Wild Things Column: A festival of fungi

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This is a perfect time of year to pull on wellies and go for that woodland walk you have been putting off week after week.

Trees provide a colourful curtain of leaves splashed green, gold, brown and red while squirrels, jays and thrushes busily hoover up nuts and berries in preparation for winter.

It’s the peak of fungi season, too. Look around carefully and you will discover fungi emerging from grass, leaf litter or growing on treebark.

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Around 10,000 fungi types grow in Britain including toadstools and mushrooms. Fungi represent a vital and complex link in the woodland ecosystem on which other members depend. They obtain nutrients from decaying organic matter or from other living organisms and some release those nutrients for recycling. Without this the whole nutrient cycle would fail.

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Shaggy Inkcap by Tony Dunstan

Take children or grandchildren to help search on your walk and entertain them by reeling off a few fungi names. They will probably recognise Fly Agaric, the seriously poisonous staple of fairytale book illustrations which has a bright red circular cap flecked with white dots.

Other names to throw out include Chicken of the Woods, Plums and Custard, Common Earth-star, Jew’s Ear, Elf Cup, Penny Bun, King Alfred’s Cakes, Dead Man’s Fingers, Stinkhorn and the sinister-sounding Death Cap.

The Death Cap and Destroying Angel are among only a handful of lethal fungi although some can cause serious illness if eaten.

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There are at least 100 edible species like the fantastic Chanterelle. However, beware. Many of the poisonous species closely resemble edible ones so NEVER eat any unless you are 100 per cent certain of their identity. If you intend foraging for the table spend time studying a fungi book first and take it with you. Better still, go with an expert.

It may also be wise to tell younger children all fungi are poisonous so they don’t feel tempted to try one when you are looking the other way.

There’s much fun to be had with fungi, though. I recall as a kid kicking Puffballs, sending spectacular white clouds of spores into the atmosphere as they exploded. Now where did I put my wellies……



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