lot of time warring with one another during such short windows of life, we should be using that time to learn more about the incredible world we live in. For example, fungi were only given their own kingdom in 1969, previously just lumped in with plants or as flora. Now there are calls to speak of flora, fauna and funga. Cowafunga, dudes!

Perhaps because most fungi are almost all out of sight (endophytes live within the tissue of plants, rather than producing charismatic fruiting bodies like fly agaric, above ground). Endophytes thus remain forever out of mind. In this sense, our innate human biases (sight) are restricting our ability to conserve vital biodiversity in the form of fungal diversity in soils and other ecosystems. There is evidence about how more charismatic wildlife receive the majority of conservation funding.

Some of the facts on display in Entagled Life will blow you away. Consider that lichens may not be what we think they are, and that some fungi used to ‘lichenise’ but no longer do. The relationships between plants, fungi, algae and bacteria are not necessarily fundamental but more opportunistic. Tree species that are more ‘promiscuous’ are more likely to have found greater dominance over larger areas because they can link up with fungi as they go. The connections trees have with fungi have shaped the landscapes of today.

Further to this, fungi are so biologically complex that it may not be possible to truly name them scientifically as distinct species!

Fungi are able to break down rocks, as they will have done hundreds of millions of years ago to create the first soils and thus stable ecosystems for us humans to evolve in.

Then there are the theories that humans developed complex languages through the brain development spurred on by the ingestion of psylocibin (the hallucinogenic chemical found in some fungi) and other ‘magic’ mushrooms. That remains unproven, as Sheldrake responsibly underlines. But the idea is brilliant and makes life seem so random.

I also was unaware that LSD is derived from the fungus ergot, and ergot infection of people back in mediaeval times may be the reason they ‘danced for days’. Now certain Berlin 24-hour nightclubs make more sense, though they’re way past my bedtime.


Fungamentally this is a book that everyone, from fungi enthusiast to someone just looking to know a little bit more, can get a lot from. It’s written in a very lucid and engaging way, though bear in mind it does take a scientific and methodical approach to its subjects. After the glut of recent nature writing where man-encounters-divine-nature-for-the-first-time, usually in search of one species, that may be just what the mycologist ordered. That said, do species even exist? You have to wonder what Sheldrake will do next with the information he has to share.

Thanks for reading.

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Dulwich Park fungi walk in October

Hi everyone,

I’m pleased to announce that I’m leading a fungi walk in Dulwich Park (SE London) on Sunday 23rd October 2022:

The meeting point is near the cafe at 11am. The walk will last around 90 minutes. The walk is free to attend and is funded by the Dulwich Society.

It’s been such a dry spring and summer but hopefully the stock of old trees and sensitive management that takes place in parts of the park will mean a decent array of fungi can be found. If not, there are always plenty of strange anecdotes about fungi to share.

We’re likely to find common species like inkcaps (above), jelly ear, turkeytail, Ganoderma brackets and brittlestems.

While it’s not a culinary or foraging walk, I can share general information regarding edibility of some common species.

This will be the first walk I’m leading as a freelance guided walks leader (having led walks since 2012). You can find more information about that on my new bookings page.

Thanks for reading.

The cheeseburger fungus ๐Ÿ”

It has been a torrid spring and summer for street trees in southern England. We are breaking all the records for extreme heat and also enduring drought conditions. Street trees have it tough, not only because of the lack of rain but because it can be hard enough for them to access water anyway.

That was hammered home with a tweet I saw recently of someone who had replaced the verge outside their house (not their verge) with plastic grass. The verge was also home to a tree, which will have probably suffocated due to lack of air through the soil and only being able to access water underground.

That said, it has been known for tree roots to seek out water over long distances. Some trees will cross underneath roads to quench their thirst. This becomes increasingly more understandable when you learn that a tree’s roots often extend twice the distance of their height in length under the soil.

Weakened trees on city streets almost always end up with wounds that they struggle to heal, leaving openings for fungi to invade. It is perfectly normal and natural for fungi to grow on trees, and many of them are beneficial. They can help to remove excess dead wood and also act collaboratively with a tree’s roots to trade nutrients.

Some fungi will cause a tree to fail mechanically or biologically. Some will just look like a massive vegan cheeseburger attached to a tree.

I encountered this bracket fungus on a street tree in south London recently and was amazed by the yellow spider silk and webbing. This is the product of the yellow spores the fungus evidently produces, so miniscule that they attach to the sticky silk and turn it fast-food cheese yellow.

The spider that made this web must really be confused by this situation. Perhaps it’s happy with the random redecoration that’s occurred. I wouldn’t mind, it’s actually the colour of my bedroom wall!

