Weird looking, colourful and/or oddly shaped mushrooms, toadstools and other fungi.

The notorious Magic Mushroom

Well I suppose at some stage I would had to do a feature on this mushroom. A select few people I meet often presume that as a mushroom hunter, I only go looking for this particular species. Well that’s just not so – I was in the right place at the right time as I stumbled across these bad boys. Simply observed for identification reasons – honestly officer!

Psilocybe semilanceataThe Magic Mushroom or Liberty Cap (Psilocybe semilanceata) is the most notorious of all the hallucinogenic mushrooms (of which there are many), this being one of the most common and potent!

It contains a chemical cocktail of psychoactive ingredients, most notably ‘psilocybin’ (hence Psilocybe) which is a naturally produced psychedelic compound, and is the main active substance. Ingestion of several mushrooms, whether eaten fresh, dried or powdered and added to food etc, can produce a variety of ‘psychedelic’ experiences similar to those produced by LSD. Since 2005 it has been made illegal to be in possession of this mushroom (in whatever form) and is labelled as a Class A drug – so there you go.

The mycelium (the vegetative part of the fungus) feeds on the decaying matter of grass roots, so they are very at home scattered in pastures, lawns (sometimes parks), grassy roadsides and paths.

The first thing to note is that the cap of the mushroom is hygrophanous, meaning it will change colour depending on how much moisture it retains. In wet conditions the colour will be yellowish-brown / brown with a slight olive tinge. It has a glutinous viscid layer which can be delicately removed. As it drys out the colour fades to pale buff or whitish with a dark spore stained edge.

But the small conical cap remains a similar shape throughout these changes. It is elongate with striate markings (more noticeable when moist) with a distinctive small bump at the very top (umbo).

The thin white/creamy coloured stem (sometimes with darker yellowish hues) is relatively long compared to the cap size, and can grow up to 7 or 8cm high. Sometimes you may notice a blueish tinge at the very base. The gills are pale creamy-grey at first, but as the mushroom matures they become a dark purple-brown.

I’m not at liberty to say where I found these (or where to find others for that matter) as I was on a private reserve where I had permission to study. So please no questions about that on the blog or via email, thanks.

There are plenty around at the moment, but be aware that they’re just for looking at …right folks?

Before I sign off, I’ve selected a few good links on the amazingly enormous subject of Magic Mushrooms, covering their history in culture and beneficial medicinal research:

Magic Mushroom

Psilocybe semilanceata or Magic Mushroom is hygrophanous and drys to a pale buff colour.

QUICK ID TABLE: MAGIC MUSHROOM / LIBERTY CAP Psilocybe semilanceata

CAP / FLESH

0.5-1.5cm across. Elongated conical shape with pointed bump (umbo). Yellow-Brown / Brown with olive hue. Drying to pale buff.

STEM

3-8cm x 0.1-0.2cm. Pale whitish/cream often with yellowish hues. Sometimes with purple tinge at base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Pale clay/creamy-grey maturing to dark purple-brown.
Spore Print: Dark purpleish-brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Pasture, garden, grassy roadsides and paths. Common in late summer to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Hallucinogenic. Illegal to be in possession of.

Bay Polypore

Many bracket (or shelf) fungi grow all year round, or at least from spring through to autumn. This one is a classic example – most common in central Europe but less so farther north.

Polyporus durus The Bay Polypore (Polyporus durus / P.badius) can be found throughout this long season. I live in middle England and find them ‘now and again’ – they’re one of the few ‘good looking’ polypores out there, as many can be quite dull and inconspicuous with bland colours.

The size of the mature fruiting body can differ greatly, ranging from 5cm up to approximately 20cm across. The first group of photos below show several examples from the same group, all different shapes and sizes. The typical ‘off-centre’ stem (which is mostly black – or at least at the base) produces a thin, lobed and often wavy cap. It’s very smooth with a very slight ‘waxy’ feel.

The colour also varies with many shades of brown and mahogany. Age is also a key factor in these variations too. When young, the fruiting bodies are pale/pallid brown becoming dark brown/mahogany at maturity. The first group of photos here show some ‘rich’ dark brown examples – so much so that I had to get a second opinion and microscopic confirmation from the spores. They were indeed Bay Polypores, just darker than usual. As a rough ‘general’ colour guide I would say they’re most often a mild pallid brown, often with darker central zone. But when it comes to identification, fungi like to keep you on your toes!

As many of you will know (or may not know) fungi such as these do not have gills on the underside but have pores instead (from where their reproductive spores will drop). ‘Polypore’ simply translated means ‘many holes’, and in this case they are very small holes; around 5-10 per millimetre! So at first glance the underside looks like a smooth creamy white, featureless surface. You have to take a closer look. And like most polypores, they only grow on tress, trunks or fallen logs etc. In this case the Bay Polypore will only be found on dead or living deciduous wood.

Lookalikes?

You may also stumble across the Blackfoot Polypore (P. leptocephalus) which I find is a more common species but essentially smaller (cap ranges from 2-10cm across) and much paler with radiating streaks on its surface. It is also found on dead/dying deciduous wood, but not living trees.

Bracket fungi for foraged food?

Well, to be honest, there are not many bracket fungi out there for the pot. Many are too thin, too tough, too bitter or all of the above! Never mind, I’m sure they appreciate not being eaten to carry on they’re great ecological work.

So, keep a look out for all those variable brackets out there this spring, summer and autumn (especially on fallen trunks). Enjoy.

Polypore fungi

The typical wavy/lobed shape of the Bay Polypore. Notice the dark/blackish stem base.

Bay Polypore

Older examples of the Polyporus durus – Mahogany brown in colour and extreme wavy/lobes edges.

QUICK ID TABLE: BAY POLYPORE Polyporus durus

CAP / FLESH

5-20cm across.

STEM

0.2-0.4cm x 0.5-1.5cm, off centre. Black(ish) more so at the base.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

Very small, circular (5-10 per mm). White/pale cream.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead or living deciduous trees. Spring to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Not edible. Too tough and bitter.

The Genus POLYPORUS (Polypores): Characteristics to look out for:

• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills on the underside.
• Usually tough/leathery or hard and woody.
• Many are perennial or annual
.

