Had great day taking a lovely group of people around Tiger Hill. Lots of mushrooms out at the moment, boletes, brittle gills, parasols, grisetes, blushers but the best find yesterday was the hen in the woods.
Booking for our mushroom foraging courses are on the Mushroom Table online shop Foraging page. Held at Tiger Hill, a Local Nature Reserve, in the beautiful tranquility of deepest Suffolk. With over 250 species recorded at Tiger Hill, if you want to get to grips with the world of fungi, this is the course for you. From exquisite edibles and miraculous medicines to terrible toxics, the wide variety of fungi is there to discover.
The cool damp weather has spurred another group of mushrooms into life, the boletes. This is a group of mushrooms that are easily recognised because they have pores rather than gills. Boletes are mycorrhizal fungi usually growing associated with particular types of tree, though some associate with other woody plants such as heather and rock roses.
In north Essex oak is a common mycorrhizal partner and most of the boletes this week were found with oak. One of the most impressive is the Oldrose Bolete, with the grand name Imperator rhodopurpureus. This is a large mushroom with a dull red cap, bright orange pores and a bulbous yellow stem covered with a fine red reticulum (a network of red veins). All parts stain strongly blue when bruised. This is a relatively rare mushroom mostly from the south of the UK
Another of the large boletes around at the moment is the Rooting Bolete, Caloboletus radicans, This is a firm fleshed mushroom with a buff grey cap and bright yellow pores and stem. The stem and pores bruise blue. This mushroom has a very bitter and sour taste.
Another common bolete found with oak in north Essex is the Chestnut Bolete, Gyroporus castanea, a small bolete with a chestnut coloured cap and stem and creamy white pores. The stem has hollow chamber within it. This is a very sweet tasting mushroom with a flavour reminiscent of sweet cured bacon. Because of it’s size and colour it is not easy to spot amongst the fallen leaves.
There are a large number of similar looking small boletes that I generally refer to as Butter Boletes. This is because they have butter coloured flesh with a soft buttery texture. The commonest is one known to foragers as the Red Cracked Bolete, which is now known to be two species, Xerocomellus cisalpinus which grows with broad leaved trees and Xerocomllus chrysenteron which grows almost only with conifers. Both have a dull brown cap cracking to reveal a red layer below. The pores are yellow becoming greenish as the spores are released. In both the stem is flushed with red but in X. cisalpinus the top of the stem is bright yellow. Both bruise blue but X. cisalpinus bruises a much darker colour.
A closely related species which lacks the red between the cracks in the cap and is yellow instead is the Sepia Bolete, Xerocomellus porosporus, The stem is a grey brown colour with a red ring near the top and a yellow zone above this. It bruises blue especially in the pores.
A very similar looking mushroom to the Red Cracked Boletes, identical but lacking any brown colour, is the Ruby Bolete, Hortiboletus rubellus, which has a red cap instead of brown and a red stem. It is found with a variety of broad leaved trees.
Last of the Butter Boletes around now is the Suede Bolete, Xerocomus subtomentosus. This can be found with both broad leaved and coniferous trees. It has a brown cap and a tapering yellow stem and dull yellow pores bruising pale blue.
A very striking rare bolete found with oak is the Crimson Bolete, Chalciporus rubinus. This has a brown cap and crimson pores and stem. The base of the stem has bright yellow mycelial threads trailing into the ground.
Lastly, is another strikingly coloured mushroomy the Scarletina Bolete, Neoboletus luridiformis. This is a very variable coloured mushroom which ranges from dark brown to bright yellow in colour. The usual form here in Essex is a dark brown cap and yellow stem coveredwith red scales or spots. The pores are orange. The whole mushroom rapidly bruises dark blue when bruised or cut.
We’ve finally had a decent amount of rain in the days around last Friday’s perigee of the moon. Temperatures have dropped a good 10ºC and it’s feeling a lot like autumn outside. And the mushrooms have responded. They have been coming out in drips and drops since the perigee in June, which was a supermoon, but this week they are out in force.
There are loads of parasols, Macrolepiota procure, and shaggy parasols, Chlorosplenium rachodes, and a whole host of different Agaricus (field mushroom family) and boletes (pored mushrooms).
