If You Go Down To The Woods? Fungi!

orange peel fungus

It is the end of the season of fungi in our local woods, and you may have missed a few of our more spectacular fungal examples.  Maulden is on acid sands and shares its distinctive flora with places like Dorset.

Have  look down as you walk and see what fungi you can still see.

The Famous Ones?

Fly Argaric Agaricus muscarius, the epithet deriving from the Latin ‘musca’, or ‘fly’, apparently referring to its use in parts of Europe as an insecticide, crushed in milk for attracting and killing flies.

It is amongst the most iconic of the toadstools, commonly depicted in children’s books and on Christmas cards around the world. It is highly distinctive and, at least when fresh and in good condition, can hardly be confused with any other species.

Its hallucinogenic properties have been well-known for centuries and the species has a long history of use in religious and shamanistic rituals, especially in Siberia. It is a common and widespread fungus, native to much of the north-temperate world, and an important ectomycorrhizal associate of various broadleaved and coniferous trees. Its fruitbodies are also utilised by a wide variety of flies (Diptera) and by some beetles (Coleoptera) as breeding sites.

Honey fungus, or Armillaria  is a genus of parasitic fungi that live on trees and woody shrubs. It includes about 10 species formerly lumped together as A. mellea. Armillarias are long lived and form some of the largest living organisms in the world. The largest single organism (of the species Armillaria solidipes) covers more than 3.4 square miles (8.8 km2) and is thousands of years old!!  Some species of Armillaria are bioluminescent and may be responsible for the phenomena known as foxfire and perhaps will o’ the wisp.

As a forest pathogen, Armillaria can be very destructive. It is responsible for the “white rot” root disease of forests and is distinguished from Tricholoma (mycorrhizal) by this parasitic nature. Its high destructiveness comes from the fact that, unlike most parasites, it doesn’t need to moderate its growth in order to avoid killing its host, since it will continue to thrive on the dead material.

One of the four UK species identified can lead to sickness when ingested with alcohol. Therefore for the non-expert mycologist it is advisable not to drink alcohol for 12 hours before and 24 after eating this mushroom to avoid any possible nausea and vomiting.

Ear Fungus Auricularia auricula-judae, known as the Jew’s ear, wood ear, jelly ear or by a number of other common names, is a species of edible Auriculariales fungus found worldwide. The fruiting body is distinguished by its noticeably ear-like shape and brown colouration; it grows upon wood, especially elder. Its specific epithet is derived from the belief that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from an elder tree; the common name “Judas’s ear” eventually became “Jew’s ear”, while today “jelly ear” and other names are sometimes used. The fungus can be found throughout the year in temperate regions worldwide, where it grows upon both dead and living wood.

In the West, A. auricula-judae was used in folk medicine as recently as the 19th century for complaints including sore throats, sore eyes and jaundice, and as an astringent. Although it is not widely consumed in the West, it has long been popular in China, to the extent that Australia exported large volumes to China in the early twentieth century. Today, the fungus is a popular ingredient in many Chinese dishes, such as hot and sour soup, and also used in Chinese medicine. It is also used in Ghana, as a blood tonic.

Small Puffball – Lycoperdon perlatum, popularly known as the common puffball, warted puffball, gem-studded puffball, or the devil’s snuff-box, is a species of puffball fungus in the family Agaricaceae. A widespread species with a cosmopolitan distribution, it is a medium-sized puffball with a round fruit body tapering to a wide stalk, and dimensions of 1.5 to 6 cm (0.6 to 2.4 in) wide by 3 to 7 cm (1.2 to 2.8 in) tall. It is off-white with a top covered in short spiny bumps or “jewels”, which are easily rubbed off to leave a netlike pattern on the surface. When mature it becomes brown, and a hole in the top opens to release spores in a burst when the body is compressed by touch or falling raindrops.

The puffball grows in fields, gardens, and along roadsides, as well as in grassy clearings in woods. L. perlatum can usually be distinguished from other similar puffballs by differences in surface texture. Several chemical compounds have been isolated and identified from the fruit bodies of L. perlatum, including sterol derivatives, volatile compounds that give the puffball its flavor and odor, and the unusual amino acid lycoperdic acid. Laboratory tests indicate that extracts of the puffball have antimicrobial and antifungal activities.

While most puffballs are not poisonous, some often look similar to young agarics, especially the deadly Amanitas, such as the death cap or destroying angel mushrooms. It is for this reason that all puffballs gathered legally should be cut in half lengthwise. Young puffballs in the edible stage, before maturation of the gleba, have undifferentiated white flesh within; whereas the gills of immature Amanita mushrooms can be seen if they are closely examined.

Orange Peel Fungus – Aleuria aurantia  is a widespread ascomycete fungus in the order Pezizales. The brilliant orange, cup-shaped ascocarps often resemble orange peels strewn on the ground, giving this species its common name. In Europe, the orange peel may be confused with species of Otidea or Caloscypha which are poisonous or of unknown edibility. The orange peel fungus grows on bare clay or disturbed soil throughout North America and Europe. Aleuria aurantia fruits mainly in late summer and autumn.

 

Dining Out On Fungi? Take Care

We won’t offer advice on eating fungi – they are notoriously difficult to identify with absolute accuracy, and a few species that grow locally are lethal if eaten.

Also, you need land owner’s permission to pick them, and cannot legally remove or disturb them from many areas locally as they are SSRIs or otherwise protected.

Please Don’t Pick or Kick

Do, please, discourage children from kicking over toadstools – it diminishes the beauty for all of us, and harms the natural cycle and ecology of the woods around us.

Just remember to leave them alone to sporulate. Most fungi are protected by the same laws and regulations as wild flowers, and should not be disturbed.

Want to learn about Fungi?

We welcome images of rare and unusual fungi and plants found locally, and you can always get in touch with the County Recorder for Fungi and the Greensand Trust