Fungal foray

Now the weather has turned cooler and damper all types of fungi are appearing in fields and woods. As well as providing something fascinating to look at, and wondering if they’re safe to eat, they can be fairly challenging to photograph. They are often to be found lurking in long grass or in the undergrowth in a wood and getting down to ground level is usually a requirement for getting half decent pictures. Here are a couple I’ve taken in the last few weeks:

                   Amanita citrina

Fungi are extremely interesting from a biochemical viewpoint too. They sequester by-products of metabolism (secondary metabolites) leading to some properties which you need to be aware of before eating them. Whilst very few can kill you there can be unpleasant side effects lying in wait for the unwary e.g. members of the Coprinus genus, such as the shaggy ink cap, or lawyers wig (Coprinus comatus) which is very good to eat, contain a toxin called coprine which only makes its presence felt if eaten whilst drinking alcohol. It induces vomiting, and unfortunately it can do this for up to a week after eating the mushrooms. Drinkers beware!

Small quantities of Amanita phalloides, the aptly named death cap agaric, can be fatal, and it resembles some other edible species. It contains a toxin called phalloidin which destroys the liver… and there’s no antidote – to be avoided at all costs.

Other species are hallucinogenic, such as those containing psilocybin, magic mushrooms (those outfield cricketers staring at the ground might not simply be bored), and another Amanita species called the fly agaric (A. muscaria) which legend has it was eaten by the Vikings before going into battle, with well documented and fearsome results.

Panaeolina foenisecii is a small brown field mushroom growing gregariously in grassland which may also be hallucinogenic if eaten in large quantities.

                     Panaeolina foenisecii

Many species of small mushrooms can be found by simply walking through any grassy field at this time of year. But I think the really interesting ones are to be found in woodland growing as parasitic brackets, saprophytically feeding on dead material or symbiotically swapping nutrients with tree roots.

If you’re going to collect them to eat be cautious, most of them aren’t dangerous and alot make extremely good eating, but the bad ones can be deadly. I’m fascinated by fungi so I’ll probably post again in the near future about interesting species I come across.

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