Autumn fungi in the Midlands
Fungi are the “fruiting bodies” of mushrooms and toadstools, producing the spores (equivalent of seeds) from which new fungi grow. In a sense they are a bit like flowers. They come in many shapes, sizes and beautiful colours and most appear in autumn.
In the UK relatively few of our fungi are poisonous, although a few would make you feel pretty unwell if you ate them. There are two particularly dangerous ones with fabulous names, the death cap and the destroying angel. Unless you’re a very experienced mycologist (fungi expert) it’s best to play safe and just look, but don’t touch. We ask that if you do find some interesting fungi at our places to leave it where you found it and take a picture instead. Fungi play their part in the habitats they are found and we need to do all we can to protect the ecology of our woodlands and parks. #clickdontpick
Why is it so important?
Fungi are a vital part of our world, helping to break down plant and animal matter and recycle it to be used again to create new life. Without them, there would be no circle of life. In general, fungi fare less well where there is too much mowing, cutting back and tidying up in gardens and the countryside. They need plenty of organic material such as wood, leaves and dung to thrive.
The fruiting bodies (mushrooms and toadstools) produce spores which are spread by the wind and enable the fungi to colonise new areas. However, the main part of the fungus is hidden in the soil or the heartwood of the tree and is called the mycelium which can be thousands of metres long and expand over huge areas. Therefore, soil fungi like the soil to be “unimproved”, which means no artificial fertilisers, compaction, ploughing or water logging.
Protecting vital habitats
Fungi that live in wood require the trees, whether fallen or standing, to be left to slowly decline and decay over many years. On our wood pasture parklands like Kedleston, Calke, Hardwick, Belton, Croome, Croft we graze the grass gently with cattle, sheep or deer ensuring the grazing is not too much but not too little either. We leave fallen deadwood on the ground to continue to decay and don’t fell old trees because they are decaying with fungi (unless they become dangerous when we carefully remove dangerous branches and place them on the ground to continue to decay). We plant new trees to replace the very old when they finally go so that there will always be somewhere for the fungi to thrive for centuries to come.
Fungi to keep an eye out for
The classic fairy-tale toadstool, red with white spots (actually called “floccose”). This beautiful toadstool is poisonous and very common, usually found under birch or pine trees at almost any of our properties with these trees.
There are many different but similar puffballs which are common in most grassy places and woodlands in autumn, including the less common giant puffball that can grow up to 40 cm across and weigh several kilograms.
The deceit is that although this toadstool is a bright purple colour it is in fact harmless. This delicate toadstool’s cap is only 5-8 cm across, quite abundant preferring shady woods.
There are many other species of bracket fungi to look out for on many different trees including the remarkable chicken of the woods, which is a bright sulphurous yellow and grows on oak, ash, willow and sweet chestnut to name a few. Why chicken, yes believe it or not, it tastes like it. This striking fungi can often be found at Croft Castle, Hanbury Hall, Kedleston Park, Ilam Park, Hardwick Hall to name just a few.