Each year, with the approach of late summer and autumn, we begin to see more and more species of fungi especially when on woodland walks. In fact, there are something like 3,000 species, varying greatly in size, colour and shape.
Many are so small that they can only be identi ed under the microscope, while others are much larger. The Giant Puffball (Calvatia giganteum) for example, can reach 30cm in diameter. Most fungi consist primarily of a tangle of delicate threads, the mycelium, from which many produce fruiting bodies which we know as mushrooms or toadstools. These vary greatly in colour, virtually all the colours of the rainbow, including black. One of the most brightly coloured is the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), the ‘cap’ of which is a brilliant red speckled with white (see picture), rather beautiful, but like so many fungi this species is quite dangerous and should not be eaten. In fact, it is closely related to the ‘Deathcap’ fungus (Amanita phalloides), which is deadly poisonous.
There is also great variation in shape and texture. Some ‘caps’ are domed, some are cup-shaped while others are very irregular in shape. The Orange Peel Peziza (Peziza aurantia) for example, is an irregular cup- shape, looking very much like orange peel as the name suggests and is often to be found on bare soil or gravel such as in forest rides. Texture varies greatly too, some toadstools being very delicate indeed while others, such as those of the bracket fungi, can be very hard and tough.
Bracket fungi are often conspicuous, not because of their colour, but because of their large size and the fact that they occupy prominent positions on the trunks of trees. Their mycelium spreads through the tree, clogging the translocatory system and poisoning the tree as well, often with fatal results, whereas the ‘brackets’ are external. There are a number of species affecting trees, but one of the most common is to be seen on the silver birch. Another fungus to be found in woodland is the Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus), well-named indeed as it emits a most unpleasant smell which can be detected yards away! And so, all sorts of examples to look out for when walking at this time of year.