Everyone knows a field mushroom when they see one but there are nearly 50 species in this family in the UK. The field mushroom, Agaricus campestris, is just one of many very similar looking mushrooms.
But this week I have been finding the field mushrooms bigger and more aromatic cousin the Horse Mushroom, Agaricus arvensis. These are distinguished by their “cog-wheel ring” and sweet almond smell when young. As with all Agaricus, rub the bottom of the stem to release the odour.
The gills of the Horse Mushroom start off a greyish brown colour and are never the bright pink of the young Field Mushroom.
Closely related to the Horse Mushroom and often confused with it is Agaricus fissuratus. This has all the features of the Horse Mushroom but the cap tends to turn a brassy yellow colour as it matures. You can see the yellow colour developing on the buttons in the picture below.
Probably the most distinctive of the almond smelling Agaricus is The Prince, Agaricus augustus. The Prince has the brassy yellow colour of Agaricus fissuratus to the cap but is also covered in orangey-brown scales. The stem is pure white and is covered in fluffy white scales, especially when young. It grows to a large size, often 20cm or more across when mature.
Living near the Essex coast we get a lot of the Salty Mushroom, Agaricus bernardii, so called because it grows near the sea, but is spreading inland along road verge due to salting in winter. This is a dense, stocky mushroom, often with a lumpy, irregular shape. It is white, but tends to turn dull and grey with age. The cap often cracks into irregular blocky scales. It has a fibrous almost fluffy ring.
A woodland relative of the Field Mushroom is the Scaly Wood Mushroom, Agaricus langei. This mushroom is found in woods, hedgerows and parks wherever there are trees and shrubs. It is similar to the Field Mushroom in size in having a cap covered in small brown scales. The flesh flesh readily turns red, fading to brown, when cut or bruised. It has a pleasant mushroomy smell.
Lastly, and only just starting to appear for the first time this year is the Yellow Stainer, Agaricus xanthodermus. This often grows in large numbers and is the main cause of mushroom poisoning in the UK. It is a bright white mushroom (fading to dingy grey when old) that is easily spotted due to the whiteness and abundance. It’s flesh turns a bright, highlighter pen yellow, when bruised. This colour change is only temporary so you need to watch the mushroom for a few minutes to see it develop and then fade away. The speed of the reaction varies with humidity and age of the mushroom. The Yellow Stainer also has a distinctive inky smell because of the toxic phenol it contains. This is best smelt by rubbing the stem base, which is also the best way to see the yellow staining reaction. The ones in the picture below are still very young, no bigger than cherries, but they grow to about the same size as the horse mushroom.
A number of newspaper have reported that the Forestry Commission plan to introduce a complete ban on fungi picking in the New Forest. This appears to be a gut reaction to the poor mushroom season last year and is based on no known scientific evidence. In fact there are a number of long term scientific studies that show foraging has no detrimental effect on fungi and may even have a positive effect.
The link is a press release from the Association of Foragers about this proposed ban. The Association of Foragers is an international association of nearly 100 foraging tutors and suppliers who teach and practice sustainable foraging and rewilding.
For more factual information see The Association of Foragers website
A group of Taiwanese researchers led by Yu-Jen Chen have been investigating the anti-cancer properties of Honey Fungus Armillaria mellea, the common parasitic fungus feared by gardeners and foresters the world over but also a delicious edible mushroom. Their research shows that extracts of Honey Fungus, Armillarikin and Armillaridin are cytotoxic and induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells of Leukemia and Malignant Hepatoma. You can read their recent paper here
Honey Fungus can form some of the biggest organisms in the world covering many square miles of forest in North America. They are chiefly regarded as parasitic on trees but can also live as saprophytes growing on dead wood and probably also as mycorrhizal partners with some trees. They are themselves parasitised by orchid species such as the the Lady Orchid in the UK.
They are rarely a problem in native woodland, where there is a healthy mycorrhizal community of fungi, only affecting very weak or stressed trees. In gardens however, where most of the shrubs and trees are non-native, the mycorrhizal fungi are less well established and the plants are looking for mycorrhizal partners. This is where Honey Fungus can take hold before other mycorrhizal fungi can partner with the new plants and protect them.