It’s been a remarkable summer for mushrooms in the UK with rare and strange mushrooms popping up all over. I came across one today that I thought I would have to travel to the far south west to see. It’s a mushroom from the other side of the world, Australia and the Pacific, growing wild in the woods of north Essex.
It is called the Devil’s Fingers. Five blood red curving arms erupt from a small egg of jelly. The black gobbets are the spores waiting to attract flies to carry them off. The egg is quite small, about the size of a cherry.
Devil’s Fingers are loosely related to our native Stinkhorn Fungus, which also grows from a jelly egg.
Like the stinkhorn, devil’s fingers mimics the smell of rotting meat which attracts the flies which disperse it’s spores.
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.
This week we had the first proper rain of the year and what a difference it has made. The last time we had any fungi in the woods was back in February. This is what I found today.
Wood Ears, Auricularia auricula-judae, was the most abundant. They react quickly to heavy rain. Wood Ears are a very good edible mushroom with a subtle peppery taste that adds a savouriness to dishes and a crunchy texture like slice of cucumber. They are popular in Chinese cuisine as they are good for the digestion and act as a probiotic in the gut. They are most common on old Elder bushes, Sambucus nigra.but they were also growing on Holly, Ilex europea, which is a first for meand on Ash, Fraxinus excelsior.On the same Ash tree, on the other side of the trunk, was some White Brain, Exidia thuretiana.I found a close relative of the Wood Ears, Tripe Fungus, Auricular mesenterica, growing on a dead Alder trunk, Alnus glutinosus. This is also a good edible though not as common as the Wood Ears but can be used in the same sort of dishes.On a fallen Oak branch, Quercus rober, was a fresh flush of Many-zoned Polypore, Coriolus versicolor, known as Turkey Tails in North America. This is a medicinal mushroom. A number of drugs used in cancer treatment are made from extracts of this mushroom. In North America the native Americans used fresh Turkey Tails as a chewing gum.One of the reasons I went out today was to see how this Chicken of the Woods had developed. Five days ago it looked like this.With the rain over the last few days, it has turned into this.Chicken of the Woods, Laetiporus sulphureus, is another popular edible mushroom. It has a very meaty texture like succulent chicken breast with a lemony flavour. It can be used in any recipe as a substitute for chicken breast.
On an Elder were the small orangey dots of Coral Spot Fungus, Nectria peziza. Walking through the woods the distinct smell of rotting flesh brought this Stinkhorn, Phallus impudicus, to my attention. This mushroom imitates this smell to attract houseflies and bluebottles which it uses to disperse it’s spores in the same way as plants use insects to disperse pollen.Finally I returned to the tree where I had seen the slime mould back in February, which looked like this then as it munched it’s way through some Toothed Crust.
Today, four months later the same slime mould has completely devoured the Toothed Crust, Basidioradulum radula, and has started to sporulate and looks like this.It is most likely a Badhamia species with it’s fruit bodies hanging like bunches of grapes.This is what is left of the Toothed Crust.I didn’t expect to see this slime mould still developing on the same oak branch after all this time.
We had some wet days in the last few weeks in north Essex so it was a good time to go to the woods to get some woods ears. They always flush after heavy rain and I have a few local woods with lots of old elder bushes which are the wood ears favourite tree.
Wood ears, Auricularia auricula-judae
There were plenty about in all stages of development. Here are some very young ones erupting from an elder branch with a velvety bloom
Here is a picture gallery to the other fungi that were out and about.
There were lots of other jelly fungi too such as this leafy brain, Tremella foliacea, a fresh young one below and older drier one above.
and yellow brain, Tremella mesenterica
or this white jelly, Tremella globispora.
There was also plenty of Witches Butter, Exidia glandulosa
One of the smallest common jelly fungi is Coral Spot, Nectria peziza, looking more orange than coral in these pictures
As well as all these jellies there were lots of crusts, fungi that are attached to the host tree like a sticking plaster sometimes forming small brackets. There were crusts with soft rubbery teeth like this Toothed Crust, Basidioradulum radula
or this white white crust with teeth
There was this soft rubbery crust with a warty lower surface Merulius tremellosus?
There were tough leathery crusts such as the Bleeding Oak Crust, Stereum gausepatum, which bruises red
and the Hairy Curtain Crust, Stereum hirsutum which doesn’t
and this creamy coloured crust, Peniophora rufromarginata?, looking like paint peeling off the trunk
there was a black cushion like crust, Hypoxylon sp.
and a purple cushion like crust with a dark margin
and last of all a yellow slime mould spreading over a patch of Wrinkled Crust, Phlebia radiata
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.
Out in the woods this afternoon looking for St George’s Mushrooms. Not expecting much as it is the lunar perigee today. They have been a bit patchy this year. Some rings have been dormant others prolific. This bunch weighed in at around 500g
But lots of wild flowers in the woods to see while looking for mushrooms and they all seem to be purple-ish.
Dog violets have been out for a few weeks but seem at their best now
Early purple orchids are in full flower now
This group were taking advantage of a clearing in the woods
Bugle, a relative of mint is one of my favourite woodland plants
Here’s the top down view showing it has a square stem
Many paths are carpeted with Ground Ivy. You often notice the aromatic smell before you realise your walking on it.
It’s also known as Alehoof as it was used to flavour beer before hops were introduced
Another purple plant is the Red Dead-nettle, Lamium purpureum. Called a dead-nettle because it has no sting. It’s in the mint family.
Here are a few views from my office today. You know it’s spring when you see wild flowers everywhere. It’s when the woods come alive. Everyone knows bluebells, with their vibrant colour and heady scent.