Fungi ๐Ÿ„: September deathcaps

This week Iโ€™ve been researching an article about deadly mushrooms. That post will appear here at some point but I felt like I needed to fit in some quality time with fungi in real life, especially as we have technically entered autumn. I visited somewhere in the Sussex Low Weald which is one of the most reliable fungi reserves I know.

In reality I found almost nothing, but for one of the most deadly mushrooms in the business: the deathcap (Amanita phalloides).

I found these two deathcaps growing close together underneath a beech tree. There was something so very strange about this, seeing as I’d spent the previous day reading about them, and only the second time I’ve encountered the species. Both sightings were in September. The bite taken out of one of the mushrooms is a good pointer to the fact that other animals can eat this fungus and not die. Unlike many people who have sadly passed away after mistaking this fungus for something edible.

To find mushrooms to photograph in these dry periods, one of the best bets is to seek out large deadwood, particularly wood in shade. Sulphur tuft was the other mushroom I found, another toxic species. Seriously, what is that all about! Back off, nature.

In truth, sulphur tuft is one of the most photogenic species you can find. At this time of year when there is less rain it looks fantastic. It’s also supposed to be bioluminescent, glow-in-the-dark:

Barisandi, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you’re interested in that, this excellent podcast episode of The Mushroom Hour is a must listen. I learned that it could be the case that many more species of fungi were once bioluminescent. Over time, they have lost it.

Lichens are, fundamentally, ascomycote fungi. This means that they are much happier in wet weather. I was looking around an old oak stump when I found this beautiful heart-shaped Usnea lichen.

It’s nice to end on a fungus that won’t kill you.

Thanks for reading. Don’t eat poisonous mushrooms.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: summer shrooms in Ashdown Forest

I was lucky enough to have a couple of hours to spend in Ashdown Forest last week. The light was beautiful and the views expansive across this famous part of the Sussex Weald. For those who don’t know, Ashdown Forest was the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. I very nearly titled this blog ‘Winnie the shroom bear’.

The mushroom situation at the moment in Sussex is one of a twilight late summer boom, with not really enough rain recently to feed the fungi and maintain the fruiting window. However, where there is shade there is moisture and therefore there is hope.

I followed a path into the woodland, away from Ashdown Forestโ€™s famous heathlands. The ground did look quite dry, so I wasnโ€™t expecting to find too much growing from the soil.

My first sighting was, in fact, in the soil. In the shade at the edge of the path I found a group of common puffballs.

This is an edible species, and though two looked in fairly good condition, I wasn’t looking to forage for food.

On the opposite side of the path a piece of wood was covered in feather moss. The moss was home to a gathering of glistening inkcap mushrooms. They were in wonderful condition, with varying stages of growth in the bright green bed of bryophytes.

Under a beech tree I noticed some large fallen wood sitting in heavy shade. This is always a good place to find fungi because there will be high levels of moisture and damp throughout the year. Especially under beech which casts heavy shade through its leafing phase.

My guess for this species would be stump puffball which grows in large numbers on decaying wood. From a distance they looked like fairy inkcap, but were of course much larger when looking properly. As I knelt down to take these photos, the sunlight broke through on occasion and then faded away. It was a fateful fungi photo.

Off of the path, as I considered whether there was enough time to take things a bit deeper into the woodland, I found an incredible beech tree. This looked like an old beech pollard (regularly cut high) or perhaps a coppice (regularly cut to the stump for regrowth). It had lost a huge limb which lay in front of it, providing a home for a Ganoderma bracket fungus, as so many beech trees both standing and fallen do.

I donโ€™t know Ashdown Forest at all well. It feels to me quite an elusive place. This short walk allowed me to experience more of its quiet allure. I hadnโ€™t expected to see so many unusual beech trees, which would probably qualify as veteran with the discerning experts out there.

This is another wonderful beech tree which has experienced damage to its trunk. The image above shows the treeโ€™s own โ€˜aerialโ€™ roots feeding of its own decaying wood. No doubt fungi has its role here in helping the tree roots to feed on itself by softening up the wood with its own decay processes.

