Autumn: Foraging for Fungi

It’s that time of year again, the temperature is dropping, leaves are changing and it’s becoming quite clear that the warmth of Summer has gone and Autumn has arrived (albeit slowly this year it seems).

The change in the woodland scenery is quite apparent, from the colourful flowers and butterflies of the summer to the muddy paths and russet tones of Autumn. However, there is still plenty of wildlife to behold at this time of year and if you look closely enough in crevices and damp areas you can easily see a variation of fungi peeking through the undergrowth.

I spent some time this weekend learning about fungi species with the London Wildlife Trust at Sydenham Wood and whilst the weather has been unusually dry of late we were still able to spot several species of fungi. This post focuses on what we learnt (and saw) along with some tips on searching for fungi.

To start off, if you’re planning on a fungi hunt, here are a few tips to help you on your way:

Keep it Cool – Most (UK species) of fungi prefer cool, damp areas so if you find a shaded cooler spot it’s likely that there will be some fungi around.

Eyes to the Ground – many species are small and easily missed (or stepped on). Be sure to check tree roots and path edges – not all species are hidden away in the undergrowth.

Trees are your Friends – 80% of fungi species are associated with trees. A number of species have specific associations and only grow on one kind of tree, this can help with identifying which species you’re looking at.  Some species have a symbiotic relations with the tree (where both benefit from the association) whilst others feed on the bark/root system, crumbling the foundations and ultimately killing the tree.

Be Snap Happy – Bring a camera!  Many species look simillar and can be difficult to idenitfy on the spot, particularly in dim forest light, a clear photo showing the colour and shape of the species can be a life-saver when trying to idenitfy a tricky find later on.

And now, the fun part.

What species did we find and where to spot them?

Spindleshank Mushrooms

Spindleshank Mushrooms (Gymnopus fusipes)

We found several clusters of these mushrooms, commonly known as toughshanks, throughout the day, mainly around the base of Oak Trees.

A red-brown species with a distinctively tough fibrous stem, Spindleshanks are often found at the base of broad-leaved trees where they attach to their host tree’s underground roots.

Iodine BonnetClustered Bonnet

Angel’s or Iodine Bonnet (Mycena arcangeliana)

Bonnet mushrooms are a common and widespread sight in English woodlands.  This particular species can fruit singularly (left) or can occur in tufts (right).

Keep an eye out for this species in broadleaf woodlands around the trunks and branches of fallen trees. Distinctive features include a bell shaped cap and grey colouration, as well as a slight iodine-like smell (particularly when dried).

King Alfred's Cake

King Alfred’s Cake (Daldinia concentrica)

I have to say, this was one of my favourite finds of the day, in part due to the name.

The fruiting body of this widespread species initially starts out as a reddish-brown colour, that blackens as it ages. It has a tough outer exterior and can be used as a charcoal-like substance once dried – ideal as natural tinder.

This particular specimen was found in a quiet, lesser-used area of the woodland, hidden amongst the undergrowth growing on a dead ash tree (a favourite of this species).

Veiled OysterVeiled Oyster Underneath

Veiled Oyster (Pleurotus dryinus)

This indivudual was actually found close to a well-walked pathway (proving that you don’t necessarily need to trek far to find fungi). It was one of the more difficult of the day’s finds to identify, requiring the use of a few guide books

The photo on the left shows the mushroom emerging out of a wound in a decaying log, whilst the one on the right shows the clear, white gills of the mushroom’s underside.

Saffron Drop BonnetSaffron-drop Bonnet (Mycena crocata)

Last, but certainly not least is this colourful little specimen, that is usually found amongst woody debris in deciduous woodland, particularly beech.

Like the other bonnet mushrooms, the Saffron-drop has the distinct conical-shaped cap.
However, this particular species is quite distinctive in that, when the stipe is broken, it exudes a red/orange liquid giving it quite an unusual appearance.

And thus ends the description of some of the species found this weekend.  I haven’t included every species we found here, as that would be a very long blog post indeed, instead choosing to includ some common and distinctive species, along with a few of my personal favourites.

Along with the species above, we also came across: Candlesnuff (Xylaria hypoxylon); Beech tar Crust (Biscogniauxia nummularia); Beech Wood Wart (Hypoxylon fragiforme); Clustered Bonnet (Mycena inclinata); Oak Curtain Crust (Hymenochaete rubiginosa); and the remnants of a Beef Steak fungus (Fistulina hepatica), which is more commonly found in August and September.

If you want to learn more about fungi in your local area, have a look at your local wildlife trust for fungi walks – there you’ll be able to learn which species you’re likely to find in your backyard as well as tips on how to confidently identify them.

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