Winter white tips of the Candlesnuff Fungus

Those winter walks through the countryside and woodlands as we know, can be very enjoyable and enjoyable. Cold and crisp yet invigorating and refreshing…

Candlesnuff FungusAnd at this time of year, several fungi will become more conspicuous. You should especially look out for the lovely and edible Oyster Mushrooms, Velvet Shanks and Wood Blewits. But there are many still out there with a mention, even if they are not destined for the cooking pot…

The Candle snuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) is one of these common and intriguing specimens. This member of the ‘flask’ fungi goes by several other common names, such as Stag’s Horn Fungus and Candlestick Fungus. I tend to avoid using the ‘Stag’s Horn’ name as it can cause confusion with the Common Yellow Staghorn, which is a completely different genus.

Widespread throughout the year and covering most of the UK, mainland Europe and North America, it often appears in clustered groups on dead/decaying wood such as deciduous stumps and branches (sometimes pine) and also causing root rot in hawthorn and gooseberry plants. It tends to follow on from other ‘wood rotter’ species that were previous residents of the substrate, such as the larger Honey Fungus and Sulphur Tuft mushrooms.

In late autumn and the winter months it is particularly more noticeable due to their white powdered tips. The young grey-white fruiting body initially appears as a small prong or spike growing out of the wood, standing between 2-5cm tall (up to 0.8cm in diametre). Over time it becomes flattened and twisted, developing several ‘antler like’ appendages. The base is black and finely downy.

Eventually in spring, the whole fungus becomes black as the inner sexual spore-bearing cells mature. I don’t want to get too scientific about it, but it’s just to let you know when and what changes occur throughout its life.

Glow in the dark

The mysterious ‘Candlesnuff’ name may be due to the fact that this is actually a bioluminescent fungus. The phosphorus contained in the mycelium reacts with oxygen and other chemicals in the fungus to produce a continual glow – just like the glow from a candle wick once extinguished maybe? Well that’s my theory anyway! But alas, this reaction is very weak and can only be seen in complete darkness with zero light pollution and a long photo exposure or using specialist imaging equipment. Never mind!

Keep an eye for them over the winter months – they are often in massed in glorious photogenic groups. It would be rude not to take a picture!

Candlesnuff Fungus images

The powdery white tips of the Candlesnuff Fungus are most prominent in late autumn and winter. This coating disappears to leave the antlers black as it matures in spring (bottom left image).

QUICK ID TABLE: CANDLESNUFF Xylaria hypoxylon

FRUITING BODY

Initially short and prong like, growing into antler like formations covered in fine white powder.

BASE

Black and finely felty.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

n/a

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead/decaying stumps and branches. All year. Mature & black in spring.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Tough, too small.

Star Jelly?

I’ve been off the mushroom reporting radar for a while. My sincere apologies, but December and January have been very hectic with the birth of daughter Elizabeth. So she’s to blame – bless her! I’ve included an early scan picture at the end of this post. Even though it has nothing to do with mushrooms – look again – she’s actually holding one. Honestly!

Anyway, I’m keen to get 2012’s main mushroom finds highlighted and backdated for all to see. But as a weird news update I wanted to feature this article first. Some of you may have heard or read about this already. But here’s the summary of something very weird…

In December 2012 I had received an email from a Mushroom Diary follower showing a picture very similar to what can be seen below asking the simple question ‘What is this?’. ‘No idea’ was my honest and straight forward reply!

I’m not alone in this though. Recently in Somerset (reported Feb 18, 2013) there have been similar sightings of this strange translucent blob in a British Nature Park. There have also been YouTube videos featuring this weird ‘Jelly raining from the sky’ and recently on Yahoo! and Sky news the ‘Jelly Invasion’ has begun!

Many experts have been perplexed by the nature of this strange jelly blob fungus, but research is ongoing. History records as far back as the 14th Century have reported it as star jelly, astral jelly or astromyxin. In folklore it is said to be deposited in the wake of meteor showers. Modern theories include it may be regurgitated innards of amphibians such as frogs and toads and of their spawn. Who knows?

I have not seen any of this stuff myself, but I’ve discovered it has been compared to Crystal Brain Fungus (Exidia nucleata) which I’ve seen a lot of in autumn and winter (see second picture below), but is only found on dead wood of broadleaved trees, not in grass like the strange skyblob! See the Yahoo! News report here.

Without any further evidence, feel free to make your own decision. The alien angle I like, but know is probably absolute twoddle (need to use that word more).

Note: Thanks to David Nicholls for the usage ‘Crystal Brain Fungus’ image (www.naturespot.org.uk).

Unknown jelly fungus

The unknown jelly blob from the skies – compared to a fungus

Crystal Brain Fungus Picture

Actual Crystal Brain fungus growing on dead wood. Courtesy of NatureSport.org.uk

Mushroom Scan

Little Elizabeth Ava. Very small. Very mushroom orientated!

Savouring the Centre of the Stinkhorn!

It was two years ago at the end of October 2010 that I first featured a post on the Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) – or Witches Egg as it appears when in it’s young ‘egg form’…

Since then I have seen (and involuntarily smelled) many in mixed woodland and even gardens. They are pretty much revered as being horrible, disgusting, offensive and a unwelcome garden addition. This is a fair point of view, especially when they’ve found a way into your rose beds.

They are often first discovered in their ‘preparation’ egg stage of development and have no offensive smell at all. For some reason I had never cut one in half to examine the inner contents – well, there are obvious reasons for the normal average person, but as a regular mycophile finding a young and perfect stinkhorn egg like this, you’ve got to take a look… and a taste maybe…

Around the world I believe they are eaten it in most forms. Whole eggs are prepared for eating but I’m not sure I want to go there! I do know for sure they sell dried (mature) Nettled Stinkhorns for the pan (see link here). Don’t ask me what to do with them (beyond re-hydrating them) or if I have any recipe tips!

But I was encouraged to give the ‘white’ centre a raw tasting by an experienced mushroom guide one day. “It tastes like a nut” he claimed. I couldn’t refuse, and you know, it wasn’t that bad at all. It had the texture and consistency of a water chestnut but with the mild after taste of a raw peanut. Mind you – how many eggs would you need to get a few decent portions for a posh and weird ‘organic natures delights’ party. Quite a few I think.

I’d recommend you give it a go only if you know for sure you’re dealing with a young Stinkhorn egg. Please be sure or don’t try at all, as you may be dealing with a young ‘Deathcap Egg’ or other ‘young stage’ Amanita which is definitely bad news (and potentially deadly).

Oh, and one more thing which could put you off is (as legend has it) that you should never eat, or even pick Stinkhorns in New Guinea, where the Iban people (former headhunters) call it ghost penis fungus. It’s the member of a warrior who was decapitated in battle, and the twice-mutilated fighter will rise from the ground and pursue you until he cuts off your head with his headhunting sword! Fair warning…

Witches Egg

The young egg sliced in half. There is no nasty smell at this stage.