My hour was up and I had to head back to the car park. On the return leg I noticed some very small yellow mushrooms on the bank built up along the footpath. It clicked that they were probably chantarelles. I looked at the gills of one that had fallen loose and could confirm they were. There is a beech leaf in the left of the image above which provides scale โ€“ they really were tiny.

On the way out I noticed the heather was flowering, one of the final acts of summer. Itโ€™s always good when there are shrooms on show to support this darkening shift in seasons. The days are getting shorter, the leaves will soon be on the turn and the mushrooms will be arriving.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: amazing woodland unicycles!

A few weeks ago I visited a local woodland with high hopes for a summer burst of mushrooms. A couple of years ago in July this woodland was showing up some great soil-based mushrooms, species like blusher (Amanita rubescens) and the brittlestems (Russula). Though I didn’t find that this time, there were huge numbers of one species – twig parachute (Marasmiellus ramealis).

The image above is one taken with my camera’s in-built focus stacking, as illustrated below. It takes several images at different focus points and blends them to provide an image which is completely in focus (I don’t know why the halo-effect is happening, for info). With this cluster of mushrooms it’s able to tell the whole story.

When I posted this pic on social media, a couple of people came back with their own descriptions: Julian Hoffman called them “amazing woodland unicycles”, which has to be my favourite. In respect to my aunt who may be reading this, she got there first with “bicycle wheels”.

The set-up needed to get this image is a camera like an Olympus E-M5 which has in-built focus stacking, a small tripod-like thing, some extra lighting and a remote shutter release. You also obviously need a mushroom. The remote trigger allows you to take a photo at very slow shutter speeds which are susceptible to blurring if there is movement. That’s the beauty of fungi and other stationary subjects, you don’t need a huge full-frame camera with exceptional low-light ability. You can just use slow shutter speeds instead.

Though it is of course not fungi, this was another focus-stacking subject on that walk in the woods. Alongside a footpath, on a piece of wood being used as edging, I found this dog vomit slime mould (Fuligo septica)… yes that’s its common name. It was in the process of covering the surface of the wood and extracting nutrients and minerals along the way. Look at the networks of slime as they build across the wood.

And here is another of the VIP behind the scenes phone photos. It’s nice to put the image in context. A vari-angle screen is also incredibly helpful in these situations. If you want any advice on this kind of fungal or slime mould photography, do post a question in the comments and I’ll happily let you know what works for me.

By the way, I was using a 30mm macro lens (60mm outside of Micro Four Thirds camera/lens config). You can actually see the settings if you look at the screen.

Thanks for reading.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: nipping to The Mens

Last week I dropped in on a favourite Sussex Wildlife Trust woodland. It’s a place I only ever visit when travelling to or from work. It’s a place with a funny name, The Mens. It’s even funnier when I tell others I’m going to The Mens after work. The name is said to derive from the word ‘common’, a place where local people would have had foraging and grazing rights in centuries past. It’s now a significant ancient woodland in the Sussex Low Weald, holding National Nature Reserve status. It’s special because of its naturally occuring beech and holly, though I’m no expert on its specifics. It is a uniquely beautiful woodland. It is highly sensitive, and when I go I do my best to treat it with a high level of respect and care.

It’s one of the few places in SE/central southern England outside of the New Forest, that I have visited, where moss and algae cover tree trunks. Above is the typical assemblage of mature beech, oak and a surrounding sea of holly.

You can see indicators of how many mushrooms are likely to be in fruit when you first enter a reserve. I saw the above within the first few paces. It’s is a mushroom called spindleshank Gymnopilus fusipes (to my knowledge, happy to be corrected), which grows around the buttresses of oak trees. In a separate recent walk, it was the most common fungus I saw, and so is enjoying a key fruiting period.

