Often used to illustrate fairy tales and associated with folklore, fungi remind us of mythical creatures, favourite stories or childhood characters. From rock hard, black fungi named after the legend of King Alfred’s burnt cakes to tiny orange fungi that look like little pieces of orange peel, the breadth and variety of British fungi can be astonishing. They come in many shapes and sizes and can be found by looking high and low, particularly in woodland. Their names can be simply descriptive or intriguing, reflecting past times and legends.
What are fungi?
Not categorised as a plant, fungi are organisms that live under the ground or on their host. They form a colony of tiny branching threads called Mycelium.
The parts of the fungi we see above ground are the fruiting bodies. This part contains spores, similar to seeds in as much as they are for reproduction, which are dispersed to produce future colonies. Some fungi shed their spores from below, some by expelling them with force and others in liquid form.
Fungi don’t photosynthesise as they don’t have any chlorophyll, so they get their energy from their growing medium, which might be leaf litter, rotting wood or decaying creatures.
A food source for wildlife
Along with berries, hips, seeds and nuts, fungi can be a source of nutrition for our wildlife, particularly in the autumn months as they are preparing for the long winter ahead. While not many mammals eat fungi directly, they are a favourite of a variety of mini-beasts such as slugs, ants and flies, who in turn are eaten by larger creatures, including birds. Fungi are an essential part of the lifecycle of many habitats.
What do they do?
Fungi are essential for ecological health and the balance of ecosystems. They are a vital part of the decomposition process, helping to break down material in woodland. Without them, leaf litter, dead animals and trees would continually build up. The resulting decayed matter goes on to feed other plants and organisms keeping the ecosystem going.
Fungi release nitrogen and phosphorus from the decaying process into the atmosphere, unlocking these elements and replenishing the environment with nutrients.
Best left untouched
Many varieties of fungi are poisonous, so it’s best to simply photograph and avoid touching them.
Help us look after our fungi
The trend of foraging for fungi has increased, which could lead to a negative impact on fungi populations, and the organisms they support. Therefore we don't support or allow fungi picking on any of our land. This is in line with our Wild Food Foraging position. Commercial picking is illegal, so if you suspect or see commercial picking please contact the local police to inform them.
Some of our favourite fungi
The bright pop of colour makes it easy to spot these fungi which can often be found emerging through grass or leaf litter. They grow in a ribbon-like or curled shape giving the appearance of a freshly peeled orange skin.
You will need to look hard on the forest floor for the tiny, ethereal fingers of these fungi. They can be found protruding from dead wood in native broadleaf woodland, often at ground level. Their flat shape and black and white colouring gives the appearance of burnt candle wicks, which is where their name comes from.
These beautiful purple fungi look almost jewel-like standing among the leaves on the forest floor. They are at their most vibrant when wet, preferring the damp leaf litter of a deciduous woodland.
When this iconic fungi starts to emerge from the ground it looks much like a small, plain white mushroom. As it grows, it stretches out showing the deep red colour it is famous for and leaving small spots of the white coating across its surface. They can often be found in a small group in the shade of a silver birch.
These semi-transparent, jelly-like fungi can be found in clusters on dead wood, often that of the elder tree. Due to its smooth surface, cupped shape and coolness to touch it has been likened to a human ear, giving it its name.
This is a form of bracket fungus that can be found only on birch trees. They form a fan-like shelf sticking out from the side of a tree and can grow to dinner plate size.
Clusters of these fungi can be found during autumn months emerging through the leaf litter in deciduous woodland. Their ball like shape swells over time until the head of the fungi explodes, sending thousands of spores flying to populate other areas of the woodland for future years.