Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fascinated by Fungi - the Book Launch

We had a tremendous attendance at the launch of Fascinated by Fungi, Pat O'Reilly's amazing new book. More than 150 people turned up for the launch at the National Botanic Garden of Wales on Saturday 24th September 2011, and among them were several noted experts from the world of mycology including David Harries the county recorder for Pembrokeshire, Nigel Stringer (who needs no introduction to fellow fungi enthusiasts) and Ray Woods, who ranks among the all-time greats in communicating a fascination with the kingdom of fungi to those of us with a much more limited experience of mycology.

Dr Rosetta Plummer, Director of the National Botanic Garden, opened the proceedings and welcomed people to not only the book launch but also the exhibition From Another Kingdom, a mushroom cookery demonstration by Gary Whiteley of Maesllyn Mushrooms, and special mushroom menu in the on-site restaurant, and after lunch a fungus foray that despite poor weather attracted a huge following and was acclaimed a great success. Many thanks to Bruce Langridge and Ray Woods, who held the participants spellbound throughout the foray.

Roger Thomas, chief executive of the Countryside Council for Wales, formally launched the book, which he confidently expects will become essential reading for anyone, whether a lay person or a professional mycologist, with an interest in fungi.

Fascinated by Fungi is now available at the Stables Bookshop in the National Botanic Garden of Wales, priced at just £25, and copies can also be obtained via where a private collector's edition, casebound, is also available.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mushroom of the Month, December 2010

There are two very similar brain fungi with yellow jelly-like and both are members of the family Tremellaceae. Most often here in West Wales we come across Tremella mesenterica, which is parasistic on crust fungi of the genus Peniophora. The other is Tremella aurantia, and it is not quite so common in our area; this jelly fungus is parasitic on Stereum hirsutum, the Hairy Curtain Crust. There is little to distinguish these two, and perhaps the best way to identify them is to take a close look at the substrate they are attached to; you should find that your brain fungus is growing from the remains of some kind of crust fungus, and you now know which is which (if you know your Peniophora from your Stereum, that is! Ain't fungi fun?).

Here is a picture of Stereum hirsutum:

And here is a Peniophora species:

Incidentally, the normally reddish-brown Leafy Brain (Tremella foliacea) has a pinkish-white form that could also cause confusion; however both Tremella mesenterica and Tremella aurantia are yellow or orange (or brown when totally dried up!) so if you do come across a whitish brain-like fungus it's neither of them.

Here's hoping you have/have had a very Happy Christmas!


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mushroom of the Month, November 2010

What makes a mycelium decide that it is time to produce fruitbodies? Is it when conditions are good for spore production and distribution, or are fungi more like desert orchids, producing potential offspring (seeds in the case of orchids and spores in the case of fungi) when the parent is stressed and at risk of dying? We may guess at the answer, but we will never really know. Anyway, what brought this thought to mind was the paucity of Parasol Mushrooms this summer and autumn... until in early November, when I came across several in perfect condition and obviously coping well with weather quite different from what would be 'normal' in their traditional fruiting season.

Oops! There I go, falling in to the trap of using the word 'normal' in the same sentence as 'weather'. What I should have said is 'in the days when patterns of British weather bore at least some resemblance to normality'. Climate Change (Climate Chaos, as I prefer to call it) has abolished all norms. Where I wandered, at least, the early November weather seems to have suited August-fruiting fungi rather better than August did.

What is special about Parasol Mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera) apart from their undeniable gracefulness is their perfect fit in a frying pan. I won't go in to recipes here - I'm saving that topic for my new book about fungi, which is at last entering the home straight towards completion - but these really are Pizza-on-a-Stick pickable if you enjoy eating wild mushrooms.

