Archive 2008: Fungi


Where would autumn be without fungi? Neither animals, nor, strictly speaking, plants, fungi are one of the quintessential autumnal experiences.

waxcap © Martha Roberts, National Trust

The waxcap: look out for this beautiful fungus between October and December.

There are guided walks and events, led by experts all over the country to help you get to know these fascinating organisms at first hand. The wet summer and mild autumn have made this a bumper year for fungi so now's the time.

For a full listing of autumn wildlife places and events near you, simply enter your postcode into the BBC Breathing Events Finder.

So what exactly are fungi, and why are they so special? For a start, they're in a kingdom of their own, separate from the plant and animal kingdoms. They include mushrooms, toadstools and moulds. The mushrooms and toadstools we see are only a tiny part of the whole fungus – the fruiting part that lives above ground. The vast majority of a fungus lives out of sight, beneath the soil or in rotting wood.

Many people worry about picking and eating fungi, fearing that they will be poisoned. If you're not completely sure what you have picked, DON'T eat them! The best way is to go on a fungal foray with an expert.


Fungi are in kingdom of their own, separate from the plant and animal kingdoms.

One beautiful type of fungus to look out for between October and December is the waxcap. There are 40 species in Britain and they usually appear on short cropped lawns or old grassland sites. We've spotted four species on Brownsea Island so far, including meadow, parrot, scarlet and yellow waxcaps.

Check out the BBC Breathing Places Have Fun With Fungi page The BBC Breathing Places team have made a pocket guide full of information that you can download. Also check the Woodland Trust's website for great nature notes on fungi.

Photographing fungi is a real challenge, especially as they are often commonest in damp, dark places such as woods. But with a good macro lens and careful use of flash you can get some truly memorable images. Check out these fantastic ones from the Autumnwatch Flickr site. And if any particularly inspire leave a note for the photographer.

Some more fascinating fungal facts:

  • There are more than 3,000 different kinds of fungi in the UK, of which just 50 are good to eat
  • Fungi feed by absorbing decaying material such as leaves or dead or dying wood – making them 'nature's recyclers'
  • Fungi reproduce by means of spores, which they release into the air in vast numbers
  • Trees and fungi have a complicated symbiotic relationship, supplying each other with essential nutrients and minerals; a relationship which has lasted more than 130 million years
  • As well as eating mushrooms, we use fungi for all sorts of things – such as penicillin, yeast for baking bread, and as hallucinogenic drugs
  • Lichens are a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an alga
  • Some fungi even live on us – athlete's foot is a fungus!

Share your photos of wildlife in the Big Freeze.

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