See the picture below showing a developing/opening Stinkhorn egg and the mature specimen. Note that the head is initially covered in a blackish gloopy goo giving off the offensive chemical-like/rotting meat smell which attracts flies. The spores are dispersed as the flies move on. Very clever really…

To see my write up for more information (including comments and blog feedback) see my previous Stinkhorn post, click here.

Phallus impudictus - Witches Egg - Stinkhorn Fungus

The Stinkhorn egg has hatched open. At this stage, the ‘stink’ will start and become stronger as the ‘horn’ shaped fungus grows out.

More Earthballs – The Scaly Earthball

It only seems logical that my next post is of yet another Earthball, just as a good comparison to my previous post on the Common Earthball.

earthball identificationThe Scaly Earthball (Scleroderma verrucosum) is similar to Common Earthball (see post here), but more often confused with the Leopard Earthball (post and pics to come soon I hope). This is understandable as they both share the same thick long tapering ‘stem like’ protusion and elliptical shape with brown dotted scales on the surface.

The dark brown scales on the Scaly Earthball are often random-like in their pattern whereas the Leopard Earthball has a network-like collection of brown scales surrounded by a ring (which eventually where off). You have to have a good look. The Leopard Earthball is also typically smaller, usually only growing as big as 4cm across.

The outer wall (again like the Leopard Earthball) is very thin compared to the Common Earthball. Taking one in hand and gently squeezing it will easily deform the shape.

When mature, this outer skin will split irregularly near the top to release the powdery spores. Give it a little tap to see the puff cloud. Great fun, but don’t eat them!

Scaly Earthball Pictures

QUICK ID TABLE: SCALY EARTHBALL Scleroderma verrucosum

FRUITING BODY

2-8cm in diametre. Spherical / Sometimes flattish on top. Brown with darker scales. Outer wall thin. Opens irregularly near apex.

STEM

Uncharacteristically long & thick white ‘stem-like’ protusion at base.

GLEBA

Olive-brown

HABITAT / SEASON

Woods, heaths and verges in rich sandy soil. Late summer to autumn. Common.

EDIBILITY

Inedible.

The PUFFBALLS/EARTHBALLS & ALLIES (Stomach fungi): Characteristics to look out for:

• Main fruting body is ball shaped, irregular or pedicel shaped. Broken or split at maturity to release spores
• Interior of fruiting body full of gleba (spores); solid when young, as a powder at maturity.
• Often small or no visible stem.

Common as muck! The Common Earthball

It was only a couple of weeks ago whilst looking for the first signs of all the different Russulas that my attention was drawn away every two minutes only to find these little blighters. They were everywhere…

Round EarthballsWith a well deserved name, the Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum) is very numerous during the summer and autumn months, in and around damp woodland in rich peaty soil or moss. It is often in small scattered groups of 2 to 4 or so together, sitting there like discarded old potatoes! It is a mycorrhizal species and shares this special relationship with deciduous trees, especially oak, beech and birch.

‘Potato like’ is a good analogy I think. They can grow up to 10cm in diametre and have an irregular ovoid like shape. The colour can be dirty yellow to ochre brown with rough scales all over the surface.

The difference ends once you cut the fungus in half. In an immature specimen you will find a solid blackish spore mass (the gleba) with a subtle marbled effect. The smell is quite a strong metallic odour which I find very unpleasant. At maturity this spore mass will turn into fine power and the outer surface will rot and split wide open in a random spot, unlike the puffball trait of opening at the apex, to release it’s spores.

There are several lookalike Earthballs out there, such as the Scaly Earthball and Leopard Earthball. These have some key differences, such as the surface texture or pattern. But there is quicker way to identify between these similar fungi. Unlike these examples, the Common Earthball has no stem at all, merely mycelial white cottony cords attached to the soil and it’s outer skin is very thick in comparison (from 2 – 5mm). Simply squeeze a Scaly Earthball and you’ll easily misshape the whole thing, the Common Earthball on the other hand won’t budge. Nice and sturdy.

Anyway, it goes without saying that this Earthball along with the rest are quite inedible, and the Common Earthball has been classed as poisonous in the past (which I agree with), but one comment from Jo (below) mentioned they are eaten regularly in the Philippines where she is from. However Gareth and Deborah from UK (another comment below) had a bad experience with sickness. I don’t like the smell (or the looks of them) at all, so I’ll just be avoiding it in future – like a bad potato.

Common Puffball pictures

QUICK ID TABLE: COMMON EARTHBALL Scleroderma citrinum

FRUITING BODY

2-10cm in diametre. Almost Spherical / Irregular potato shape. Dirty yellow to ochre brown with coarse scales. Outer wall thick.

STEM

No stem. Attached to soil by fine mycelial threads.

GLEBA

Purple/Black with white veins / markings. Turns to powder when mature.

HABITAT / SEASON

Rich soil in and around deciduous woodland. Summer & autumn. Widespread & very common.

EDIBILITY

Inedible.

The PUFFBALLS/EARTHBALLS & ALLIES (Stomach fungi): Characteristics to look out for:

• Main fruting body is ball shaped, irregular or pedicel shaped. Broken or split at maturity to release spores
• Interior of fruiting body full of gleba (spores); solid when young, as a powder at maturity.
• Often small or no visible stem.

Update: 3rd October 2012. Two Fungi as One!

If you’re lucky, you may get see the Parasitic Bolete (Pseudoboletus parasiticus) that exclusively grows on older bodies of Common Earthballs and therefore easy to identify. The matt textured, olive/brown/yellow cap grows up to 4cm across. Sometimes there are several feeding off the one earthball.

They’re pretty widespread and occasional, and in-fact edible (some say not) but definitely not poisonous. The picture below was kindly sent to me from blog follower Chris Thornley. It was found in woodland near Sandringham. After rain, the cap seems to have a tacky texture. Thanks for the pic Chris.

Pseudoboletus parasiticus

© Chris Thornley 2012 – Parasitic Bolete (Pseudoboletus parasiticus)

Buried Bunny? The Hare’s Foot Inkcap

This mushroom has a long fruiting season and depending on what time it is discovered, it can appear to be a different fungus altogether…

I have come across the Hare’s Foot Inkcap (Coprinopsis lagopus / Coprinus lagopus) as early as May right through to the late autumn months. It gets its common English name from the way the young ‘furry-like’ fruiting body is reminiscent of a hare’s foot – albeit poking up from the ground (hence my tasteless post title).

