Fun with fungi
Fun with fungi
October and November are the great months for fungi. Every year the Wharfedale Naturalists set out on a grand Fungus Foray in local woodland, and Sunday 7th October saw us all gathered at Surprise View on Otley Chevin, complete with magnifying lenses, cameras and an accompanying expert, Professor Tom Hering, who comes every year from Leicester to lead us.
It was a glorious autumn day, early mist melting away to reveal blue skies and a breath-taking view across central Wharfedale. No time to hang about admiring it though. Off we go down the moorside between stands of heather, some still in bloom, and patches of bilberry from which we snatch the occasional delicious berry as we tramp past.
Unfortunately, the lovely Indian Summer we’ve been enjoying does not provide the best conditions for fungi, many of which need moist, muggy days and nights to encourage them to produce the fruiting bodies which we know as mushrooms and toadstools. Sharp eyes were needed and much fossicking about in the leaf litter and undergrowth. However, by lunchtime, specimens of over forty species were displayed in the car park ready for the final identification. In the old days we were all encouraged to collect examples, but now such wholesale picking is discouraged and only our three or four experts take samples, the rest being left to complete their natural process of ripening and dispersing spores. A better option, and, after all, modern digital cameras provide us with a perfect way to record our own favourites in all their natural glory.
Sunday’s harvest may have been sparse by usual standards, and some of the specimens a little shabby, but there were still a fascinating array of shapes and colours – four kinds of puffball, a variety of toadstools including the tiny delicate Angel’s Bonnet, the brilliant red Fly Agaric and the Liberty Cap – so called because its cap was thought to resemble the headwear of the French revolutionaries! There were also several kinds of brackets, a fungus which grows much more slowly and juts out, shelf-like, from tree trunks and fallen logs. These are generally fairly drab, in shades of fawn, brown and cream but, this year, it was a bracket which would have taken the prize for most colourful find of the day had such been offered. It’s an eye-catching apricot colour above: turn it over and your eyes are dazzled by a brilliant yellow underside. It’s called Chicken of the Woods.
Fungi are not always easy to identify. Even our expert, with his trained eye – and nose – and vast knowledge of the subject had to take some away to examine their spores under a microscope. However, all of us can share the excitement of discovery and enjoy their colour and variety. And, if you’re keen to learn more, best to join an expert-led foray like ours!