Category Archives: Mycorrhizal Fungi

Corruption and Decay in Darkest England

Now with new improved Fizz.

By the time Fizz and I got out yesterday it was getting dark and there was no chance of getting any decent pictures. This morning it seemed a bit brighter and we decided to have another try.

FogThis fog was to the South and on the hills. First we are heading North to Badger Alley, it is not so bad there.

Yesterday I found some more Oysterlings and I want a chance to photograph them.

Badger AlleyI have heard Oysterlings described as the most photogenic of fungi and I didn’t think that when I found them growing on slimy green vegetation.

Oysterlings

Oysterlings

Oysterlings

OysterlingsThese look quite a bit nicer. These mushrooms have got legs, there are lots of little ones still to come so I shall be back to visit these again soon.

So that is the Oysterlings. Next….

Don’t eat yellow snow!

Remember our Pear-shaped Puffballs?

Pear-shaped PuffballI told you that all Puffballs were edible but that you must cut them and make sure that they are pure white inside. I need to show you what I mean.

I am reluctant to take another one of these as I want to watch them mature and decay but this is an important stage in their development. So selecting the biggest one….

Pear-shaped PuffballThis one has started to yellow. You shouldn’t eat them like this.

Pear-shaped Puffball

Pear-shaped PuffballNow this isn’t where we are going today. Fizz and I are going back up to the Sweet Chestnut Coppice to look at the Honey mushrooms that we saw about two weeks ago. The coppice is up there in the fog.

FogI have to keep Fizz off the road as much as possible so we are going through the fields. Here are your Fizz shots for today.

FizzI am afraid that I have already got her messed up a bit and she is no longer “fresh back from the cleaners.”

Fizz in Fog.

Fizz

Fizz

FizzEventually we have to take to the road but we have by-passed the narrowest parts.

Fog

Fog

FogOnce we get up here we are safe and can walk on the grass.

FogHere is the wood we have come to visit. You can just tell that the light in there is going to be perfect for photography.

FogThis is what I have to put up with every day in England!

I quite like fog it is better than constant rain 🙂

So where did we leave that tree?

FogSo here is our first fungi in the coppice. This is Hairy Curtain Crust, Stereum hirsutum. This grows all over the world and you will find it in Australia and North America. It is very common and we will see a lot more in the next couple of months.

Hairy Curtain Crust

Hairy Curtain Crust

Hairy Curtain CrustWho is rocking the log!

A IdiotWhat sort of an idiot are you? Just asking.

A IdiotGet off the log.

A IdiotHairy Curtain Crust.

Hairy Curtain CrustNotice that she was on a lead in those last pictures. I have just heard an animal moving about in the woods. We don’t get to see it. It was probably Deer, there are a lot of them around here but there are also Wild Boar and Boar would be dangerous for Fizz. (they might knock her off her log) She is safe so long as she stays close.

My next find is a stinker.

Stinkhorn FungusPhallus impudicus, this is a Stinkhorn Fungus and it is living up to it’s name. I don’t often find them with the gleba intact like this (Gleba is the disgusting bit), flies are usually quick to eat that bit but I guess in Winter there are not so many flies around. This specimen has been hanging about for a bit and is truly repulsive.

Stinkhorn FungusI want to have a closer look. I am a boy and I like disgusting things 🙂

I need to dig it up and see it’s egg.

Stinkhorn FungusSadly it broke when I lifted it. The stem is very hard and brittle.

Stinkhorn FungusInside the stem is sitting in the egg but does not seem to be attached to it in any way.

Stinkhorn FungusIt just slides out.

Stinkhorn FungusThe jelly like egg remains.

Stinkhorn FungusUp at the other end the stem didn’t seem to have any attachment to the cap either. The cap just slid off and slimed everywhere and it stank.

Stinkhorn FungusInteresting but that’s enough of that.

Let’s move on to the Pigskin Poison Puffball.

These are the decaying remains of the Common Earthball,  Scleroderma citrinum.

Common EarthballQuite a few of them had opened like cups and now contain a soup of poisonous spores and rainwater. (I need to photograph all aspects of a fungi’s development.)

Common Earthball

Common Earthball

Common Earthball

Common EarthballThen finally we found our Honey Fungus. That too was decaying.