This Inkcap mushroom is usually found in small groups and matures into relatively tall specimens (up to 12 or 13cm in some cases). They’re usually found on soil or leaf litter in woodland (sometimes in rarer field scenarios).

But quite often, as in this case, they especially seem to enjoy taking to wherever there has been man made disturbance in woodland. There had been a huge pile of woodchip/bark mulch, left by the recent activity of forestry workers. There were dozens of them, in several groups spread across one side of the large mound.

The white(ish) veil remnants are numerous on the young caps, which are very delicate and disappear on handling. The cap expands to almost flat, thinly spreading out the fine fibres on it’s greyish and finely grooved surface. During this ‘growing’ stage, the young white gills soon turn black and deliquesce (turning to inky fluid) typical of nearly all the Inkcaps.

The long white stem is also covered in fine white fibrous scales but usually end up becoming completely smooth.

If you do find some of these Inkcaps coming to the end of their life, you’ll notice the cap curls upwards as it decays. And if you pick and hold up the mushroom to the sky (gills towards you) you will also see it is very translucent due to the very thin flesh. All interesting stuff.

Anyway, they’re pretty common throughout the UK and unfortunately inedible as they’re not really worth the time. Never mind eh!?

QUICK ID TABLE: HARE’S FOOT INKCAP Coprinopsis lagopus / Coprinus lagopus

CAP / FLESH

Young: 2-4 cm high, conical or ovate, covered in fine downy white veil remnants. Mature: Up to 6cm diametre, thin, grey. Covered in whitish veil remnants.

STEM

6-13 cm x 0.3-0.5cm. White, swollen at base. Covered in fine white down. Smooth later.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White, turning black very soon and deliquescing.
Spore Print: Violaceous black (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In groups on soil or leaf litter in woodland (less so in fields). Commonly found in disturbed woodland areas on wood chip or mulch. Early summer to late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too insubstantial.

The Genus COPRINUS & Related (Inkcaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Most species gills dissolve into an inky black liquid as the black spores ripen.
• Growing on the ground, wood or dung.
• Many young species have woolly veil. Felty scales are often left on the mature specimen.
• Smaller species have distinct radial markings on the cap.

Coprinu lagopus © Mark Williams 2012.

This great picture of an older Coprinus lagopus was kindly supplied by Mark Williams at www.gallowaywildfoods.com – Notice the up curling edges and see how much of the dark inky fluid, containing the spores, has dissipated, leaving a lighter, translucent cap.

Disco Eyelashes – The Common Eyelash Fungus

This small and attractive fungus is one of the ‘Discos’ (Disc fungi), an English description for one the groups in the genus of Pyronema (Pyronemataceae family) – but let’s not get too technical, we could be here forever!

Scutellinia scutellataAlthough widespread and common throughout the UK, I very rarely see the Common Eyelash (Scutellinia scutellata) on my travels but then again they can be extremely hard to spot, even with their bright colouring. I discovered these whilst kneeling down examining another fungus. Luckily they were in my line of sight.

They are often found in groups clustered together on rotting wood or soil, most of the time in damp places and sometimes lost amongst moss. They measure around 0.2 – 1cm across, so finding a solitary individual would be very hard indeed.

Apart from the bright orange/red colour and mini disc/shallow cup shape – the main distinctive feature are the tiny fine dark brown/black hairs (up to 20mm in length) on the margin. They look like tiny ‘eyelashes’ all around the edge, hence the English name. Depending on how good your eyesight is, these are just visible with the naked eye and look quite menacing through a lens. Fortunately these fine hairs are not sharp and cannot penetrate the skin.

Many cup shaped fungi have similar growing hairs around their edge and they differ in length and colour etc. Similar species to the Common Eyelash include Scutellinia umbrorum / S. olivascens which share the same colours and environment, but are larger in size (up to 2cm across) and with shorter, less conspicuous hairs.

Their season is late spring to late autumn, so keep a keen eye out and you could get lucky.

Orange Red coloured Disc fungi

Scutellinia scutellata – The Common Eyelash Fungus. Often found in groups on damp rotten wood sometimes amongst moss.

 

Not for your toast – Witches’ Butter

After a pretty unsuccessful local walk looking for the more favourable spring mushrooms I happened to stumble across these ugly little beauties! Any ‘find’ is a bonus anyway, and I was also glad to get some good shots of them too…

It’s common English name is Witches’ Butter (Exidia glandulosa) and is a widespread, common jelly fungus found throughout the year. It is found on dead wood of deciduous trees, usually on fallen branches but also on dead standing wood too.

At first glance, groups of this black jelly fruiting bodies look like scattered blobs of tar on the dead branches and it’s only on closer inspection you notice the finer details.

Exidia glandulosaGenerally 2-4cm in size, they can grow up to 6cm in diametre and are attached to the wood by a very tiny stem that is only noticeable once you have removed them out of situ.

They are often misshapen but usually disc shaped with randomly scattered tiny warts on their smooth, almost felt-like surface. Fruiting bodies often merge together and overlap giving the deceptive appearance of being one big fused mass of black fungi.

The consistency, as you’d expect, is very ‘squishy’ and gelatinous. Soon after wet weather they are more conspicuous and at their most productive. In prolonged, dryer weather they can shrivel up to hard membranous lumps. But fortunately for them, can rehydrate very quickly and hence last all year round.

Other similar looking fungi include Exidia plana, also known as Black Witches’ Butter (which is a confusingly similar English name!) and is made up of many smaller cup shaped fruiting bodies, merging together to give it a ‘brain like’ appearance, and Black Bulgar (Bulgaria inquinans) which lack the small pimples are shaped like a disc when mature. All very weird indeed, and needless to say, these (like our common Witches’ Butter) are also inedible.

Witches Butter fungus Identification

Top: Typical disc shaped Witches’ Butter on a fallen branch and the brown jelly flesh inside. Below: Several fruiting bodies on the same branch, with several fusing together.

Tinder Trotter – The Hoof Funfus

As winter seems to drag on and on, all mushroom foragers seems to be stuck in some kind of ‘no mans land’ of woe and sorrow… Hey ho!

