The Fungus Among Us
It’s late September, and a wander around the forest fizzes with an early autumn energy, bombarding all of the senses.
Hawthorn laden with bundles of perfect, crimson berries. Posses of long tailed tits weaving through the undergrowth like a single, chattering filament, flowing one after another. The underfoot crunch of footpaths blanketed with acorns, coupled inevitably with the cacophonous shrieks of a jay as it obsessively hoards and caches them.
But there’s one bit of autumn I love most. A bit that reminds me of the reliable, never-wavering cycle of nature each year. The lusciousness of summer and a season of growth, life and reproduction is coming to an end, and a whole other gang of organisms is waiting to take advantage of the forest’s natural bounty.
It’s fungi season!
The fungal kingdom is a fascinating one. Mushrooms, toadstools, brackets, yeasts, rusts, moulds – fungi is EVERYWHERE. Yet it’s a world often observed with caution and met with indifference. Its association with death, decomposition, rot and poison can give it a bad rep – but we’d be nothing without it!
We have 15,000 species of fungi in the UK – coming in every colour, shape, size, texture and smell you can imagine. Nutrient recyclers, decomposers, tree networkers, plant waterers and feeders – they have many jobs. Without fungi we wouldn’t exist.
Following a summer of growth, there’s heaps of organic plant matter waiting to be broken down. Sherwood Forest is a fungal haven; we’ve recorded over 200 species here, many of which are rare across the country!
Next weekend is #UKFungusDay (think of it as a mycologist’s Christmas). To celebrate, we’ve invited Notts Fungus Group down to the forest for a day of fungi fun, including guided walks and awesome specimens. Best of all, it’s free! You can read all about the event here.
To get you in the mushroomy-mood, I’ve picked five charismatic fungi you’re likely to spot around the forest at this time of year. Have a wander and see what you can spot!
The fantastic five
1. Fly Agaric
The most charismatic fungi that pops to mind when you hear the word ‘toadstool’! Enshrined in folklore, with it’s snazzy red and white spotted colour scheme, this one’s easy to ID!
Fly agaric, Amanita muscaria, is a lover of birch. It forms a symbiotic relationship with this tree – meaning both benefit. The mycelium (white, thread like part of the fungus which lives underground) wraps around the tree’s roots, and supplies it with nutrients from the soil. In return, the tree provides the fungus with important sugars. Win-win!
2. Hairy Curtain Crust
This funkily-named fungus is also known as the false turkeytail. It grows as wavy brackets on wood, and often appears fuzzy, or hairy, on top when young.
It’s a lover of deadwood, and can be found carpeting fallen branches from trees like beech and oak. It plays a really important part in breaking down dead wood and recycling nutrients in the forest!
3. Beefsteak fungus
Like something out of a horror film, or straight off a fancy evening menu, the beefsteak fungus is pretty iconic! It looks like a slab of meat growing from a tree, and even ‘bleeds’ some convincing red juices just to keep up the authenticity.
Apparently it doesn’t taste quite as good as it looks, but is still eaten by some! It’ll grow on living oak trees – but won’t kill them. Apparently, the timber of a tree infected by the fungus develops a darker stain, which is quite highly-prized.
It’s been a great year for earthballs at Sherwood. They look like scaly potatoes carpeting the forest floor, and are fans of rich soil in woodlands with lots of oak – e.g. Sherwood Forest!
If you cut an earthball open whilst it’s still hard, you’ll find a beautiful dark purple spore mass inside. As the fungus matures, this substance becomes a fine powder. The outside becomes weaker, and will split to release these spores into the air and thus spread around the forest.
The stinkhorn is cracker of a fungus, ticking all the right boxes. Weird shape? Tick. Oozy? Tick. Stinky? Double tick.
It’s latin name pays tribute to its appearance – with the word ‘impudicus’ roughly translating to ‘shameless’ or ‘immodest’. We’ll let you figure out the rest…
Appearing first as a white egg, the fungus ‘hatches’ into this horn form. The brown goop on top of it is the source of its smell; a sickly mix of sweetness, decay and carrion.
Known as the gleba, this goop attracts flies by the dozen. As they feed on this tasty goop, they’re unaware it contains the mushroom’s spores. It sticks to their feet, and when they buzz off they inadvertently spread the fungus with it. Pretty clever!
So, if you go down to the woods today, share your fungal finds with us!