I am fairly certain this is Inonotus hispidus or shaggy bracket. It’s a surprise to see it at eye level, whereas it’s usually very high in a tree. You may have seen it as a black fungus sitting at the bottom of a tree trunk. By that point it has finished fruiting and has fallen from its perch. It’s usually on ash but on this occasion was on a whitebeam (Sorbus). If you go walking in an ash woodland at this time of year do take a moment to crane your neck and see if you can spot one up there in its shaggy glory before it comes crashing down to earth.

Thanks for reading.

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The orchids in need of fungi ๐Ÿ„

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.

Thanks for reading.

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The fungus thriving in the Chernobyl nuclear reactor ๐Ÿ„

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The Chernobyl nuclear power station: IAEA Imagebank / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

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.

The Red Forest by Jorge Franganillo from Barcelona, Spain, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Red Forest army

It was found recently that the Russian military had been doing some pretty stupid things in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, beyond the illegal attacks against Ukrainians. Perhaps the most stupid things took place in ‘the Red Forest’, and area of extremely high radiation.

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…

Radiotrophic fungi

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.

It’s a problematic fungus for us humans in medical terms, causing a condition known as cryptococcosis.

Pripyat, Ukraine by Omar David Sandoval Sida, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Radioactive fungi: caesium-137

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 ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: Storm Eunice picks her stick of the week

This was the week when fungi made a comeback in the form of windblown sticks.

I used to do post-storm checks in an oak woodland. It was a really enjoyable task, which may come as a surprise to hear. One benefit of all the damage to trees was seeing what previously was only seen by birds and squirrels in the canopy. By this I mean lichens and other fungi attached to windblown wood.

The West Sussex Weald after the storm

We’ve just had one of the worst storms in thirty years hit the UK, with the first-ever red warning for parts of SE England and the strongest gust on record at the Isle of Wight – 122mph. It has long been predicted that climate change would create more intense weather and the scientists are being proven right. This is at the same time that some of the more reactionary British MPs are seeking to use Brexit tactics to attack plans to protect people from the climate crisis.

A tree blocking the path at National Trust Nymans

From my experience, one of the big ‘losers’ in stormy weather in SE England is the beech tree (Fagus sylvatica). Beech is a ‘poor compartmentaliser’, meaning it isn’t particularly good at preventing fungal decay or rot from spreading to other parts of its anatomy. Oak is better evolved to deal with this.

This was a thought I had on Friday (18th February) as the winds whipped up around outside. I thought of all the beech trees in the Sussex Weald and Downs, exposed on their respective ridges, and how vulnerable they can be.

On Sunday, a visit to the National Trust’s Nymans (so woke, bro) revealed a beech to have suffered. Nymans sits on an exposed ridge, with fantastic views across the Weald (to the Ouse viaduct) and the South Downs. One path was closed and in the distance a beech tree had fallen across it. Taking a detour round and looking at the damage, there was clear evidence that it wasn’t just the storm that was to blame – fungal decay had softened the tree up.

At some point earlier in the tree’s life, decay had entered the tree’s core, leaving it open to this kind of collapse. I’ve posted about something similar previously:

It’s a natural part of life on earth but causes problems for more controlled environments where people want to walk under trees and where they perform vital services as ‘green infrastructure’ among the grey. People who work in insurance will be very busy for the next few weeks assessing the damage that the storm, combined with fungal decay in trees, has caused.
A windblown magnolia tree – spot the mushroom in the background

Also at Nymans, a magnolia tree (which I mistook for an ash until I checked the buds) had succumbed. The roots had snapped and the tree had fallen across a path.

As you can see from this photo, the fungal decay was dominant in the tree’s core. This is probably about 30-40% of the tree’s inner wood close to the roots. The decay had spread to the roots, which is probably what caused them to fail. Tension, which holds the tree up, is lost when the roots give way and thus the tree falls.

This is where the treasure is found. When the branches that were once high up meet the ground, interesting lichens and fungi can be seen for the first time.

At Nymans there were plenty of little sticks with beautiful lichens on show (you may be able to tell these are phone pics). You can look at #StickOfTheDay or #StickOfTheWeek on Twitter if you want to see more of these.

My best find of this kind was a piece of decaying oak wood that I spotted the night before. I saw in the dark this glowing thing under a hedge, underneath an oak tree I knew was in decline. I picked them up and stored them away to be photographed the following day.

This was a stunning collection of foliose (leafy) lichens and a species of Trametes fungus, likely to be turkey tail. It perfectly illustrates the importance of decaying wood in trees, whereby the ‘dying’ wood becomes a source of nutrition and, indeed, a home for the fungi and lichens. Deadwood (saproxylic) insects will be inside the wood helping to break the wood down further. It’s what woodlands across Europe are losing due to the ‘coniferisation’ of plantations and the lack of space to allow woodlands to do their thing. Storms included.

