Black Fungi

I seem to have come across a few black fungi recently, so tried to identify them.

This one was in grassland on a cliff in Devon in the summer, 1-2 inches across. I’m not sure about this, but it could be indigo pinkgill.

This one was on a dead birch log in the autumn in Cheshire, a few centimetres across, part of a group of varying sizes. I think this is King Alfred’s Cake fungus, so named because it looks like burnt cake. Surprisingly, it can be used as tinder.

The final one is a much larger bracket fungus (6-8 inches) in Derbyshire in the autumn, on a dead beech stump. A common name is willow bracket, but it is found on other broad leaved trees. This is another fungus that was used for kindling.

Shaggy Ink Cap 2

This damp autumn has seen many fungi in Britain. These shaggy ink cap mushrooms were at Shakerley Mere, Cheshire.

These are said to be edible for just a few hours after picking, they rapidly turn black (hence ‘ink cap’) and decompose. According to Wikipedia they “can sometimes be confused with the magpie ink cap which is poisonous”. The usual rule applies – don’t eat wild fungi unless you know what you are doing.

Compare also the recently posted similar but prettier glistening inkcap – same family, obviously.

Glistening inkcap

These glistening inkcap mushrooms were at Goyt’s Valley, Derbyshire, on rotting tree stumps. Identification of these things seems to be rather difficult, despite having to hand a ‘fungi guide’.

According to Wikipedia, these delicate mushrooms are edible for an hour or two, when they begin to slowly dissolve into a black, inky liquid. No thank you.

Fly Agaric

Fly agaric is a remarkably striking bright coloured toadstool, of which we’ve seen several specimens in this damp English autumn.

Young specimen in Calke Estate, Derbyshire
Older and much larger specimen on a grass verge in Cheshire

According to Wikipedia this fungus is not edible unless suitably treated. It also contains psychoactive substances, historically used for this effect in some cultures.

It is said that this fungus was used, mixed with milk, for getting rid of flies, which were attracted to the psychoactive chemicals, hence the name. Or alternatively the ‘fly’ came from the psychedelic effects of eating it.

An agaric is a type of fungus characterized by a cap that is clearly differentiated from the stalk, with gills on the underside of the cap.

Tinder Fungus

These rather fine specimens of tinder fungus, or fomes fomentarius, sat proudly on a dead silver birch stump in Brereton Country Park. These bracket fungi were quite large, around 1 foot in height.

This species typically continues to live on trees long after they have died, changing from a parasite to a decomposer, helping the dead wood to rot.

The name derives from the fact that it was found to be useful as tinder in making fire.

tinder fungus 1tinder fungus 2

This could be the identity of the queried oyster shell fungus in an earlier post, which was found in the same woods.

Shaggy Scalycap?

Throughout the autumn we have passed this patch of fungus at the base of a roadside tree. My smartphone captured stages of its life. Click twice for more detail.

Identification of fungi is not easy. The scales on the cap suggest this is a shaggy scalycap, which is typically found at the base of trees. It is not edible, although some birds(?) appear to have taken pecks out of it.

The final picture, taken recently, is a rather disgusting mess.

Oyster Shell Fungus?

Here’s another bracket fungus, living on a dead beech branch at Brereton Country Park. At first glance it might be a discarded oyster shell, but I don’t think that features in its identifying name – it’s possibly related to Trametes hirsuta or hairy bracket.

oyster shelllike fungus

I rather like the fortuitous juxtaposition of the fungus and the dead oak leaf on the dead branch.

Underneath there was a fallen comrade in its death throes.

fallen comrade

My autofocus apparently failed to find any point in focus, probably as there was little light under there. The subdued effect is quite pleasing.

Of course these things are not edible, which is quite apparent just looking at them.

Bracket Fungi

It’s the time of year for fungi. I recently came across these two bracket (or shelf) fungi in York (polypores is the more scientific name). They live on tree branches or trunks and consume the wood.

Apparently there are thousands of variants. Of these two, the first is rather large (shelves over a foot across) and the second rather small (under an inch).

The Hidden Life of Trees

hidden life of treesPeter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees is one of those books that change the way you look at things – the world of trees and forests in particular.

Starting off as a conventional forester, he gradually became aware of the real life that was going on around him, rather than just seeing the trees as objects to be managed.

Trees are complex organisms that live in families, nurture each other, respond to their environment, live in symbiosis with other beings, have a circulation and a food system, move in response to environmental change – indeed they are complex social organisms just as we are. It’s just that their timescales are different – much more extended than ours, just as our timescales are much more extended than those of the mayfly.

The timescale for forests and their tree families measures in the hundreds and thousands of years. When we destroy an ancient forest, we are destroying an ecosystem that has taken many hundreds of years to establish. Most ancient forest in Europe is already destroyed through man’s ignorance, so it is imperative to retain those that remain – they are literally irreplaceable. New planting starts a new process of building up an ecosystem, but who knows if the insects, microorganisms and fungi (let alone the fauna) will ever re-establish themselves.

Wohlleben explains how forests act as a water pump, creating the clouds that give rain to landlocked interiors of continents. Without trees there would be far more desert.

Forests have a calming effect on weather, soak up heavy rains avoiding flooding, absorb masses of carbon dioxide (particularly the older trees), provide the environment for massive biodiversity… There are so many benefits.

And then there are the benefits of simply walking in the forest. Most of us have experienced its wonderful calming effect at some point. I guess that’s because at some level we can sense the majestic life in these great beings.

As more and more virgin forests across the world are destroyed by commercial interests, such as for growing palm oil or animal food, the loss and potential dangers are surely clear. Climate change demands that we need more forest cover, not less, to help alleviate the increase in CO2 and its effects.

The book contains a lot more insights than my brief comments suggest. Do read it. Superb!

Parasol Mushroom

I was struck by these rather large mushrooms, several inches across, that had appeared in small groups in the grassland in Tatton Park. It seems that they are parasol mushrooms.

The two young ones entwined like mother and child are particularly cute.

These mushrooms are apparently more common in the south of Britain, but there certainly seemed to be plenty at Tatton.

They are said to be edible, but then again a very similar species is poisonous, so don’t – unless you know what you’re doing and it is legal to pick them.

I was cursing not having taken camera with me,
but at a pinch the smartphone made not too bad a job of it.