It seems to have been a great year for toadstools and fungi. I've been an amateur mycologist since I was small. I was about 8 years old when I was bought - at my own precocious request - my first identification book; the Octopus guide by Dr Miro Svrcek, which still comes out with me now. A couple of years later, I was allowed to go exploring the countryside on my own. (Thanks mum, that must have been so hard for you to let me go, and I really appreciate it now). Kitted up with my green khaki rucksack, some sweets, sandwiches, thermos, compass, and my Mushrooom book, I tramped the lanes and woods of the Dawlish countryside in search of edible fungi and adventure. So long as I could show my anxious mother that I had identified whatever it was correctly, I was allowed to eat it, cooked by myself in a frying pan with a little butter. I made myself very ill once with a dodgy puffball, not really believing that they were inedible if the inner flesh was not completely white...but that was the only time. Nowadays I'm just as happy collecting photos, (although finding a good crop of edibles is always a bonus). We've found some real stunners this year, like this beautiful cup fungus, seen from the side and from above, with its pool of rainwater, looking for all the world like a fairy pool.
And of course, fly agarics are always lovely to look at...
Sadly we missed the puffball season. Instead, the woodland floor threw up sprawling colonies of Earth Balls, alien looking and hard to the touch when young.
In the coniferous part of the woods, where the towering pine trees make a dense, dark cover, there was an abundant crop of Stink Horns, whose Latin name is aptly 'Phallus Impudicus'. These start off as 'eggs' - in fact, in the Black Forest of Germany, they are called 'Witches' Eggs' or 'Devils Eggs' and are eaten when unexpanded. The mucus layer is slipped off and the ball inside is reputed to have a 'pleasant earthy taste'. So says my old Shell Country Book...but I think I'll stick with just taking pictures...from egg to old age.
The Shell book also says that; "if you take an 'egg' home and leave it on a damp cloth, a stinkhorn will sooner or later emerge, almost suddenly. But it will not make you popular".
Now this pale and creepy chap is a new one to me. It's the False Death Cap. It's stumpier than a real Death Cap and has a velvety sheath splitting over a delicate lemon underskin. The real tester is the smell, which is of fresh raw potato. Actual Death Caps should Never Be Handled. In fact, I used a leaf to move this one, as I would do with any toadstool I was unsure of or believed to be poisonous.
This is a particularly fine type of bracket fungus, and its exquisite lacing of gills, well worth crawling underneath to see.
This tough character is the Birch Polypore - also known as the 'Razor Strop', as it used to be dried and used for sharpening razors.
Finally...an example of how you must be so careful when identifying even the seemingly innocuous. It's simple enough to identify a Parasol mushroom, (Lepiota Procera) although there is also the Stinking Parasol, (Lepiota Cristata) which has a smell 'like tar', looks a bit stouter than its tall elegant cousin and is definitely to be avoided. I've never found one of these, but I always have a cautious sniff of whatever we're picking, as smell can be a good pointer as to what is what. So - the common Parasol, as gathered by Andy...
...and these plainer fellows, picked by me yesterday. They look very much like Parasols, but not the shaggy or common ones. In fact, they look a little like the photos of the stinking variety.
This is when I sit down with several books and the internet and do lots of cross referencing. The smell is a nice mushroom aroma, not at all tarry, and I know we've eaten this kind before. But I want to be certain. At last I discover that it is lesser known type, 'Lepiota Excoriata' and it is edible. Good. Because I've waffled on about fungus for a long time now, and it is way past the breakfast hour. Fried, I think, in a little butter. Just as I've always done.