Mini-autumn in July brings mushrooms part 1

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).

Parasol, Macrolepiota procera

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.

Field Mushroom, Agaricus campestris

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.

Horse Mushrooms, Agaricus arvensis, showing the “cog-wheel” ring

The gills of the Horse Mushroom start off a greyish brown colour and are never the bright pink of the young Field Mushroom.

Horse Mushroom, showing the gills

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.

Agaricus fissuratus with the yellow colour of the cap developing

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.

The Prince, Agaricus augustus

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.

Salty Mushroom, Agaricus bernardii
Salty Mushroom, Agaricus bernardii, showing the fibrous 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.

Scaly Wood Mushroom, Agaricus langei
scaly Wood Mushroom, Agaricus langei, showing gills and stem

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.

Yellow Stainers, Agaricus xanthoderma. See the scratch mark on the larger cap cap beginning to turn yellow

Cricklade North Meadow

Found myself in Wiltshire last weekend at the perfect time to see the fritillaries at this nationally important nature reserve. This meadow has 80% of the UK’s population of snakes head fritillaries. I have known about this meadow for a long time but this is the first time I have been to visit. It is quite a spectacle. Obviously the main attraction are the fritillaries.

Snake’s Head Fritillary
White Snake’s Head Fritillary

Because this site has always been managed as a traditional hay meadow there are lots of other plants amongst the fritillaries that are no longer common in the rest of the UK. I was particularly interested in the number of different plants looking like they were in the Apiaceae family (carrot family) Among the true Apiaceae there were the familiar Cow Parsley and Common Hogweed. The deadly poisonous Hemlock Water Dropwort looking remarkably like it’s relative Wild Celery.

Hemlock Water Dropwort
Hemlock Water Dropwort
Hemlock Water Dropwort

With out a distinct smell, and definitely no celery smell this was not Wild Celery. The Hemlock Water Dropwort can be seen along the banks or the River Churn and River Thames that define the boundaries of the meadow.

Also on the banks of the Thames were a few plants of Wild Angelica.

Wild Angelica

Another member of the Apiaceae that I found there was, I suspect, Pepper Saxifrage. This plant looks very like wild carrot but is hairless. The field guides seem to pay little attention to the shape of the leaves of this family of plants and it is a long way from flowering so difficult to reach a conclusive identification.

Pepper Saxifrage
Pepper Saxifrage
Pepper Saxifrage

There were a number of plants that, before they flower, look like members of the carrot family. One is Meadow Rue which forms large dark green patches across the meadow.

Common Meadow Rue
Common Meadow Rue

The pinnate leaf and bract wrapping round the stem at the base of the leaf stalk are typical carrot family features also found in the rue family. These feature are also found in the buttercup family and there was plenty of meadow buttercups doing carrot impressions before they flowered. The palmate divided leaves give it away as a buttercup.

Meadow Buttercup
Meadow Buttercup

Lastly there was both Meadowsweet along the banks of the river

Meadowsweet

and the closely related Dropwort after which the Water Dropworts are named.

Dropwort
Dropwort

Both Meadowsweet and Dropwort are in the Rose Family and have sweet smelling flowers used in the past to flavour drinks. The name Meadowsweet is actually a corruption of Mead Sweet and it was used to flavour mead. These two plants are also a rich source of salicylic acid and were the original source for the drug Aspirin which gives the leaves a bitter taste.

Chicken of the Woods in season now

Added some new pages to our website about wild mushrooms in season now, Chicken of the  Woods and Fairy Ring Mushrooms

http://wp.me/P7neDj-6W and http://wp.me/P7neDj-6G

Where have all the mushrooms gone?

We are at the peak of the Saint George’s Mushroom season here in Essex. We have had perfect weather for them this year with lots of April showers and in the last week or so warm sunny days too. But take a look at these  two baskets of mushrooms.

Saint George's mushroom baskets
A tale of two baskets

The basket on the left has the mushrooms I foraged from about 40 Saint George’s Mushroom rings on the village green while the basket on the right was foraged from 2 small rings on the verge of a quiet lane a mile away. The 2 rings on the verge have produced over 5 times as many mushrooms as the entire village green!

What could possibly be the reason for this I hear you cry? Are there hordes of immigrants scouring our English village greens and removing every mushroom? Are the villagers keen wild mushroom foragers? No! There are no mushrooms on the village green because they have been mown down. The green was mown 10 days before Saint George’s day which was luckily just before the mushrooms started into growth. There were just under a kilo of mushrooms big enough to pick for Saint George’s Day and 2.5 kilo a week later. The second cut was eight days ago on the 3rd May and the battered 200g in the basket is all that has grown since.  The 2 rings in the lane had one mushroom for Saint George’s Day and 250g the week after. Today there was 1.1 kilos in the lane. The village green should have produced at least 11 kilos this week, instead of 200g,  as the conditions have been perfect for them. There won’t be any mushrooms on the green next week  either as the mower was beginning it’s next cut as I left this morning. The verge in the lane has not been cut yet but with the cow parsley coming into flower it won’t be long before the mowers come out along the roads and lanes to make it safe for the poor defenceless motorists in their armour plated boxes.

The reason we don’t see masses of mushrooms popping up in fields and greens is we are obsessed with tidiness. Wild flowers and mushrooms are not given a chance if they dare to grow higher than an couple of centimetres. The relentless whirring blades of the mower slice them into a thousand pieces and scatter them to the four winds. The man/woman operating the mower is oblivious to the destruction they are causing so intent are they on getting the perfect cut. And people consent to this destruction and even complain when it is not done. It looks untidy, it spoils the view, it a danger to motoring.

Mowing is nothing less than habitat destruction. Every time a mower cuts a patch of grass it is creating a sudden change in the microclimate. Allowing the sun and the wind to suck moisture from the soil. Contrary to popular belief mushrooms don’t pop up over night. The whole process takes at least a week. Mushroom formation is triggered by subtle changes in a range of environmental factors: humidity, light, oxygen, temperature. When the grass is cut all of these factors change instantly and the mushrooms are unable to react fast enough. If they are still very small they shrivel and die from lack of moisture. If they are too big they are ripped from the ground and devoured by the mower. With mowers cutting every fortnight or every week in Summer the mushrooms don’t stand a chance. (Did I mention that cutting grass stimulates it to grow more so it needs more mowing).

That is where all the mushrooms have gone.