Honey FungusI was very interested to find that my Honey Fungus, Armillaria ostoyae was itself being attacked by another fungus. This is some kind of parasitic fungi. I don’t expect to be able to get an ID on it but I am trying to find out more as we speak.

One expert has already advised me to collect some in a tupperware container and see what develops. Hmm….. Not sure that I am ready for the responsibility of keeping another pet.

If I find out anything then I shall let you know.

Honey Fungus

Honey Fungus

Honey Fungus

Honey Fungus

Honey FungusDid I tell you that Winter cut really suits you? You look lovely.

(Ha ha! I remembered to read the back of my hand)

FizzCome on. Let’s go home before the Boar get us 🙂

Fizz

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In the Garden

As we have the run of the place this weekend Fizz has been showing me around her estate.

Fizz's EstateThis garden is on the opposite side of the house to my flat and I don’t come here often. This is a lovely thick mossy lawn that you sink into and leave footprints.

FootprintsIt is mown regularly with one of those drive on lawn mowers but there is a thick bed of moss under the grass. It is full of mushrooms.

Fungi

Fungi

FungiThank you for showing me this Fizz. This is a really nice piece of grass.

FizzI expect that we will be having a look at some of these mushrooms in more detail over the next few days.

I am going to start with this one.

Parrot WaxcapThis is called a Parrot Waxcap, Hygrocybe psittacina. It is one of the easiest Waxcaps to identify.

Parrot Waxcap

Parrot WaxcapWell it is parrot coloured.

Most Waxcaps are edible but nothing special. They don’t taste particularly good and many of the species are quite rare, for this reason it is generally frowned on to forage for Waxcaps. They are often slimy as well, so a bit off putting. There is no good reason to eat this one.

However the Parrot Waxcap is one of the more common ones and so I am going to cut a couple open and have a proper look at them.

Parrot Waxcap

Parrot Waxcap

Parrot Waxcap

Parrot Waxcap

Parrot Waxcap

Parrot WaxcapThose colours are real by the way. It is a beautiful little fungi that could almost certainly learn to repeat things that you said to it, given time. Unfortunately the fruits don’t last long enough to learn things like that.

These Waxcaps are regarded as an indicator of grassland quality. I have heard that they can only appear on grassland that has been maintained and unimproved (unfertilised) for at least thirty years. Natural grassland. So Fizz’s grass is good grass.

As to what they are doing here, it was long believed that they were saprobic on grass roots but the thinking these days is that they have a mutually beneficial relationship with mosses. That would make good sense this is very mossy grass.

Parrot Waxcap

Parrot WaxcapThere is more fungi to come if I can just figure out what it is 🙂

The Night I Didn’t Get Ate By Zombies

Ha! We seem to have fungi coming out of our ears.

This is a story for those doubters who question the idea that I may have a Gorilla up my back passage, or an Emu for that matter, we will have to wait for the results of that one. So this is a story that is a bit more realistic.

This all didn’t happen about eight or nine years ago when I was camping out in woodland in East Sussex. I owned a little bit of land there and I had a regular camp where I would stay most weekends.

It was just a platform in a Sweet chestnut Tree.

Base CampThis picture was taken in winter, most of the time I didn’t have the basha up, I liked to sleep under the stars.

The animals made this place special for me. I had been feeding them here for years and my camp was always full of life. The Squirrels were the cheekiest.

Grey SquirrelOn this particular day I had seen something out on the track that I wanted. (The first of our mushrooms)

ParasolThis is a mushroom called a Parasol and it is good to eat.

If you are lucky enough to live in the UK then this is a good one for foragers. There are no  poisonous mushrooms that look like this. The only possible exception is the Shaggy Parasol which many people cite as edible but is known to cause gastrointestinal problems in some individuals.

This information definitely does not apply to North America where there is a very poisonous look alike called the False Parasol that is the largest cause of mushroom poisoning there. They don’t occur in the UK.

The Parasol, Macrolepiota procera has dark fixed scales on a creamy background.

ParasolI am not saying go out and eat a spotty mushroom, it must have at least a passing resemblance to the one I am showing you.

Amanitas have spotted caps and some of them are very poisonous but they usually have light coloured spots on a dark background. Stay away from white ones.

Fly Agaric

Grey Spotted AmanitaAmanitas also have floppy fixed rings and sit in a cup although that isn’t always obvious.

As soon as the cap opens you can see that a parasol has a ring, it is loose and you can move it up and down the stem.