The photo above took off when I posted it on Twitter. So much so that it made its way into the strange world of Weed/Marijuana-Gaming Twitter. Sorry to disappoint those in that netherworld, but I hadn’t even considered that someone might “smoke it” until I saw those replies.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: Finding the Mother Tree

On YouTube I follow Simon Baxter, a photographer who has recently begun to do something most YT photographers don’t do – he has focused on ecology and wildlife in the landscape he photographs. I enjoy watching some YT photographers but my unofficial inner-ecologist tells me that many spend too little time learning to understand the landscapes they photograph professionally, with little interest in the biological life that depends on those landscapes.

Simon has posted recent videos celebrating the role of fungi in woodland ecosystems, an oak one in Yorkshire from what I can work out. He has spoken about his passion for the book by Peter Wohlleben about the connectivity of trees, which is underpinned by fungi.

Peter Wohlleben seems to have taken a lot of the credit for this scientific discovery purely because he wrote a book about it (one which I really enjoyed as well), when that credit really belongs to Suzanne Simard. The phrase was used for the first time in the publication of Simard’s pioneering research in Nature.

Fungal mycelium (the web that connects mushrooms with trees)

Finding the Mother Tree

Simard has recently published Finding the Mother Tree an arboreal-memoir about how she worked to research the relationships and dependencies between fungi and plants in old growth woodlands that were being logged in epic fashion by the regional forestry services. It is a helpful real-world account of some of the things illuminated by Richard Powers in The Understory. There is some suggestion one of the main characters in The Understory is in fact based on Simard.

Finding the Mother Tree is an absolutely stonking read which describes the battles, bordering on persecution, that she faced for challenging the patriarchal systems that dominated woodland management and theory of the time. She is up against men in positions of power who did not want her to do her research and did everything they could to undermine her. It should not be that men now receive all the air-time or credit for the work that Simard did herself.

Simard doesn’t claim to be the first person to learn of these vital interconnections, however. She quotes Indigenous people in America who had stated this to be a fact long ago. It’s what makes her book so enjoyable – it is an exercise in truth-telling:

Bruce ‘Subiyay’ Miller of the Skokomish Nation, whose people live on the eastern Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, had told a story about the symbiotic nature and diversity of the forest, mentioning that under its floor ‘there is an intricate and vast system of roots and fungi that keeps the forest strong.’

Suzanne Simard, Finding the Mother Tree: p.283

It reminds me of a story from an ecologist I met in Romania. In spring, frogs were found by scientists to be travelling down to networks of ponds via melt-water streams in Bulgarian mountain areas. This was hailed scientifically as new research. However, local people had known about this and disclosed it as fact for decades before this research had been completed. Local knowledge is often an untapped resource in conservation.

A special book

I read Finding the Mother Tree while sitting in the waiting room of a hospital, reading chapters about Simard’s breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. Her messages cut through more deeply and, dare I say, gave some comfort in knowing that sometimes people go through these awful ordeals and survive them. People sometimes even prosper in their wake.

Simard’s book is something special, for its ecological deep truth and knowledge, and for her willingness to share her own vulnerability as a woman, a mother, a partner and a scientist. The ecological/environmental/conservation movements are still undermined by the same patriarchal forces of Simard’s early years as a scientist.

The logging industries in Canada, to name but one nation, still log ancient, irreplaceable forests in times of climate and biodiversity crisis. Simard’s book must be read by more people to understand both the ecosystems we need to celebrate and conserve but also to understand what holds back the good work that needs to be done.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: poisonous mushrooms

In England we suffer with a condition that affects many people: mycophobia, a fear of fungi.

If you ask anyone about wild mushrooms, youโ€™re likely to receive a response highlighting the fear of being poisoned. Cultivated mushrooms are a staple of the ‘British diet’ but people have very little knowledge about ones you can eat from the wild, perhaps because it doesnโ€™t seem worth the risk.

Another thing most of us lack is an understanding of where we can forage if we are allowed to. Itโ€™s no surprise, the situation is complicated and in general foraging wild mushrooms is frowned upon, regardless of arguments for or against.

Debunking myths

Itโ€™s important to debunk some myths around the edibility of fungi:

  • Just because another animal eats a certain fungus, it does not mean itโ€™s ok for a human to eat. Deathcaps can be consumed by other animals, whereas the result for us would be extreme
  • You canโ€™t get sick from looking at, sniffing, listening to or even tasting a mushroom (on your tongue), but only from ingesting a part of a toxic mushroom. All in all, if you’re not an expert itโ€™s just not worth a taste-test of a mushroom that could cause you serious illness
  • Some species which are edible still cause sickness in people, and not in a way that is predictable for some people
Fly agaric

Meet the Amanita Family

The most toxic mushrooms in the UK are found in the Amanita family, home to famous species such as the red and white fly agaric. They have some extremely sinister names: deathcap and destroying angel, for example. The deathcap is common in the UK, especially under beech trees. There are other similar species like the false deathcap, however, but the similarity is not so close.