Fomes fomentariusBut many fungi are perennial and more noticeable through the winter months. They’re easier to spot since many trees are bare and no dense foliage can get in your line of sight. And although not edible, they are worth a look. Some have good uses or properties that are quite interesting (probably not everyday use), as you’ll soon discover…

The Hoof Fungus or Tinder Bracket (Fomes fomentarius) is one of these annually persistent sights. This bracket fungus will get most people’s attention as many grow (often in groups) more or less at head height on the host tree (usually birch or beech). They’re also seen on fallen trunks and logs. It’s size is pretty substantial too. Growing up to 25cm in width and height, making it quite hard to miss!

The first thing you will notice is the familiar ‘hoof shape’ with a smooth dark grey upper zone and several layered, concentric zones below. The outer surface (crust) is almost as hard as the wood on which it grows. Go on, give it a tap! The light brown flesh within is very fibrous and quite hard too, smelling very acidic and fruity. A smooth underside shows the small light grey (sometimes light grey/brown) rounded pores, and like the upper concentric zones, the tubes also grow in several layers during the life cycle.

OK, so far this fungus seems to be pretty weird and particularly bland. But here comes the interesting stuff! Over the centuries, this has been a handy piece of nature our ancestors and die-hard survivalists alike have enjoyed to use…

To reconfirm, this bracket fungus is persistent throughout the year and very durable. One key feature is that it does not burn, but simply smolders. A hollowed out Hoof fungus was used to move (or store) burning embers that would keep for days at a time. The other English name ‘Tinder bracket’ is well founded too – When dried, the inner flesh catches a spark quite easily and can burn well – useful as a good ember (see this link for more info). A recent archaeological discovery uncovered a European Iceman who also had a use for this ‘Tinder Bracket’ -See the “Ötzi the Iceman” story here.

The fun doesn’t stop there though! Until relatively recently, a common use in Germany was the craft and creation of hats and bags, using the soft and pliable mycellial core (located inside the top-centre of the fungus). I intend to get a hat myself if they’re still out there, I must!

Just like many other fungi, there are sometimes useful medicinal uses. Centuries ago, Fomes fomentarius was widely used as a styptic to stop bleeding and as a drug to treat wounds. Even today fungi are invaluable in this area. The fascinating world of fungi never ceases to amaze me.

And before I end this post, I’d like to mention that, from general web visitor feedback and personal experience (rather than official research results), I consider this fungus be a ‘common’ species in the UK (more north than south). Several reference books have stated the main habitat to be situated in and around Scotland only, but I have found no end of these throughout Leicestershire and beyond. A recent enquiry to the ‘mushroomdiary.co.uk’ was questioning this very issue with positive ID’s from the Birmingham area. Migration and declination of fungi is a continual event, and local records are sometimes not up to date, and unfortunately there are no records at all from many areas. But on recent personal research, I’ve found that the appearance of this particular fungi is increasing throughout the UK. Which is all good stuff!

Bracket fungus - Tinder Bracket

Note the concentric layers and upper grey touch surface. Bottom picture shows the underside pores. The tubes are formed in several layers during the life-cycle.

White spores of Hoof Fungus

The production of white spores can be seen on the pores in spring (these photos were taken in April). They may also drop onto the surrounding substrate (right). Most other bracket fungi shed brown spores in the autumn months.

Halloween Special – The Witch’s Hat

This mushroom is one of, if not ‘the‘ most common of all the Waxcaps (known as the Hygrocybes) which I recently discovered on the 30th October. By posting on the first day of November I realise I’ve missed the Halloween deadline (excuse the pun) and I’m sorry. But Halloween ‘is’ the eve of ‘All Saints Day’ – making my error simply forgiven! Or something like that…

Hygrocybe conicaAlthough it has been a relatively bad season for mushrooms and fungi alike due to the dry weather, this last week has proved fruitful, especially in relation to Waxcaps.

Because of the excellent timing, I had to feature the ‘Witch’s Hat’ or ‘Blackening Waxcap’ (Hygrocybe conica) to be my latest post.

As the common and scientific name suggests, the cap of this very common grassland mushroom is ‘conical’ in shape, usually broadly conical or bell-shaped (often irregularly lobed). The texture, common with all Waxcaps, is slimy and waxy and although quite small, is very noticeable in the grass due to it’s bright and striking colours. In this case, the colour can vary somewhat, but mainly you can see yellow/orange (sometimes with scarlet shades) – even hints of green can be present.

But the main feature you will recognise (again, shared with some other Waxcaps), is the ‘blackening’ effect (sounds very seasonal and horrific!). The older the mushroom is – the blacker it will get – although it does not auto-digest and turn to ink like the gills of the Inkcap genus.

Very old specimens turn completely black and appear to be decayed or burnt out. If picked, you will also notice it will bruise black upon handling. But if left alone, the blackening process will slowly take effect, starting mainly from the cap edge (see image above).

Keep a look out this (late) autumn and you may find some along with it’s more colourful friends. It can be found mainly in grassland in fields and woods, but is also common in ornamental lawns, waysides and even plant pots (as my mother discovered!) due to it being less sensitive to nitrogen enriched soil.

It is classed as edible and sometimes as inedible or poisonous from different references. But it is not deadly, and I’m guessing – not very palatable. It’s just best for looking at, which is good because it’s so good looking…

Witches hat

Very common Waxcap, found in field or woodland grass. Bright orange/yellow (sometimes with red or green hues) that blackens with age (see far left).

QUICK ID TABLE: BLACKENING WAXCAP / WITCH’S HAT Hygrocybe conica

CAP / FLESH

3-5.5cm accross. Conical or bell-shaped. Often irregularly lobed. Waxy. Yellow/ Orange colours. Blackens with age.

STEM

3-7 x 0.6-1 cm. Yellow, scarlet flush. Blackening streaks with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnexed or free. Pale yellow. Waxy.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Grass in fields or woods. Ornate gardens and plant pots too. Autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible,but best avoided.

The Genus HYGROCYBE (Waxcaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small sized caps brightly coloured in reds, yellows, oranges, greens and whites.
• Caps are often conical or domed and normally greasy or slimy.
• Gills are waxy. Some bruise blackish when damaged.

See Kew gardens conservation news on the British Waxcap family here.

Bulging bracket! – The Birch Polypore

It’s very rare that I do not see one of these bracket fungus when I’m out and about on a forage. They grow quite large and are around all year. It would be hard to miss one.

The Birch Polypore or Razorstrop fungus (Piptoporus betulinus) is an extremely common polypore fungus. As the name suggests, it is found exclusively on birch trees.

At maturity they are typically semicircular or kidney shaped as they grow outwards from the tree body. Shapes and sizes may differ a little but generally this is the norm. As I mentioned earlier, they can grow to a good size – between 20 – 30cm across and 8cm thick! They’re quite a sight to behold when they get to this size.

