13 Sept 2013

Fun Amongst the Fungi

Bruce Langridge

When is a mushroom a mushroom? When is a toadstool a toadstool? I don’t know the answer so I looked in my dictionary and it said that “a toadstool is an inedible fungus with an umbrella shaped fruiting body, as distinguished from an edible mushroom”.  It also said that the name comes from Middle English, tode-stool, from its stool-like shape and the popular association with toads which were thought to be poisonous.  The same dictionary seemed to say that mushrooms are edible.  I don’t know if a mycologist (someone who knows about fungi) would agree with that definition – I suspect it’s far more complicated than that.

Anyway why am I writing about mushrooms and toadstools?  One of my jobs today at the Botanic Garden was to go and collect some small bits of wood. Kindling sized twigs to be used in one of the children’s activities.  Not such a bad job on a reasonably fine day.  I collected a few bits and then went into the woods at the start of the Welsh Country Walk.  Just a little way along the path I came across a couple of tree stumps and a wood pile with loads of fungi on them.  I must confess that I know very little about fungi but even with my unpractised eye I could see at least five different types.  Did I know what any of them are called?  Not a chance, but I know a man who does.   They were various colours: yellow, brown and white and various different shapes and textures.  Some looked like the sort we see in children’s story books and others looked quite surreal.  I walked on remembering that I was actually there to collect twigs not to look at fungi and saw, as I walked, even more different varieties.  I met a number of people as I went and, although some of them wanted to know what I was doing, none of them mentioned all the fungi they must have passed.  What a shame.

Anyway after lunch I went back with my camera and took some photos of the fungi.  It was quite dark in the woods so the results were mixed but I managed to get some good pictures.  I was particularly pleased with a photo which showed some tiny Bird’s Nest fungi which I didn’t even see when I took the photo and I certainly didn’t know that’s what they are called.  As well as looking amazing, fungi have such delightful names:  Sulphur Tufts, Turkey Tails, King Alfred’s Cakes, Fairy Slippers, Elf Cups to name but a few.  The thing about fungi that I really like is that they do their own thing.  You don’t have to buy them.  If the conditions are right, they’ll grow.  You don’t have to cultivate them they please themselves.  There’s a great Chicken of the Woods growing on one of the seats in the Boulder Garden, a bit past its best now but still worth a look.    Next time you’re out for a walk in the woods have a look for fungi, you might be surprised.

Pam Murden