ParasolIt also has a lovely snakeskin pattern on the stem. If you want to avoid the Shaggy Parasol then look for that pattern. The Shaggy Parasol doesn’t have it.

ParasolSo here is the mushroom that has caught my eye today.

ParasolIn the US the advice is not to eat young caps like this because at this stage it is easy to confuse them with the poisonous False Parasol. In the UK they are best like this.

This one has a lovely pattern on the stem and I know that it is safe to eat.

ParasolOkay regular foragers will probably hate me for what I am going to do next. The Parasol has a very good flavour and it is best served on it’s own or with mild flavours so that you can appreciate the mushroom to the full.

However earlier in the day I had foraged myself a nice venison steak, some chillies, tomatoes, prawns, a few sprigs of rosemary and some strong cheese. It is just while I was out hunting the Deer I noticed this little mushroom and thought that would fit right in there beside my steak in my little pan.

So it is back to camp and prepare the food.

DinnerYes it is getting dark now but when you are out in the wild there is not a lot to do after dark, except cook and eat and stuff like that.

So discard that beautiful stem, it is tough and fibrous. Lose the ring obviously and chop your vegetables into reasonable sizes.

DinnerPop it all into a little pan and notice that the wild mushroom adds a certain visual appeal to an otherwise rather bland meal

DinnerOn this particular evening I served my meagre repast with a small bottle of the house Jack.

That little bottle probably saved my life.

DinnerAfter eating and cleaning up I settled down in my tree to enjoy the evening and it was a good one.

Stars twinkled in the sky. Tawny Owls called to each other. The old Badger came around and we drank some more whisky and told each other stories.

BadgerI remember that I was telling him about the old days when I used to be a Pirate, before I became a Big Game Hunter and Butterfly Collector. (Not all of my stories are true)

I drifted off to sleep with a strong feeling of peace and well being around me and I slept like a log. To this day I believe that it was that deep sleep and possibly the fact that I was up a tree that saved my life the night that I wasn’t ate by Zombies.

I was awoken by somebody pelting me with peanuts.

“Wake up Col! It’s Zombies,” his little eyes seemed to say.

Grey Squirrel(Bluebells? Tell the continuity lady that I need to speak to her right now!)

What is it little Squirrel, do you want me to follow you?

I jumped out of my tree and followed the Squirrel, there were brains splattered everywhere.

Purple Jelly DiscCould it be Ogres? They would crack your bones to suck out the marrow but then, they would definitely eat the brains. This was something else, probably Zombies. I took as many pictures as I dared and I got out of that wood sharpish.

Purple Jelly Disc

Purple Jelly Disc

Purple Jelly DiscI looked it up when I got home and you are never going to believe this…

It is another mushroom. Well it is a fungi called Purple Jelly Disc, Ascocoryne sarcoides. It is what they call a saprobic fungi and that means that it feeds on and breaks down dead wood and other organic matter. This one typically feeds on Beech Wood but here it was eating Sweet Chestnut.

This thing that Fungi do in breaking down dead matter is hugely important to the ecology of the woodland. If fungi didn’t do this everything would just stay where it died and we would be up to our necks in it.

Fungi fill many other roles as well. There is a huge amount of fungi in the forest but most of it we can’t even see. It lives underground and in the bodies of fallen trees. The bits that we do see are just the fruit of a much larger organism.

Kingdom Fungi is so diverse, just as much so as Kingdom Plantae and Kingdom Animalia but sometimes harder to study because we can’t see it. What we can see fascinates me.

Purple Jelly Disc

Purple Jelly DiscWell thank you for reading this nonsense. Now it is time to walk the Dog. 🙂

We have to just leave the Gorilla Cam where it is for a few days. Animals can smell when we have been around and our best chance of getting anything lies in staying out of the way for a bit. I will post results later in the week hopefully.

 

The Poison Pigskin Puffball

Wonderful name.

We had a request to do fungi a couple of posts back and so yesterday Fizz and I set out on a Fungi Foray.

This one is Scleroderma citrinum, another name for it is the Common Earthball.

Poison Pigskin PuffballIt is common. There were dozens of these on the forest floor yesterday and it is also one that I have known for most of my life but  that is okay. 🙂

I set off to explore a derelict Sweet Chestnut Coppice. There are a lot of fallen trees and rotting wood and given the time of year and the recent rain I felt that I had a good chance of finding something exciting.

