Sunday, 6 November 2011

Fungas Foray

Last Autumn when I went on my first mushroom hunt with the expert Steve Kirk, I naively thought I'd gain enough knowledge to head out with my basket and return with enough foraged mushrooms to make a tasty lunch.

I could not have been more wrong. Today after my second two hour adventure through the ancient woodlands of Wildwood, I have learned one truly valuable piece of information, if you get it wrong, you'll get ill at best and die at the worst. And it really is only to easy to get it wrong. Steve Kirk is a true bush craft hero, with his leather hat, mushroom knife and waistcoat with endless pockets, however it is quite eye opening to see him unsure of what quite a large proportion of the mushrooms are, unless he has carefully examined them. There were also the "little brown jobs", which translate as small mushrooms requiring further investigation under a microscope and reference to all his books.

Mushrooms are so amazing. The visible fruits that appear above the ground in the damp, mild weather of Autumn and just a small part of the plant which remains underground, forever hidden as a web-like mesh. The appearance of mushrooms can drastic vary in one day. Some will only fruit every 10 years. They lay silently under the ground for the most part of a year and only fruit and produce mushrooms when the conditions are right to release millions of spores into the air.

Last year I bought Roger Phillips' Common and Important Mushrooms, which is now out of print but was recommended by Steve as one of the best books for identifying mushrooms. I have my app, Wild Mushrooms by Roger Phillips. I feel confident that I know three mushrooms now and I will be happy if I am just able to identify one mushroom.

 These are ink caps, I think they are common ink caps but it doesn't really matter because if you eat them and then drink alcohol up to two weeks after, they'll make you very unwell. I'm not likely to try them on toast however I quite liked the idea the monks had of boiling them up and using the ink to write. Apparently they used to be fed to alcoholics to discourage them from drinking!

The fly agaric (amanita muscaria) was the most easily recognisable mushroom we saw today. It is beautiful, distinguished, hallucinogenic and deadly poisonous in large quantities. However slugs are able to munch on to them to their hearts content as it is the mammalian liver that is attacked by the poison and slugs do not have livers. I wonder if they hallucinate?? They are rather common at Wildwood as they thrive on the numerous silver birch trees, (fly agarics that is although I have no doubt slugs are also common).

And finally some sort of puff ball (I can't remember the Latin name) which is edible, but only when it is pure white inside. Foraging for mushrooms is a complicated business but the perfect excuse to put on woolly socks, leg warmers and wellies on a drizzly November afternoon.

I have no idea what this one is but I spotted it on a pile of silver birch which I think is called a natural rotting fence. I just thought it was pretty. It could be an artist's fungus (Ganoderma applanatum)? Perhaps I should go ahead and have my first stab at identification and maybe email Steve for confirmation.

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