The colour is that of pure white (when younger) and as it matures it changes to a dull grey or tawny brown. It’s smooth surface often cracks, showing white flesh underneath. The consistency is spongy or slightly rubbery to the touch. These fruiting bodies can usually last from one year into the next, that is why you can see them all of the time over the winter months.

Razorstrop Fungus

Typical semi-circular/kidney shape of the Birch Polypore

On the underside the pored surface is smooth and pure white, but over time this gets marked with dark patches from age and/or insect attack.

I know what you’re thinking though. Is this fungus edible? Well, unfortunately not. It actually smells quite pleasant but it’s taste is quite bitter. It’s a shame, I know.

At least it had it’s uses even as far back as 5,300 years ago! In 1991 “Ötzi the Iceman” (Europe’s oldest natural human mummy) was discovered by German tourists in the Alps. Found in his possession were two species of polypore mushroom. One of which was the Birch Polypore (for medicinal use) which is known to have antibacterial properties. It could have also have been used to sharpen blades or tools – hence the name ‘Razorstrop’.

Polypore fungus

In the images above are some very young Birch Polypores growing out of from the bark of a fallen silver birch tree.

Seeing Red – The Ruby Bolete

There are mixed reports on the frequency of this following mushroom. Some reports and publications label this as a common European mushroom, and others regard it as a rare sighting. But whatever the current reality is, I do hope you find one of these. They’re a really beautiful example of how nature, especially the world of fungi, can make things all the more colourful for everyone.

Nibbled red bolete MushroomOK, so I’m being a little melodramatic, but the Ruby Bolete (Boletus rubellus or Xerocomus rubellus) is a very striking and pretty mushroom. I actually discovered this last august but I thought it was about time I shared it with the world.

Please excuse the poor picture examples shown here. They had been nibbled and trampled by God knows what! But at least you can see the basics and the beautiful red colour of the cap.

So, whether rare, common or whatever – the usual season for this Bolete (and most other Boletes in general) is from July to November.

It’s a relatively small Bolete in comparison to others of the same genus. The cap ranges in width from 3 – 7cm (sometimes slightly larger), but obviously it’s most striking feature is it’s colour of ruby red and/or scarlet. There also maybe tints of olive colouring near the margin. You’ll also notice there is not much colour change in the pale yellow flesh from the pictures – but there is a colour change on the underside (ie. the pores).

As with all Boletes, there are no typical mushroom ‘gills’ to speak of. They have pores (the open holes from the tubes within the cap). They appear to be maze-like and/or angular and be small and condensed together or quite large and spaced out. In this case it is the latter with the added feature in which it slowly ‘bruises’ blue. Press your thumb on the pores and see the colour change before your eyes. Great and weird all at the same time.

If the red cap and blue staining isn’t enough for positive ID, then take a look at the stem which is slender, often quite tall (up to 8cm), coloured yellow/orange with streaks of red. It is more chrome yellow at the top and duller towards the base. If you slice it in half (vertically) you’ll see the flesh at the base to be speckled with orange flecks. Colour all the way!!

They are edible but unfortunately not really that good. Perhaps younger specimens in a mixed mushroom dish might work, but I gave this batch a miss this time. Too nibbled and mashed!

You can find these special little gems in damper areas around broad-leaved trees in grassland, including local parks. Try to get there before the slug munchers though, unlike me!

Boletus rubellus

The ruby red cap of the Boletus rubellus – notice the blue staing on the pores.

Note: This has also been known as: Boletus versicolor, a name that is no longer used.

Ruby Bolete

 

Halloween Special 2 – Dead Man’s Fingers

It’s Halloween today, so to make this post especially spooky I’ve had to put this freaky fungus in. And what a fantastic name it has too.

Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha) grows on dead wood (usually beech & sycamore) throughout the year, and is very common. The fruiting body is black and irregularly club shaped, often in small groups. It’s of a small(ish) size, reaching up to 8cm in height and up to 3cm in diametre. It’s hard outer shell protects the white flesh within where the spores are produced.

As you can guess this fungus is quite inedible and I don’t think anyone would fancy a nibble anyway! But the best thing about it is it’s strange general appearance. As you can see in the picture below there’s a small group of them growing on dead wood. If you look at the two on the far left, you can see where they get their common name from. Spooky!

Dead Mans Fingers

Dead Mans Fingers – reaching out from the grave?

 

Dead Man's Fingers Pictures

A large collection of Xylaria polymorpha on the moss of dead wood (left). A Dead Man’s Finger cut in half exposing the white spore mass inside.

Halloween Special – The Witch’s Egg

In the spirit of Halloween which is closing in, I thought I’d add an entry about this intriguing and somewhat phallic fungus. At it’s peak (excuse the pun!) this time of year and in full bloom you can smell this beauty from quite a way off. The ‘pong’ is quite unpleasant but not altogether offensive. But you certainly do notice it, even when you can’t see it!

Smelly FungusThe Witch’s Egg (or more commonly known as) Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) initially shows itself as an ‘egg shape’ form in the ground from summer to late autumn, found in most woods and is very common. The egg sack pokes out of the ground and is half buried in the soil. It literally looks like a freshly shelled hard boiled egg planted right in the soil!

The egg sack is quite soft and has a gelatinous feel about it (which would be the jelly like layer beneath). This young stage of the fungus is said to be edible but not highly rated, and I haven’t bothered yet. It’s also said to be a good aphrodisiac – but that’s surely some mad guy making it up because it looks like a ‘you-know-what’ (when fully grown of course)!

It’s probably the same guy who had the enormous fun of scientifically naming this species – ‘Phallus impudicus’! Which, as you can probably guess, translates to something like ‘shameless’ and ‘penis like’. It’s the rudest of all the fungi out there to be sure! But the phallic shape is only shown in its true glory when fully mature.

The egg soon breaks apart, showing the gloopy goo inside. That’s when you start getting the smell ‘eeking’ its way out. After time, as it grows, the adult specimen shows its familiar shape which can grow up to 25cm high. But on average you’re looking at around 14cm. And now the smell is quite obvious. There are many ways to describe it, but I’d say it’s almost ‘chemical like’, nicely mixed in with raw sewage! But fear not – it’s not too potent but potent enough, if you know what I mean.

The tip (or head) has a distinctive ‘bell shape’ (no filthy jokes please) that exudes spores from the tip! The head of the fungus is initially dark olive/black with the stinking spores. These are soon devoured and spread by insects in only a few days, leaving an unmistakable white honey comb pattern with raised ribs.