I took with me an experienced Truffle Hound. (Well, the best that I could find at short notice)

Truffle HoundShe had trouble understanding that if you want to have you photograph taken in the forest then you have to stand very still because it is dark.

Truffle HoundThat’s Better.

Scleroderma citrinum:

Poison Pigskin Puffball

Poison Pigskin Puffball

Poison Pigskin PuffballThis is not a particularly bad fungi, It is what I would call a “Rum Bum and Tum” one. Ingestion of the spores can cause gastrointestinal distress. It certainly isn’t edible.

It is very difficult to mistake this for an edible puffball which has a white or creamy white centre whilst this one is quite black in the middle.

It is composed of a very thick skin with spores inside and that is about it.

Poison Pigskin Puffball

Poison Pigskin PuffballIt is the spores that you want to avoid.

As the Earthball Matures the spores inside turn to dust and then the skin splits and the spores are carried away on the wind.

Poison Pigskin PuffballSome people like to stamp on them and see the dark cloud of spores engulf their feet, that is fine, it is just what the mushroom intended to do any way but I would recommend being at least six foot tall. The further your mouth is from the spores the better your chances of not embarrassing yourself later in the day or experiencing discomfort.

I trod on a couple yesterday, quite accidentally and had to go to pains to steer Fizz around the cloud that appeared as a result of my clumsiness.

The Common Earthball has no stem, it is attached to the ground by the white threads of the mycelium.

Common Earthball

Common Earthball

There is another fungi that exists as a parasite on the Common Earthball called pseudoboletus parasiticus. It is very rare and can only exist in the company of Earthballs. It looks like this.

pseudoboletus parasiticusThat is not a great example but it is the only one that I have ever found.

The thick skin of these fungi breaks down slowly after the spores have been released and it is common to find these empty yellow skins quite late in the winter.

Common Earthball

So what is it doing in the forest. Well it is a mycorrhizal fungi and that means that it has a symbiotic relationship with the trees in the forest. The fungi connects with the roots of trees and exchanges water and minerals in return for carbohydrates. Both the tree and the fungus benefit from this relationship.

Now I can not find this written down anywhere but I feel sure that it must also have a role in breaking down dead wood as I very often find the fruits emerging from rotting wood.

Common Earthball

That is the Common Earthball, Scleroderma citrinum.

Scleroderma citrinum

Amanita muscaria

Amanita muscariaFly Agaric to you and me or just “Home” if you are a Pixie.

Amanita muscaria is the Toadstool of fairy tales and imagination and that is a good starting place but it is much, much more than that.

This was probably the first fungi that I learnt to identify, that makes it the one that I have loved the longest and the hardest one to write about but I will do my best.

Probably the most important and most wonderful thing to talk about is what it is and why it is in the wood. Then there are the stories and the folk lore and the uses that men have found for it.

Let’s start with identification.

The Fly Agaric  mushroom comes into this world as a little white knobbly thing that you probably wouldn’t recognise.

Amanita muscariaIt is covered with a white veil that will break up as the mushroom grows and will provide the white spots that cover the bright red cap.

If you cut one open now you will just be able to see the line of colour that is going to be the red cap.

Amanita muscariaAs the cap grows the veil breaks up. Those white spots can be washed off quite easily and this fungi can vary quite a lot in appearance.

Amanita muscariaAmanita muscariaThe white veil that covered the mushroom was called the “universal veil”, there is a second veil under the cap that protects the gills as they develop, this is called the “partial veil”. As the mushroom grows  the partial veil detaches itself from the outer edge of the cap and falls down onto the central stem to form the characteristic ring.

Amanita muscariaAmanita muscariaAt the base of the stem there is a cup like structure that the mushroom seems to sit in, this is called the volva and it is usually topped with a couple of rings which are remnants of the universal veil.

Amanita muscaria

Well I have written quite a bit on how to identify the easiest mushroom in the world next I want to tell you about what it is doing in the forest.

Fly Agaric is a mycorrhizal fungi and finding that fact was the one thing that really started and/or changed my interest and understanding of nature, it was momentous for me.

I was always interested in wild life but now I started looking at nature as a whole thing, there is an interdependence where everything works together and is connected and that is my interest. And I see that after all these years I am no better at explaining this than when I first started.