In terms of tree health, I wouldn’t say it was a ‘good’ sign because there is some decay going on and it is defined as a parasitic species. In a woodland like this, it is normal and part of the life of the woodland. It helps to disconnect ourselves from our normal notions of life and death when in woodlands, it doesn’t play out in the same way there. Dead and decaying trees are crucial to a woodland’s life and longevity.

Spindleshank is often first seen like the group below, bursting on the scene. It is probably attached to a root or piece of wood under the soil.

This was the only fruiting mushroom I found during the short walk but there was a large abundance of slime moulds growing on fallen wood and some standing trees.

These orangey-pink blobs are a slime mould known as wolf’s milk Lycogala epidendrum. It’s famous because you can pop it and it emits a gunk of the same colour. It’s quite cool.

You will find it on decaying wood that has been in situ for several years, often in shady and damp conditions.

This species looks a bit like slug eggs. As with most slime mould I find, I’m not sure of the species.

We have had a very wet time of it in southern England, which should be cause for celebration, really. This same species was making the most of the conditions.

Behind the scenes on the slime mould shoot

My camera is capable of doing in-camera focus stacking. This means it can take several images at different focus depths and merge them together to make an image with everything in focus. This is a dream come true for macro photography, especially when the subject is so tiny.

This is a species of coral slime mould. I have seen so much of this in the past few days spent walking in oak woodlands in West Sussex. It’s clearly striking while the woodland is wet.

And so is this little slug.

Thanks for reading.

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Unlocking Landscapes podcast: Being a Bee Doctor with Dr. Beth Nicholls

After a month off this summer, Unlocking Landscapes is back and this time it’s outside, with a guest! In August I met up with Dr. Beth Nicholls at Bedelands Local Nature Reserve in West Sussex. Beth is a researcher on the subject of pollinating insects, with a key focus on bees. She works at the… Continue reading Unlocking Landscapes podcast: Being a Bee Doctor with Dr. Beth Nicholls

Fungi ๐Ÿ„: fungus amongus – common mushrooms in England (Zoom talk)

Really pleased to share this 45 minute Zoom talk I did for Bell House, an educational charity based in London, earlier this month. All the photos here are mine (bar one).

The talk includes a general intro to the ecology and culture of fungi in the UK with a spin through some common species to find.

Thanks to Bell House for giving me the opportunity to speak.

Enjoy!

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: are there *really* mushrooms on Mars?

It’s been such a dry spring that I’m starting to wonder if there are any on this planet! They’re probably not on Mars but it’s a nice idea. Here’s more info on that story.

While I have your attention, allow me to explain some changes to the way this blog works. I am moving from the fixed days of #FungiFriday or Macro Monday. If you’re a regular reader you may have noticed that already. Now I’m making a monthly podcast, I need more flexibility with posting, and I actually sometimes have more to post about on both macro and fungi than just once a week. Also deadlines of Thursday and Sunday are not ideal!

Back to life. After a barren period (no morels for me), I did manage to find a couple of species on a long walk the other day, hiding away in the shade of a country lane. Get ready for phone pics.

This is turkeytail, one of the most common fungi you can find, distributed across the world. It is sometimes used to make tea and extracts are used for their anti-cancer properties.

Dehydrated jelly ear, sometimes known as ‘wood ear’

In Sussex we have recently had rain after a very dry April indeed. If this is climate crisis related, it means that the British tradition of April showers could be confined to the past. Once again, wildlife can point to wider issues in the environment which we are often oblivious to.

In that not-quite-fungi-but-probably-animal category are the slime moulds, of which I found one on the same walk.

This is a great advert for fungi and slime mould because it’s so blatant. It’s a species you see cropping up on social media time and again, with many people intrigued by its presence, often on deadwood. It’s false puffball, a slime mould. Looking at iNaturalist, April seems to be its peak month.