The genus name Lepiota simply means scaly, while the specific epithet procera, meaning tall, is self-explanatory when applied to these stately parasols. Found in grassland, Parasol Mushrooms have a strange habit of springing up on roadside verges on the most dangerous of bends, diverting drivers' attention from the road at critical times. Unfortunately, fungi are very good at accumulating heavy metals and other toxins, and so it is best to avoid eating Parasol Mushrooms (or other edible fungi) from roadside verges. Golf course margins, parkland and dune slacks are better places to try - the latter, warmed by the sea air, often proving to be fertile fungi foray territory well in to winter when inland sites have been thoroughly frosted off. Food for thought...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mushroom of the Month, October 2010

It has been a great autumn for Amanita fungi here in Wales, and a few of the rare or at least infrequent finds have 'turned up' to add sparkle to forays.
Somewhat similar, much less common but hardly less glamorous that the Orange Grisette (Amanita crocea), the Snakeskin Grisette is mycorrhizal with hardwoods and conifers. Amanita cecilae (syn. Amanita inaurata and Amanita strangulata) is an uncommon find in Britain and Ireland, but widespread in most of mainland Europe. Here's a brief ID guide...

Cap: olivaceous fawn, darkest at the centre, margin much paler; margin has strong radial lines; irregular grey veil fragments mainly in cap centre; convex, eventually flattening; 6 to 12cm across.
Gills: creamy white, greying with age; free, with frequent short gills; not very crowded.
Stem: pale grey, surface developing snakeskin pattern of scales; no ring; 8 to 17 cm long, 1 to 2cm dia.; stem base not swollen; bag-like white volva that soon collapses leaving patches on stem base.
Spore print: white.

I have pictures of fully expanded caps, but I am saving those for my new book, which is nearing completion... probably! The trouble is, it's such a fascinating subject that deciding what to omit is very difficult. It's not an ID guide, but a broad introduction to the beauty, science, fantasy, uses and modus vivendi of fungi of woodlands, grasslands and some marginal habitats. Early next year, I hope... I'll keep you posted via this blog and I'll be making chunks downloadable as PDFs to (I hope) whet appetites. Thanks to all who have offered pictures - much appreciated.

Happy foraging,


Friday, September 24, 2010

Mushroom of the month - September 2010

There is something very strange about this very attractive little mushroom, and it puzzled experts for a very long time. It was thought to be a mycorrhizal fungus, creating a symbioltic relationship with pine trees, but some sharp-eyed mycologists spotted the fact that wherever Gomphidius roseus appeared another, much more common species invariably showed up (although not necessarily at the same time).

Suillus bovinus, the Jersey cow bolete, is also found under pine trees, with which it forms an ectomycorrhizal relationship, the fungus and the tree providing each other with some of their nutrient needs.

In fact we now know that Gomphideus roseus is a parasite, feeding on the mycorrhizae created by the bolete and the pine tree. This month I came across a group of these fungi so closely packed that it looked almost as though the Gomphidius and the Suillus species were conjoined at the base. Here's a picture showing the stem bases of one of the spike caps and two young boletes:

Tempted to make a meal of these gorgeous little mushrooms? Although they were collected for many years in some Eastern European countries there are now serious doubts about all of the spike caps, so perhaps it's better to make a meal of the Jersey cow boletes... or maybe the cow itself (although a whole one would probably be too much for most people).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mushroom of the Month - August 2010

Marasmius oreades, the Fairy Ring Champignon, is a small, pale-brown mushroom that is particularly common in the Autumn. You find these edible fungi on garden lawns, in graveyards, on parkland and most other kinds of short grassland that is not heavily dosed with fertilisers or weedkillers. This year, due to a wet July here in the west of Britain, the fairies have been out dancing earlier than usual, and rings and groups of Fairy Ring Chanpignons are already plentiful.
There is a logical explanation for fairy rings (unfortunately!). It is expandings underground discs of mycellium that causes these ring formations - not necessarily the work of fairies, therefore - a circle in a grassy area marking the periphery of a buried fungal growth. The disc becomes an annulus once the mycellium has consumed all it can from the central area, and so the diameter of a ring is an indication of the age of the fungal organism that is causing it.

