Most folk think that you may only be able to see a mushroom or a toadstool in the autumn months, but in fact they may be observed all year round. The fungi are always there even if you cannot see the fruiting body; a large portion of it remains underground or within the growth mass, rotting wood for example. Environmentally fungi are of great importance for they are nature’s recyclers, breaking down the dead and dying, and releasing their nutrients back into the earth so that others species may thrive.
Fungi are recognised as completely different to animals and plants, and are scientifically classified having their own separate kingdom simply named ‘Fungi’. Unlike plants, fungi do not manufacture their food via photosynthesis, and cellulose is replaced in them with chitin. They digest their food externally and absorb it. Fungi reproduce by releasing tiny spores into the atmosphere via fruiting bodies. Some fungi reproduce asexually, by simple cell division, whilst others have asexual and sexual stages. Sexual reproduction involves the fusion of hyphae, the long white mass of tendrils which penetrates the feeding mass and is hidden from everyday view.
We as humans consume fungi in the yeast in our breads, beers and wines, in cheeses, and also in the form of penicillin.
Wood & Woodland Fungi
Here we have species commonly found growing on dead or living wood in woodland, forests, parks, and basically where there are any number of trees, whether deciduous, or coniferous. Some of these species are parasites, which feed off the living tree, some of which do not harm the tree, but others may kill it. Those that feed off their host without harming it are but weak parasites which only consume the nutrients they require, and are biotrophic species, most of which are unable to feed on dead, decaying wood. Those fungi that do harm and kill the host tree can usually feed off the dead wood also, and these are called necrotrophic fungi. Saprophytic fungi feed off the dead wood of trees, whether standing, fallen or buried, or used in man-made constructions. Some may appear parasitic, but may be just feeding off the dead parts of a tree.
Despite this talk of parasitism, these are few compared to the many that mutually benefit the well-being of the woodland environment. To put it simply, trees and fungi rely on each other for their healthy survival, and this symbiont relationship is important for all life species of the woodland habitat.
Grass & Grassland Fungi
Our areas of grass and grassland, whether they are pastures, meadows, moors, hills and mountains, parkland, road verges, or even our own garden lawns, are a rich environment for many species of fungi to thrive in. In fact, each species of grass cannot live without fungi, and vice-versa. It is the same symbiotic partnership as woodland fungi has with the trees. Even on our coasts, fungi grow amid the clifftop grasses and those of the sand dunes.
Bracket & Crust Fungi
Bracket and crust fungi come in various shapes, patterns and colours, and can be quite magnificent to see. Most feed on dead or dying trees, or rotting stumps, but some are also parasitic.
Before you begin to look through these colourful and fantastic forms of fungi, I would like to state I am no expert on identification and will not be making any reference to their edibility or inedibility, so please, if you see any of these out in the wild do not pick them or eat them without consulting a specialist, ideally a mycologist, an expert in the field. Some species of fungi can be extremely poisonous, and even deadly, especially as some people may be allergic to some forms. So hey, do not touch but enjoy their beauty and their wonder!
Family Agaricaceae (Parasols, Mushrooms, etc.)
Family Amanitaceae (Amanitas)
Family Bolbitiaceae (Fieldcaps & Conecaps)
Family Mycenaceae: Bonnets
Family Psathyrellaceae: Brittlestems & Inkcaps
Family Russulaceae: Milkcaps & Brittlegills
Family Strophariaceae: Roundheads, Tufts & Scalycaps
Family Lycoperdaceae: Puffballs
Family Sclerodermataceae: Earthballs
Family Ganodermataceae: Brackets
Family Hymenochaetaceae: Brackets
Family Meruliaceae (Resupinates & Brackets)
Family Polyporaceae: Brackets
Family Stereaceae: Crusts