The Soul of beneath - Fungi

Common Puffball releasing spores

Everywhere on the patch there is an extruding and issuing. Toadstools are emerging from nooks, crannies and crevices. Agarics are bursting from the soil. Brackets are banding tree trunks.  Crusts, smuts and mildews are coating branches and leaves. Tripe, jelly, ears and brains are erupting their bizzare shapes from rotting wood.

Fashioned, as if from the very stuff of underworld, from the soul of beneath.

Fungi are brilliant!'s why...

Clouded funnel (Clitocybe nebularis)
They are mysterious.
Aristotle puzzled over the nature fungi, coming to the conclusion that they were an odd kind of plant. On the other hand,  a lot of his less scientific contemporaries believed them to be earthly manifestations of a magical realm. It's easy to see why. Their sudden appearance overnight, has something of the conjuring trick about it.

Even plants move around, and rustle in the wind. Fungi just stand there - silent and still – mysterious sentinels keeping their fungal secret knowledge to themselves.

There is indeed something unearthly about them, it's as if they don't quite belong to our familiar world...plants, animals, rocks. As if they’ve slipped through a crack, a portal to another dimension.

They briefly join us, perform their magic then vanish.

They are beautiful.
Tramping through a wood in autumn and coming across a freshly emerged Parasol, Fly Agaric or Russula is to encounter  a thing of beauty.  A lot of the toadstools are conventionally beautiful in their colourful, well proportioned pomp. Others are strange, or might even be seen as hideous and to describe them as beautiful requires a bit more commitment!

Velvet shank (Flammulina velutipes)

Honey fungus (armillaria sp.)
They are weird
There are many species of moth, however if you’re an entomologist you’re going to find something that looks…well… moth-y – a body, six legs and (usually) four wings.

A fungal foray on the other hand is quite likely to turn up something totally unexpected - something that makes you exclaim ‘by the Jiminy! What in the name of all that's good and holy, on God’s good earth, is that!!’

There are, of course, other things you could exclaim but is by far the most popular.

Bleeding Oak Crust (Stereum gausapatum) 

As well as those with the conventional toadstool shape – there are all manner of other weird and wonderful forms and textures.

There are enough the body parts to start building that all-important fungal man – fingers, ears, brains as well as the phallic ones that embarrassed the victorians even more than table legs!

Imagine Picasso, Francis Bacon or Dali depicting a fungus - their creations wouldn’t approach the ‘shroomy weirdness that we see in the crusts, brackets, balls, stars, spots and jellies.

'Textures of fungi' - or 'Fungi six-ways', all it needs is liberal mentions of  'sous-vide', 'de-constucted' and 'jus'
and we have a masterchef winner.

Earthstars - The one in front was clearly in charge, and said "we come in peace"....I'm not so sure

They are seasonal
The other-worldly nature of fungi is only enhanced by their seasonality. It might be slightly easier to take them for granted If they were equally abundant all through the year. Their sudden appearance in autumn adds to the air of mystery.

There a lot of them
In Britain there are over well 10,000 different species, this makes it relatively easy to find something you’ve never seen before.

Identifying them is fun
Some, such as the Shaggy Inkcap are easily recognisable and are difficult to confuse with anything else. At the other end of spectrum are those which require microscopic examination.

Typically, though fungi can be identified by bit of detective work, piecing together the clues - shape, size, colour, spore colour, smell, taste, habitat.

As Sherlock Holmes didn’t quite say ‘Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the fungus’.

Spore print of Deer Shield

A Spore Print is often required to confirm an identifcation. Spore colour is often a useful diagnotic feature.
  1. Cut off the stem,
  2. Place the cap on paper or glass
  3. Add a drop of water to keep it moist
  4. Put a jar over it
  5. hey presto a fungal 'fingerprint'.

You can find out something new
Unlike more popular qroups, such as birds, fungi aren’t particularly well studied. A couple of years ago I was a mycological  novice – in fact I was a toadstool tyro, a fungal fool and mushroom moron.  It was clearly beginner’s luck but I found two rare species on the patch which were new for Lancashire.

Dead Moll's Fingers
Some have great names.
It’s time for a list!  Here is my all-time top ten of fungus names (cue music and bad Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman impersonation)
1) Hairy Nuts Disco
2) Mousepee Pinkgill
3) Twisted Deceiver
4) Upper Crust
5) Destroying Angel
6) Funeral Bell
7) Dewdrop Dapperling
8) Dead molls fingers
9) King Alfred's Cakes
10) Dog’s Vomit Slime Mould (slime moulds aren’t now classified as fungi  - I can’t leave this one out though)

Plus! You can invent your own collective nouns
A period drama of Bonnets
An "Assylum of Oddballs" 1) Crested Coral (Clavulina coralloides) 2) Toothed Jelly Fungus (Pseudohydnum gelatinosum) a very odd fungus with a jelly like texture and spines on the underside 3) Jelly Ear Fungus - (Auricularia auricula-judae) - it really does look like an ear, strange that the latin name has retained the old racial slur whereas the English name hasn't 4) White Saddle (Helvella crispa) - another very strange fungus with what look like flaps of skin on top of a deeply filamented stem - it's just wrong!
A "B&Q of Brackets". 1) Turkeytail (Trametes versicolor) 2) Hoof fungus (Fomes fomentarius) - brilliantly named, it really does look like a hoof - it was used as tinder 3) Birch Polypore (Birchiptoporus betulinus) - it was used to sharpen cut throat razors
A "Teenager of Spots" 1) Diatrype? 2) Coral Spot Fungus (Nectria cinnabaria) 3 Dacrymyces?  
A "Johnny of Rottens" 1) Honey fungus (armillaria mellea) - a parasite which kills living tress, it doesnt need to moderate its growth as after it kills the tree it continues to grow on the dead rotting wood 4) Shows the 'bootlaces'. Honey fungus spreads both from living trees, dead and live roots and stumps by means of these  root-like rhizomorphs - about  1m a year. They can be so extensive (several square miles) that the largest individuals are thought to be the largest organisms in the world. 2) Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) 3) Common Rustgill (Gymnopilus penetrans)

Tiny Mycena gills with larger gills of Pluteus on which are growing filaments of a third fungus

Purple Brittlegill
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  1. A great selection of fungi finds and lots of wonderful images here Phil. Love some of the names too (Funeral Bell doesn't sound like a promising one for the kitchen!). :)

    1. Thanks Jan, yes I don't think I'll be tucking into a hearty meal of Destroying Angels in the near future

  2. An excellent overview of the fungal world illustrating beautifully why some of us are so entranced by mushrooms of all shapes and forms and not just the edible ones.
    Could I just say that 'jelly ears' were known colloquially as 'Jews' ears' until fairly recently when the name was deemed inappropriate. However the auricula-judae was not so-called for anti-semitic reasons but because legend had it that Judas hanged himself on an elder tree, on which they are usually found. Another popular name for them is the Chinese one 'wood ear'.

  3. Thank you for your humor, and the photos!! That earthstar is fascinating.


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