Autumn is the season to be amazed by the myriad of fungal fruiting bodies that are on show.
And who would have thought that our little island could be home to such colourful and exotic-looking fungi as these beauties?
So if you're out and about in the next few weeks, why not see how many of them you can spot?
Scarlet waxcap (Hygrocybe coccinea)
Also known as the scarlet hood, this classically shaped mushroom can be a fairly frequent find on cropped grassland and in woodland clearings; it also occurs on old lawns and parks and in some well-managed churchyards. It's a striking find from late summer to early winter.
Rosso coral (Ramaria botrytis)
Yes it does remind us of coral as well! This delicate fungus is quite rare, but widespread throughout the southern British Isles, and is found in leaf litter of mature broadleaf woods, especially beech. Favourable growing conditions lead to large numbers from July to November. The chunky white base is one of its most helpful distinguishing features.
Golden spindles (Clavulinopsis fusiformis)
These aptly named fungi grow in clusters on the ground, especially on unimproved short grassland in meadows, parks, lawns, cemeteries and woodland clearings. From late summer to late autumn the club-like golden yellow fruiting bodies can be spotted throughout the country, reaching up to 10cm in height and gradually become brown from the tip with age. Other common names include yellow spindle coral, golden fairy spindle, tongues of flame, and slender golden fingers.
Coral tooth (Hericium coralloides)
High up on beech and birch trees and on fallen logs grows one of the country’s most beautiful and rarest fungi, and we think you’ll agree it’s not too dissimilar to an exotic undersea coral. The striking coral tooth fungus occurs in the south and east of England during summer and autumn and is uncommon enough to be of conservation concern. The fruiting bodies produce tooth-like spines which, like the more familiar gills found on mushrooms, produce spores.
Ringed-blue (Stropharia aeruginosa)
It’s not often you come across such an attractive blue mushroom is it? In fact, this is one of very few blue-green fungi. However, the caps can be much nearer to green than to blue. They grow singly, or in groups, on debris in broadleaf and coniferous woods or among moss in pasture or on the roadside. Besides the striking domed cap, look out for the fragile ring on the stem from July to October.
Orange peel (Aleuria aurantia)
As pretty as a flower, this is the orange peel fungus, and it’s easy to see why. They grow in groups on bare ground or grass, especially on man-made sites such as dirt or gravel tracks, from August to early November. They are quite common and widespread and the cups are initially rounded but soon develop wavy margins and have a tendency to split, reaching up to 12cm wide.
Wrinkled club (Clavulina rugosa)
What an eerie sight these twisted and branched fungi would make bursting out of the ground on a misty autumn morning. They are commonly seen in groups in leaf litter in woods, especially conifers, throughout the country from August to December. The club-shaped fruiting bodies are wrinkled and uneven, developing antler-like branches 5 – 12cm in height.
Yellow brain (Tremella mesenterica)
This delightfully named fungus is very much like a soft gelatinous flower and varies in colour from white to bright golden yellow. It shrivels to become hard and tough when dry, reviving with rain to continue producing spores. It is common and widespread, growing on dead wood from broadleaf trees, particularly on fallen branches of birch and hazel.
The Greek name, mesenterica, means middle intestine, suggesting that this fungus looks more like a middle intestine than a brain, what do you think?
Collared earthstar (Geastrum triplex)
Looking like some sort of alien cocoon from another world, it is in fact one of our largest and most common earthstars. When mature the woody outer surface splits and opens out into a star, revealing puffball-like inner ball which contains the spores that are emitted from the hole as the wind blows across it or its hit by a raindrop.
Fruiting is from summer to late autumn and they are found in small groups in broadleaved woods, along roadside hedgerows, in scrub and on sand dunes often on sloping rather than flat ground.
Porcelain fungus (Oudemansiella mucida)
No prizes for guessing how this mushroom got its name: it’s the slimy, pure white to grey cap that resembles glistening porcelain. They occur in large numbers from late autumn to early winter, but are specific to dead trunks and fallen branches of beech trees. It has recently been discovered they release a powerful fungicide that deters or even destroys competitors. Its other common name is poached egg fungus and is a reference to the white of an egg.
This is just a tiny selection of our more colourful and bizarre fungi from the 15,000 or so species that can be spotted this autumn on a fungal foray. However, many of these are extremely poisonous (even fatal) and should only be identified with a reliable guide, or better still, an expert guided walk which will help you get the most from this seasonal highlight.
Take your interest further with field mycology and conservation with the British Mycological Society.
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