In other news, I’m giving a fungi talk online on Tuesday 18th May at 19:00 (London, UK time) for Bell House, a charity that supports people with dyslexia. There is a suggested donation of ยฃ5 towards their work. You can see the full details and how to book here.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: online fungi talks this spring

There may not be many mushrooms around at the moment but I do have some good fungi-related news to share. In April and May I’m giving fungi talks on Zoom for two London-based charities!

On Tuesday 6th April at 18:30 I’m giving a talk entitled The Weird and Wonderful World of Fungi for London Wildlife Trust. This is part of the Trust’s Great North Wood festival. The talk is going to be focusing a lot on London’s fungal ecology in terms of woodlands, in keeping with the theme of the festival.

You can see more on the Trust’s website. The event is free but donations are welcome. London Wildlife Trust is a fantastic organisation dependent on the support of people who care about London’s wildlife, so please donate generously!

On Tuesday 18th May at 19:00 I’m giving talk for Bell House, a learning charity based in Dulwich, south-east London. This talk is entitled Fungus amongus: common mushrooms in England and will be about common mushrooms you can find in the UK. This will be more about the basic identification of species rather than the myriad avenues you can disappear off to in the world of fungi.

You can see more on the Bell House website. There is a suggested donation for this event of ยฃ5.

If you can’t make it don’t worry as there will be YouTube recordings to follow.

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: scarlet elf cup

On social media in recent weeks one of the dominant fungi photographed has been a bright red cup fungus. This species is one of the most visually stunning, standing out like an elf’s sore thumb in a winter wood. I’m talking about scarlet elf cup.

I visited an area of woodland I have featured many times here, but a place I haven’t been to this year. I don’t know why, it’s close to home but usually requires a car journey because it’s awkwardly difficult to walk to. It’s a mixed ancient woodland with a stream running through it and heathland on its upper slopes.

In the UK heathland is a sandy habitat dominated by heather and pine. In terms, dry lowland heath is rarer than rainforest.

This woodland is managed with the support of volunteers. I don’t know the people who do the good work there but they clearly spend a good amount of time building what I know as dead hedges. These are barriers or piles of cuttings, branches, twigs and sometimes logs. They are there mainly to protect sensitive areas of soil where ancient woodland plants grow. It’s to keep people on the paths, which is best for the health of a woodland overall. These dead hedges also happen to be excellent habitat for wildlife like fungi.

From my experience in the woods and by looking at other people’s photos, I would say scarlet elf cups are happiest in damp, shaded areas. I would even say they are so keen on dampness that alongside streams and rivers is usually a good place to find them. This was a bit of a way from a stream but it ticked all the other boxes. You can see here that it’s growing from a small stick.

This is a nice example of this gorgeous fungus (not something you hear often enough). They grow on something similar to a stem but are a different set of fungi to the usual stipe-based mushrooms. Cup fungi are ‘ascomycetes’ (ask-oh-my-seets) and are spore shooters. ‘Basidiomycetes’ are spore droppers, most of them being the gilled mushroom types.

This area probably had hundreds of scarlet elf cups growing in this long stretch of dead hedge. It will be good habitat for lots of other species as well, including invertebrates and sometimes they’re big enough for small birds like wrens to nest in. The specimen above was snug as a shroom in a trug.

From what I know it’s an edible species, but I wasn’t about to clean out all these fungi from their wild habitat. I had mushrooms in my fridge that were a couple of days close to their best!

Thanks for reading.

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#FungiFriday: beard lichens

Fungi Friday 26th February 2021

This week’s encounters with the fungal kingdom (that I know about), are piecemeal. I am still sticking close to home, so no woods or wildernesses, if you even believe in the latter. You might think fungi can only be found in specific places, but we’d all be wrong about that. Let me tell you, fungi are everywhere. We’re the ones who are harder to find.

Stick of the week

On a walk at a local estate garden in the Sussex Weald, I found and nominated this lichen-encrusted twig for stick of the week. I’m not sure where the hashtag #StickOfTheWeek started but I think it has something to do with the illustrator @Bernoid.