As you can see in the pictures below, it’s last days are quite dramatic. Like from some kind of horror movie, it gracefully (and wierdly) dissolves back into the earth from whence it came. It is a truly a fantastic fungus worthy of a halloween highlight. Look out (a smell out) for them this autumn.

Stinkhorn egg sack and mature stinkhoorn fungus

Left: A Stinkhorn egg breaking open and a fully mature Stinkhorn. Right: The head of the fungus is initially dark olive/black with sticky, stinking goo (see picture at the beginning of this post). This goo attracts flies, who in turn spread the spores to another place. Eventually it will be stripped of all this slime and leave a white ‘honeycomb’ tip, as seen here.

Dying Stinkhorn

End of days. A dying Stinkhorn as it dissolves back into the earth

Rare, Medium or Well Done? – Beef Steak Fungus

It’s a comical sight and nice surprise when you first come across an oak tree sticking it’s pinky red tongue out at you! It’s happened to me a few times and I seem to be getting use to it.

This is the common Beef Steak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica) found during late summer and autumn. It’s a parasitic species usually found at the base of oak trees and sometimes horse chestnut. It definitely looks freaky when younger, it’s fleshy protrusion almost exactly mimicking the tongue of an Ox!

The colour initially is pinkish then getting redder and finally brown with age. You must get touchy-feely with a younger specimen because it has a spooky ‘flesh’ like feel, maybe even a little rubbery. The surface even has the warty tongue taste buds on! The pale yellow pores on the underside which age red-brown sometimes leak a blood-red juice. This also adds to the overall wierdness of this critter. Marvellous stuff.

The common ‘Beef Steak’ definition naturally refers to the flesh which resembles raw steak. And I know what your asking, and the answer is no! It doesn’t taste like beef steak. It is edible though but can be quite bitter (younger ones more so). You can simmer it or soak it in milk for a day to help reduce this bitterness. I intend to try it very soon and will hopefully mention in a later post. There is no worry in identification. There’s nothing out there that even gets close to resembling our ‘beefy’!

Beef Steak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)

A young example of a Beef Steak Fungus resembling a pink-red tongue!

One last snippet of trivia for you – this fungus can cause ‘brown rot’ in the infected tree, which in turn makes for a very sought after kind of timber. In the furniture industry it is named ‘brown oak’ and is in much demand. It is richer brown in colour to normal uninfected oak. Sometimes only slightly infected trees can create a ‘striped’ pattern in the wood – a mixture of light and dark.

The photos shown above are of a young individual. All the other shots I have of previous encounters have been munched to pieces by the local, and very hungry insect mobs. The older the fungus gets, the tougher the consistency. Colour also changes from an orange-red through to a purple-brown.

Older Beef Steak Fungus

As the Red flesh of the Beef Steak Fungus grows older it will be deeper red in colour and may lose some of it’s surface texture due to weather and insect/animal interference.

Anyone for cake? – King Alfreds Cakes

King Alfred was a terrible cook. In fact (but really in legend) while hiding from the Danes, he’d left a whole batch of cakes in the oven. They were suitably burnt and naturally ruined. So I can only guess he went to the woods and scattered them everywhere on dead ash trees to try and cover up his mistake and pass them off as some kind of fungus. Or something!

Cramp Ball fungusKing Alfred’s Cakes (Daldinia concentrica) attach themselves on the dead wood of broad leaved trees, mainly ash and beech. It’s one of those distinctive fungi I see every almost every time I’m out in woodland. Although their season is summer to autumn, the older specimens linger on the wood for years and years.

Their appearance is literally that of some burnt cakes or even lumps of smooth charcoal. Older fruit bodies have a shiny surface, but younger developing fruit bodies are red/brown in colour with a duller surface. If you were to cut one open it would reveal silver/light and black concentrical zones (hence the ‘concentrica’ in the scientific name), very similar to the ring zones of a tree – or at least half a tree (due to their hemispherical shape).

King Alfreds Cakes

Typical black lumps or ball shapes growing on dead logs

Other ‘common’ names for this fungus are Coal Fungus (for obvious reasons) and Cramp Balls because it used in an old folk remedy for night cramps. I think I’d rather have the night cramps!

And as a great bush craft tip, these beauties are great for starting fires! The inner flesh of an old, dry specimen can be lit with a ‘firesteel’ flint for example (or even a magnifying glass). It will slowly smolder, much like your barbecue briquette and can be used to light your tinder.

But needless to say – much like burnt cakes – these fungi are not edible.

Hair raising! – Hairy Stereum

This is one of the common fungus sights around. In fact it is one of the most commonly recorded fungi in Britain. I’m talking of course of the Hairy Stereum or Hairy Curtain Crust (Stereum hirsutum). You’ll find it layered on the dead/fallen wood and stumps of deciduous trees – and it’s appearance is all year round. Shame it’s too tough and leathery to even think about putting in the pan! Damn!

It’s a bracket fungi and has a semicircular shape which is wavy or curtained in appearance. The ‘zoned’ yellow/brown fruiting bodies typically form in many rows, overlapping each other as they go. I think they look quite pretty when in full bloom – especially when there’s a quite a few of them. Each individual cap can grow up to 6 cm in width and can be up to 3mm thick. Older groups of the Hairy Stereum turn green with algae and look like some kind of Martian slime lettuce! (It does!)

So what’s this ‘hairy’ business all about then? Well, on initial viewing you don’t notice, but on closer inspection you can see many hairy tufts along the upper side. And as a bit of extra trivia, hirsutum in latin means hairy. The brighter yellow/orange lower surface, which is smoother, releases the spores. When older, this underside fades to a dull grey/brown.

So to sum up – If you haven’t seen any of these yet – you’re on the wrong planet. And yes – they’re inedible.

Stereum hirsutum - Hairy Stereum - Bracket fungi

Seen all year round – Typical rows of the orange/brown wavy fungus Stereum hirsutum.

Spots before my eyes – Coral Spot Fungus

Although tiny (0.5 – 1.0mm) the orange fruit bodies of the Coral Spot (Nectria cinnabarina) grow in their hundreds mainly on small dead twigs and branches (wood piles etc.). Even if you’re no mycophile, not many wood walking people can say they haven’t noticed these little critters blossoming just about everywhere throughout the year. And myself, as a fan of all thing fungal just had to know what they were. So now we know.

