It had been a claustrophobic Christmas. Boxing Day, when it came, was grey and overcast but I was determined I’d get out for a walk. I headed towards the river, through a scrap of ancient woodland; it was there the oysterling caught my eye, like a gift left forgotten under the tree.
Getting into Fungi
I’d had previous attempts at ‘getting into fungi’. My interest first sparked when I was a kid, when mum and I tagged along with a fungus foray organised by our local natural history museum. But identifying fungi always seemed rather involved. Sooner or later I’d default back to telling myself: “I haven’t got time for this.”
On this day, however, I had lots of time, oodles of time – a whole afternoon with nothing planned. So I stopped for a look.
Back home, I pulled my field guides down from the shelf where they’d been gathering dust the past few years and tried to put a name to what I’d seen. That turned out to be rather difficult but I got as far as figuring out it was, indeed, some kind of oysterling: Crepidotus sp.
With only a vague idea about what kind of mushroom I’d seen, there was no point trying to submit my observation as ‘a record’. So I started a blog to keep my notes and called it:
I realised I might have got a little further if I’d obtained a spore print from my oysterling so I resolved to go back the next day to get a specimen.
It turns out finding a stick in a wood is roughly on a par with finding a needle in a haystack. I never saw that oysterling again. But I did find a gorgeous clump of mushrooms which I thought might be Glistening Inkcaps Coprinellus micaceous, just edging past their best.
And with that, I was hooked.
Over the past nine months I’ve been amazed by the diversity of fungi that surrounds us.
I’ve enjoyed tiny triumphs, like identifying the yellow-capped mushrooms I found growing in a field as Yellow Field Cap Bolbitius titubans – the first time I’d managed to identify something confidently to species.
I’ve been astounded by tiny fungi, like the Eyelash I found in a woodpile. This was determined by Nick Aplin, a local expert in ascomycetes (the spore-shooting fungi) as Scutellinia crinita – providing my first introduction to the concept of a ‘species complex’, and why you shouldn’t put too much faith in field guides.
I’ve found fungi through every month of the year and have been fascinated to see how they develop and decay. This Chicken of the Woods Laetiporus sulphureus was a particular delight. I could tell you where, five months later, its remains still lie on the woodland floor being slowly consumed by scavengers, and time.
I’ve been intrigued by all the different creatures I’ve found living in association with fungi. Like these harvestmen aggregated under a Russula I found growing near the old landfill...
...and this cis beetle drilling its way into one of the Trametes. (video below)
I’ve even managed to record some relative rarities, such as Spring Hazelcup Encoelia furfuracea – never previously recorded in my part of the county.
And still I’ve barely scratched the surface; the fungus kingdom holds many secrets still waiting to be discovered.
What’s made all of this so much more enjoyable has been the support and encouragement I’ve received from other local fungus recording enthusiasts who’ve helped me make sense of my observations. Their advice – on the blog, through emails and on discussion forums – has helped me build my identification skills. So a brown blob’s not just a brown blob any more; it’s probably some kind of Exidia species.
My advice on getting into fungi? Make the time. Make a connection with your local group. And those grey days need never be dull.
All Photos © Clare Blencowe
By Clare Blencowe who doesn’t know much about fungi but is trying to learn. You can read more about her fungus finds at www.misidentifyingfungi.blogspot.co.uk.