August: A flurry of fungi

Fly agaric mushroom

The first signs of autumn are starting to appear here in the Lake District, with blackberries lining the hedges and mushrooms hiding under every nook and cranny.

Did you know Beatrix Potter was a keen mycologist? Her fascination with mushrooms and fungi is easy to understand. Have you ever seen a chicken-of-the-woods? Do you know how to spot a slippery jack or a giant puffball? The world of mushrooms is full of outlandish names and intriguing facts…

When to find mushrooms

Fungi don’t just pop up by magic. We see them mainly in the autumn, when it’s wet but usually still warm enough to provide good conditions for growth.

Shaggy cap spotted at Tarn Hows car park
Shaggy cap in Tarn Hows car park
Shaggy cap spotted at Tarn Hows car park

The important part of a fungus lives underground all the year round. This compact mycelium, composed of thousands of little white threads, will produce the familiar mushrooms and toadstools.

These fruiting bodies ripen their primitive seeds, known as spores, which are then released into the air to spread the next generation.

Where to find mushrooms

Tarn Hows is a wonderful place to spot some fabulous fungi. Don’t just look on the ground though, look high up on the trunks of trees to see what appears to be gravity defying bracket fungus clinging to the bark.

Bracket fungus at Tarn Hows
Bracket fungus at Tarn Hows
Bracket fungus at Tarn Hows

Think of an elf or goblin sat under a toadstool, and most likely a red mushroom with white spots will come to mind. The fly agaric mushroom is one of the most widely recognizable.  Historically pieces of the mushroom were put in glasses of milk and the smell was said intoxicate and kill flies. Appreciation of the fly agaric is mostly limited to an appreciation of its looks, as most people are wary of its poisonous reputation.

The red fly agaric mushroom is one of the more recognisable types of fungi
Fly agaric mushroom
The red fly agaric mushroom is one of the more recognisable types of fungi

What to look out for

Three species to look out for are the penny bun, a ‘sponge cap’, the death cap (one to seriously avoid) and the well-known fly agaric. Never eat any fungi you have picked without being absolutely sure of the identification, verified by an expert.

It's not difficult to see how the puffball got its name!
Puffball fungus
It's not difficult to see how the puffball got its name!

Beatrix Potter, the mycologist

Why not visit Wray Castle’s current exhibition and learn more about Beatrix Potter's scientific research around fungi?