Fungi do all sorts of jobs in the world, some break down dead matter and some are parasites, they have many roles and they are not just for getting hippies high.

Fly Agaric is a mycorrhizal fungi. A difficult word to spell it is easy to say “mica-rizal”. It means that the fungi has a symbiotic relationship with another species in this case it is usually Birch trees. (Also conifers)

Amanita muscariaTwo very different species become one as they join together to aid and support each other.

The Mushroom that you see is just the fruit of a much larger organism. The bulk of the fungi is underground. It’s body is made up of a lot of little thread like structures called hyphae and collectively known as the mycellium.

The hyphae become physically connected with the roots of the tree and they exchange things that the other can not provide for itself. It is mutually beneficial. The fungi can access phosphates in the soil that the tree can not reach and it exchanges these along with water and other mineral nutrients for a supply of carbohydrates, glucose and sucrose that the plant manufactures through photosynthesis, something the fungi can not do. Cool.

Amanita muscaria

Finding out about this helped me to develop my understanding of what ancient woodland is, it is not trees.

Technically Ancient Woodland in the UK is land that can be shown to have been wooded for the last 400 years. That is as far back as our records go. Land that was woodland 400 years ago is probably woodland that developed naturally and may have been woodland for thousands of years. It is an irreplaceable resource.

It means that the land has never been disturbed, it has never been put to the plough and there is a lot going on under the ground in ancient woodland.

Most plants benefit from some sort of mycorrhizal relationship it is not just Birch and Fly Agaric. Scientists haven’t tested every plant on the planet but of those they have 95% have turned out to have a mycorrhizal relationship.

The whole world of nature is bonding and working together like a single giant organism with millions of different little components and the pink monkeys that strut around on the surface proclaiming their lordship are not really getting it.

As a pink monkey myself I am not seeking to understand it, I won’t live long enough to do that. I am just looking at it and loving it, like you might watch and enjoy a good movie.

I expect that you want to know about the drugs.

Amanita muscariaBy a strange coincidence the most beautiful fungi on the planet is also the most fun one.

Fly Agaric is a powerful hallucinogenic. I am not going to write about the compounds that the fungi contains or the specifics because you can look that up but more importantly cave men didn’t need to know that. Men have always known about Fly Agaric and it has history and lore that goes much further back than any of us can remember.

Most commonly Fly Agaric is associated with spiritualism or religion in one form or another. It has long been used to invoke a trance like state and to dream of other worlds.

If you want to use Fly Agaric as a recreational drug then you should talk to Frank. It is considered poisonous and it has nasty side effects.

I know that I am not your dad but there are much easier, safer and better ways to get high, if that is what you want to do and with less vomiting.

The best way to consume Fly Agaric is to feed it to your Reindeer and then drink the animals urine. People have been doing this for a very long time and it works. (You can not substitute a domestic pet for the Reindeer!) The animals body will filter out the impurities that cause the vomiting and it will be a much more pleasant experience.

Failing that and if you don’t have a Reindeer then drinking your Shaman’s urine after he has consumed the fungi will work just as well.

The next bit is for Shaman only. NO HIPPIES!

(I was born in the 1950’s and have long grey hair, work it out)

(No I wasn’t at Woodstock man)

Amanita muscaria

Fly Agaric is best consumed after it has been dried and swallowed without chewing. Drying the fungi increases it’s hallucinogenic potency by about five times and the potency is in the skin of the cap.

About twenty minutes after swallowing it your muscles will start to twitch and spasm and that will be followed by dizziness and a trance like state which I have seen described as a death like sleep. You will vomit out the mushrooms but that doesn’t matter. During this sleep you will have vivid and believable dreams and then you will wake feeling elated. People have been aware of this property of the mushroom for a very long time and they have been putting their own interpretation on what it all means.

Other people just used it for recreation and I mean cave men, our ancestors. The fungi is an intoxicant and not everybody is religious, not by a long shot.

Amanita muscariaFly Agaric for me is one of the big ones. It is one of my Seven Wonders of the World. Right up there with the English Oak and the Wild Boar and Bramble. I shouldn’t really have tried to write about it yet. It is just too big a subject to cover in one post and I will never do it well.

But if we are going to have fungi then let’s have great fungi. I am looking forward to showing you how to start a fire with Cramp Balls and how to cook a Parasol in the jungle. It is a big world. Later.

Amanita Muscaria.

Amanita muscaria