The most common types of fairy ring cause the turf to grow a darker green, but other types of fungi may cause the grass to turn yellow or reddish. The grass inside a ring may die back because the soil there has been depleted of organic material and resists watering. When two fairy rings meet they gebnerally cannot cross one another (because the nutrients needed by the mycellia have already been consumed) and so the rimgs break and become arcs. Ring expansion is also broken when the perimeter comes up against a deeply-rooted tree, a wall or a deeply sunk concrete post etc. These grassland fungi don't always form rings, therefore, and in fact lines of the little brown mushrooms are rather more common than complete rings.
Up to 5 or 6cm tall and with a cap diameter of typically 2 to 4cm, this is one of the many mushrooms that change colour between dry and wet weather. Caps are usually pale beige when dry, turning rather darker when wet. Often the edges of the caps are shallowly scalloped, while the main gills are widely spaced and just free of the stems, and they are interspersed with shorter intermediate gills.

Although quite small, this is a good edible mushroom, and it's very easy to gather enough for a meals small because they fruit in such great numbers. Discard the tough stalks and dry the caps on a radiator, in an open warm oven, or threaded on twine and hung up in a warm dry place (an airing cupboard will do, provided it is well ventilated. Stored in jars, dried mushrooms can be kept for as long as you like.

The family Marasmiaceae (within the order Agaricales) are white-spored fungi, many of which are able to survive drought and near desiccation and can later recover when it rains. Another edible mushroom within this family is the Shiitake mushroom, Lentinula edodes.
Of course, it's impossible to prove a negative, and just because we have a scientific explanation for fairy rings of mushrooms doesn't mean that fairies do not exist. They may even have the power to determine where fungal spores can meet, mate and make rings. Who knows?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mushroom of the Month, July 2010

Quite a rare find, Boletus parasiticus (synonym: Pseudoboletus parasiticus) is commonly referred to as the parasitic bolete. It is always found with common earthballs, Scleroderma citrinum. That seems to suggest that this bolete consumes the earthball to which it appears to be attached, and yet some scientists are now suggesting that the relationship may not be parasitic after all. Well, perhaps so, but I remain to be convinced: just look at how the earthball in the picture above appears deflated, as though something is consuming its innards.

There seems to be little dount that Boletus parasiticus cannot live without its earthball associate, and every specimen that I find is with an earthball partner. Often a single earthball is 'host' (if that is an appropriate term for the true relationship between these two fungi) to several fruitbodies of the parasitic bolete. Parasitic boletes are hard to find, and stumbling across a patch of common earthballs is no guarantee that you are about to see this rather dull and unimpressive member of the family Boletaceae: most earthballs occur without parasitic boletes.

If you ever go across the sea to Ireland, as the song says... some way south of Galway bay is the lovely town of Killarney and its nearby lakes and mountains. Within the woodland there, and most particularly near Mucross Abbey, common earthballs line many of the drainage ditches, and quite a high proportion of those earthballs have parasitic boletes attached to them.

Where else is good? Well. my favourite hunting ground is in the narrow strip of woodland along the gorge of the River Teifi at Henllan, in West Wales. There, every year, while hunting rare fungi and lichen I come across dozens of parasitic boletes with, of course, common earthballs.

I have looked out for these intriguing boletes in so many other places and failed. The New Forest, in southern England; the Caledonian Forest, in Scotland; the Forest of Dean, in the Wye Valley; numerous pinewoods in France, Portugal, Bulgaria... But of course, not finding them doesn't mean that they are not there. These are fairly inconspicuous fungi, almost always in deeply shaded habitats with plenty of leaf litter, with which backgrounds they blend in very well.

One final point... this is always a woodland mushroom, as indeed are most if not all other boletes. The common earthball, Scleroderma citrinum, is ectomycorrhizal with both hardwood and softwood trees (broadleaves and conifers), meaning that it lives in a mutually beneficial relationship (termed symbiosis) with the fine rootlets at the ends of the roots of trees. The fungus in effect feeds the tree and the tree also delivers vital chemicals to the fungus. Meanwhile, within this ménage à trois, the parasitic bolete is also up to something, and I suspect it is up to no good! How often we find that these interrelationships between fungi and plants are far from simple. For example the rare wild orchid Limodorum abortivum is now known to depend on certain kinds of Russula fungi which themselves require pine trees - explaining why the violet limodore, to quote the orchid's common name, is found only beneath pine trees.

We certainly do live in an amazing (and amazingly complex) world.

Do let me know if you are able to add to (or correct) any of the above...

Happy hunting!