One mushroom guide I have noted that the ‘non-sexual’ form is the most common found, as in these pictures shown below. The ‘true’ sexual form is dark red/red-brown which has a bumpy surface and both forms usually grow together. We’re getting into the sexual side of things I know – and don’t ask me too much on this subject, I’m still getting my head round the other mysteries of mushrooms!

Anyway. Here’s the picture. You know you’ve seen them before don’t you!? Note: This shot was taken in November 2009.

Coral Spot

Look out for these common orange spots in the woods anytime.

One last thought – I know Coral Spot is classed as inedible, mainly due to them being insubstantial (I believe). But imagine if you will, what if somebody took the time and collected thousands of them, just enough for a good portion – what would it really taste like? I’ve read elsewhere that it’s taste and odour have no distinction – but I think if you really had a munch on a big batch of the stuff, you might get a different result!

Well, maybe not! Just a thought.

Jelly and Ice (no cream) – Jelly Ear or Jews Ear

I’m still out there in the freezing cold, treading on the ice crusted mud and woodland grass in search of any of those winter treats still hanging around on the old dead wood. And I also need a change from mince pies, turkey, wine etc… and pretend I’m losing a few pounds in the process.

I was oJelley Ear Fungus on the side of a treeut in one of the National Forest woods, closest to where I live. It had to be close as I was on the motorbike and had to make the journey short. After all, it was ‘zero’ degrees celcius!

Initially I was looking for any signs of Oyster mushrooms. I know they’re around pretty much all year, but I need to find out more of where that is!

Instead I stumbled across (nearly literally) a modest collection of Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) or Jew’s Ear. They are genuinely funky in appearance, and absolutely great to touch, almost like a mixture between silk and rubber! However, it was so cold that some had completely frozen solid with some only half frozen. I quickly took some snaps to show the ice and ear together.

They’re around most of the year and grow on living and dead wood, mainly elder but also with beech and sycamore.

They are edible but not full of flavour. I didn’t pick any of them at this time, but I’m interested to know if anyone has any interesting recipes to use with them. I believe they are used extensively in Chinese cooking – broths and soups etc. generally to add substance rather than for added taste.

Update Feb 2014:
Since I received a recent comment from a blog follower mentioning the health benefits of this particular fungus, I had to check it out. It’s fascinating to see how many vitamins and minerals it possesses. It really is a super food! To see the health benefits of the Jelly Ear, click here.

Jelly Ear Fungas

Jelly Ear feeling the ice cold of January

Fairytale Fungus – The Fly Agaric

It’s always nice to come across one of the most loved of all toadstools. I’m of course talking of the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria). Most probably you will recall first seeing them depicted in your favourite childhood nursery rhyme or fairytale (or even in a so called ‘Mario’ video game).

Amanita muscaria ToadstoolIt was interesting to discover that they were traditionally used as a fly killer by the people of Slovenia (also England and Sweden). Chopped up flesh chunks were placed in saucers of milk or water, which would then release psychoactive compounds, deadly to any fly or bug foolish enough to take the bait. Some consider this story debatable, but one thing for sure is that the iconic and cultural history of this famous toadstool go back a long way, having deep routes in religion, spirituality, and of course recreational use!

This mushroom is in the same genus as the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) but A.muscaria has a different make-up and is rarely fatal (many would have to be consumed). It is not, as some people think, The Magic Mushroom which most people have heard of. The actual Magic Mushroom or Liberty Cap is actually a Psilocybe species called Psilocybe semilanceata. Nevertheless, the Fly Agaric is indeed a famously noted and powerful hallucinogenic.

I’ve never felt the urge to experiment (either for culinary or recreational interest) as they do cause sickness, and in some cases produce some very alarming symptoms. However, there are some places in Europe where they still eat them, only after careful preparation (parboiling etc). Hmm! I’m still not sure.

The Fly Agaric contains a compound called ‘Muscarine’, which is one of the poisons found in other mushrooms from the Inocybe and Clitocybe genus, although they are in very small quantities here, hence the minimal reports of serious poisoning and/or deaths.

There are many active chemical compounds in the mushroom, but the main psychoactive agent is called muscimol. Its effect on the brain excites neural transmitters causing the hallucinogenic effects, which are very unpredictable and will differ from person to person.

But simply eating this mushroom out right rarely has the effect some people actually want. Yet somehow, somewhere, someone discovered how to get the results they were after – and that was to drink urine! That is, the urine of someone willing to consume the mushrooms in the first place. The psychoactive elements pass through into the urine, while all the other bad elements are all filtered out by the body. All you have to do then is take a drink! There would be minimal or no bad side effects and all the desired good effects – well, hopefully. Several cultures (past and present) have used this practice as a form of religious ritual, recreation and/or spiritually as an entheogen – meaning ‘generating the divine within’.

Whatever your stance is on the ‘use’ of this mushroom, there’s no doubt it is one of natures most interesting and beautiful species. And if you do find some this autumn (or late summer) be sure to look out for any Ceps (Boletus edulis) hanging around nearby – they sometimes will be growing in the same vicinity. Good luck.

Amanita muscaria Images

The Fly Agaric’s Red cap with white spots (veil remnants). Bottom: Notice that over time from weathering/rain etc. the cap can fade in colour and the white veil remnants can be washed off, as shown here.

Amanita muscaria

Two young Fly Agarics covered with remnants of the white veil.

Note: Bear in mind that extremely young examples of this mushroom growing up from the soil can appear like small white puffballs. There was a case of someone eating what they thought was a puffball, and experienced mild hallucinations but suffered no ill effect, just a bit of a scare!

QUICK ID TABLE: FLY AGARIC Amanita muscaria

CAP / FLESH

10-20cm across. Red with white ‘spotted’ veil remnants on the surface; these can wash off with rain and the colour fade to orange-red. Mature cap edge is grooved.

STEM

15-20cm x 1.5-2cm. With a grooved ring. Bulbous base with volva that has rings and scales.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White and free.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Woodland, mostly with birch; also pine and spruce. Late summer – early winter.

EDIBILITY

Poisonous, causing sickness. Contain hallucinogens.

The Genus AMANITA (Amanitas): Characteristics to look out for:

• All have some sort of Volva – a cup-like/sack-like structure at the base of the stem which is the remnant of the universal veil.
• When very young, while still in the universal veil they can look egg-like.
• Most species are often covered with ‘spotted’ veil remnants. These sometimes ‘wash off’.
• Most species have white/whitish gills.
• Be extra careful in identification (examining volva and stem ring if present) as this genus contain some deadly species.