It’s not common that I personally find any unusual lichens in south-east England. Usually you need to go west to Devon, Cornwall, Wales, Ireland or up north to Scotland. This massive oak tree had a sheath of moss growing on its trunk, which was then home to a colony of beard lichens!

I think these are a species of usnea lichen, species I’m more used to seeing in Ireland and on Dartmoor. I learned from a fellow blogger recently that you are supposed to say ‘on Dartmoor’, because ‘in Dartmoor’ means you’re in the prison. I’ve been to the prison museum and have no intention of being ‘in Dartmoor’ no matter how good to lichens are on its doorstep.

Velvet shank

On a lunchtime march from home I re-stumbled upon a gang of velvet shank (Flammulina). I was actually drawn to the site of the first cherry blossom of spring, when I spotted that this churchyard stump was still sprouting shrooms. This is fungus is hard as nails, in terms, because it has toughed it out through the snow and continued to put out fruit. It’s a prime candidate for snowcapped shrooms.

I have some exciting mushroom-related announcements to make in the next couple of weeks. I’m also about to start Merlin Sheldrake’s much anticipated Entangled Life. Have you read it, is it as good as everyone says? Maybe I’ll share some of it in the weeks ahead.

Thanks for reading and stay safe.

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#FungiFriday: a light in the dark

Fungi Friday 19th February 2021

In Sussex we’ve been treated to snow and ice, followed by a sudden jump in temperatures to something spring-like. For mushrooms, it must be a confusing time. It definitely is for this manshroom.

A frozen pond in the Sussex Weald

Today’s post is brought to you by phone pics. I’ve been a bit confused by messaging around lockdown laws in the UK, where it’s unclear if you can do photography at all. It’s just not that important, though. People are suffering beyond my comprehension and in England our National Health Service is under incredible pressure. I’m lucky and I do not take for granted the privilege I have in being able to access the countryside within a few miles of walking.

Yellow brain fungus

For the benefit of international readers, in England we’re supposed to only do walks from home or those involving a short journey. I’ve not been to my usual local woods in a while, but I can get to the edges of them or at least some mature, tree-lined avenues within a couple of miles whilst keeping away from other people. The standout fungus during walks this winter has been yellow brain, Tremella mesenterica. It is such a beautiful fungus and so unusual to see something so bright in the dark scenes of an English winter.

There’s a reason so few soil-based mushrooms are found in winter – the ground freezes and most fungal hyphae are unable to move through the frozen substrate. Fungi that grow from dead wood or other material can continue to do their thing. This rather pooed-upon bracket fungus is known in the UK as lacquered bracket. On social media you see lots of American accounts raving about reishis. There is even a website dedicated to the species under that name.

I wrote a little bit about turkey tail last week, and this week’s post is late because I entertained the idea of a turkey tail post in itself but eventually didn’t have the time. I think this is turkey tail. It’s quite a variable species so if you don’t know the basic features, can be confused with others. I’m it that camp.

Jelly ear

Jelly ear has to be one of the species people notice first. It was my first ever #FungiFriday post! It looks like a body part, is tactile, non-toxic and grows on a common European tree – elder (Sambucus nigra). It’s also very common in urban woodlands and green spaces, which means it reaches a wider audience.

Quite similar to turkey tail is the Stereum family. This is probably hairy curtain crust (yep) and is very common in these months when rainfall is high and temperatures are hovering between 5-15 degrees Celsius.

On a longer local walk I found this veteran beech tree. It had a massive bracket fungus growing at its waist. This fungus had become very woody in texture, which shows how they can survive cold weather. I’d like to get back to see it when it starts to build up its next layer. You can read more about bracket fungi here.

Thanks for reading.

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Postcard from the Dales

Hi everyone, No usual blogs from me this week as I’m away in the Yorkshire Dales. It’s been very hot here which makes walking more difficult (for me). The evening light has been absolutely sensational, though. Walked the Muker-Keld loop incorporating the Pennine Way in part. It’s such an incredibly rich landscape of natural and… Continue reading Postcard from the Dales

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