The destroying angel gets its name from the fact itโ€™s pure white but deadly poisonous. This is where a lot of problems lie. People confuse the destroying angel for white edible species like horse or field mushrooms.

One of the more common cases of confusion appears to be people from countries in Asia who are new to places like Europe or North America, foraging mushrooms that look identical to destroying angel but accidentally ingesting the toxic variety. Tragically, this has happened in recent months after Afghan refugees ate deathcap mushrooms in Poland after being evacuated from Afghanistan. There is no reason why they would have thought the mushrooms would not be the same as the ones they ate at home. Knowledge is privilege.

Other toxic Amanitas are the panthercap and, to a lesser degree, fly agaric. Confusingly there are some in the family which are edibles, including the blusher and Caeserโ€™s mushroom (the latter named for its favour among Roman leaders). Remember: no one without relevant expertise should ever consider trying to eat an Amanita mushroom.

Magpie inkcap

Mycophobia

The fear whipped up around these species is, unsurprisingly, exploited in the British tabloid press, with the following being printed in one major English newspaper:

โ€œForagers are being warned about an alarming abundance of Britain’s most poisonous variety of mushroom this autumn.โ€

Thereโ€™s mycophobia rearing its head once again, you could argue. Anyone who knows what the deathcapโ€™s features are is unlikely to ever mistake it for something edible. Itโ€™s about taking care and time and having the right knowledge.

That said, the impacts of the deathcap on the human body are very unpleasant. Though someone can eat the mushroom and not feel any effects for 12 hours or more, it will slowly be degrading the liver on the quiet and other vital organs, resulting in eventual death if not treated.

This podcast covers quite a lot around the attitudes people have to fungi in the UK.

Sulphur tuft

Other poisonous mushrooms to know

One toxic mushroom that is very common is sulphur tuft. Sulphur tuft grows in woods, parks, gardens and even the street. Itโ€™s known to cause mild to severe illness in people.

There are other deadly species which are very common, including such as funeral bell(!) and brown roll-rim. Brown roll-rim can even be found in urban areas, with the first ones I ever saw were in urban south-east London in an old tree-pit next to a main road.

Funeral bell

Itโ€™s also important to know that species which are edible to some like chicken of the woods may cause mild sickness in other people.

Honey fungus

The same goes for honey fungus, which is edible but can make people sick, especially after eating a certain amount of it.

This shouldn’t be seen as a guide to avoiding poisonous mushrooms so please don’t treat it that way, nor is it support for a mycophobic view of the outdoors. Always do your research and understand that you need to develop your knowledge over time. My interest here is the role fungi play in our lives, especially the debilitating fear factor – the mycophobia.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: foraging winter chanterelles

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.

Finding chantarelles

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.

Cooking chantarelles

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?

Thanks for reading.

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My fungal year 2021 ๐Ÿ„

Happy New Year! Another pandemic year in the bag (yay) and a chance to look at some of my fungal highlights of the year that was.

I do appreciate that this post title does sound like I’m updating people on how my infection is going. That’s not the case.

My first fungi post was during England’s winter lockdown when we had to all stay at home again. Options for fungi photography were not great so I delved into my own wood-wide web. The post was about a favourite subject of mine, lichens on Dartmoor in SW England:

January 2021 also turned out to have a little mushroom boom:

Dark times continued through February 2021, but some brightly coloured jelly fungus provided a light in the dark:

Being privileged enough to work from home during the winter lockdown, I spent a lot of time at a computer. Behind me was a yukka plant that had spent the summer months outside. I was amazed (and a bit disturbed) to see that mushrooms were fruiting over my shoulder!

As winter drew to a close one fungus stood out in the woods:

A dry spring until April came with heavy rain. I finally worked out what common inkcaps were:

I gave two lockdown Zoom talks about fungi in 2021, one for London Wildlife Trust (video didn’t materialise) and one for Bell House, a learning charity based in SE London:

In July I found some very nice mushrooms and tried a bit of camera focus-stacking:

One of the few trips I managed to Sussex’s more remote ancient woodlands was in July:

A quick whip round an area of Ashdown Forest in August revealed some early signs of autumn:

I notice perhaps more deathcaps than I’d seen before when out and about in September:

A slow start to the autumn fungi season was dominated by these purple mushrooms in October:

One of my highlights of the year was encountering the stunning violet webcap:

At the crossing of October and November I was lucky enough to spend a couple of nights in Dartmoor National Park. It was dripping with mushrooms, a really special experience:

Thanks for reading and for your support in a challenging year for all.

Daniel

Previous ‘my fungal years’: