Wednesday 17 October 2018

Fungi hunting

I'm sure that many readers already know that I'm keen on hunting fungi - to photograph them, and if appropriate, bring them home for use in the kitchen. Over the last three years I have learned a lot about fungi (mostly with the help of a couple of Facebook Groups and a website called First Nature), and I can now confidently identify lots of different varieties. More to the point, we have eaten many of the well-known edible species, like Chicken of the Woods, Chanterelles, Ceps, St.George's Mushrooms and Hedgehog Mushrooms.

Fungi are all around us. They grow in all sorts of different habitats, sometimes in some very strange places, and if you know what to look for you are almost bound to see some every time you go outdoors. My eyes have become attuned to looking for fungi - I can spot a mushroom at 100 paces these days! Fortunately I live in an area rich with different species, and there are several stretches of woodland full of fungi within easy reach of our house. There are supposedly about 15,000 types of fungi in the UK alone, and sometimes I think I have seen them all. But then next time I go out hunting I find something completely new... 

To illustrate the diversity of fungi in our area I am going to post today some photos that were all taken within the space of an hour and a half last Saturday afternoon - and within an area of approximately 50 metres by 300 metres!

This was the best find - Boletus edulis, aka Cep / Penny Bun / Porcino - popularly reckoned to be the best edible mushroom. Young ones like this are very mild-flavoured though.

This is the Brown Birch Bolete. Not as nice as the Cep, but much more common, and a nice edible species.

Perhaps the most readily recognised one is the Fly Agaric, Amanita mascaria. Not good to eat though because they are toxic. There are huge numbers of these this year.

Perhaps the most common fungus of all here in our local (predominantly Birch) woodlands is Fomitopsis betulina, the Birch Polypore. You can use these to make an infusion with (allegedly) health-giving properties, but by all accounts it is very bitter, so I haven't been tempted to try it.

This weird one is Helvella crispa - White Saddle, which I regularly see in one particular area, every year.

This one is more unusual. It is one of the Otidia family, probably Otidia onotica, Hare's Ear Fungus.

This is Clitopilus prunulus, The Miller, so-called because of its colour and its scent of damp flour. On Saturday I found a few, but they were very small and though edible, didn't make it into any of our meals.

This is Cortinarius hemitrichus, the Frosted Webcap. The Cortinarius family are generally ones to avoid, because many of them are very poisonous (only if eaten, of course).

My next one is Suillus bovinus, the Bovine Bolete, aka The Jersey Cow. It looks as if it should be a good one to eat, but is popularly reckoned to be only just edible, because it goes slimy when cooked.

This one is definitely edible though - it is the Chanterelle, Cantharellus cibarius. On Saturday I visited a spot where these grow, but I only found two tiny ones. Hopefully more will appear in the next few weeks.

One of my favourite mushrooms to eat is the dramatic Parasol, Lepiota procera. Unfortunately this isn't one! It is a confusingly similar-looking toxic variety called the Stinking Dapperling, Lepiota cristata.

I'm not 100% sure what this one is. It's evidently a Lactarius (Milkcap) species, because you can see 'milk' oozing from the gills of one of them, but I don't know which. I'm thinking possibly Alder Milkcap - Lactarius obscuratus, or Birch Milkcap - Lactarius tabidus.

This is the ubiquitous Trametes versicolor, Turkey Tail. It comes in lots of colours ranging from blue through grey to brown. You can see several different colours just on this one log.

Another fungus that has fruited in huge numbers this year is the Amanita citrina - False Deathcap. My photo probably doesn't do it justice, but it has a distinctly yellowish-green hue. An interesting identification feature is that when cut this mushroom smells strongly of raw potatoes. As far as I know I haven't yet seen a real Deathcap, Amanita phalloides, which is surprising since they are supposedly quite common in the South of England.

The next one is also an Amanita - Amanita rubescens, The Blusher (it turns pink / red when cut). I'm including a rather different type of photo for this species - one which homes in on another well-recognised identification feature. The "skirt" on the stem of this mushroom has clear ridges / lines called striations, which help to distinguish between it and a poisonous relative, Amanita pantherina - Panther Cap.

This rather unassuming little chap is a Mycena epiptergyia - Yellowleg Bonnet. From above it's hard to see where it gets its name.

You have to look underneath... Look, it has a yellow stem!

We're nearly finished now. I just have to show you a couple of what I call "NYKs" (Not Yet Known). This one is certainly in the LBM (Little Brown Mushroom) category. You can get an idea of its size by comparing it to the Birch leaves through which it is growing.

My last photo for today is of the smallest mushrooms I saw that afternoon. I don't know what they are, but they were growing out of a small pine-cone.

So there you are -  18 different fungus species all seen in one afternoon - and of course this post of mine doesn't include the ones I didn't photograph because I thought them too mundane or too repetitive, like the horrible Brown Rollrim, Paxillus involutus, which is everywhere this year.

Maybe you can now understand better why I am so interested in fungi? The more you learn about them, the more fascinating this subject becomes. Regrettably, British people are still largely fungi-phobic, and fungi are often perceived to be sinister and threatening rather than attractive and sometimes delicious to eat. In the last generation or two we have seen a considerable influx of people from Eastern Europe, where attitudes to fungi are generally the opposite to ours, so maybe things will gradually change? I hope so.

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