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Fungi foray at Thornham Walks

Where once we saw trees in woods, now we are learning to ‘see’ their connections. Nothing joins a forest like its fungi. For much of the year the nutrient and information superhighways of our woodlands are out of sight. Here they live as fine filaments or mycelia underground, under cover of leaf litter and woody detritus or within living trees.

Jon Tyler introduces the foray Brittle Stem fungi (Psathyrella conopilus) on the ground in front

Autumn’s damp mildness stimulates many species to produce their fleshy fruiting bodies or ‘mushrooms’ in a rush of spore production. Perfect then for a STWN Sunday morning foray into Thornham Walks under the expert leadership of Jon Tyler of Wild for Woods ably assisted by Tree Warden Fe Morris who kindly organised the outing.

We began beneath a beech tree where the ground was dotted with mast. A miniature glade of brittle stems and ink caps had pushed up through the grass. Jon explained that he would take us through the range of shapes and smells, colours and textures shown by ‘mushrooms’ to help us get to grips with some of the major groups of fungi to be found in Suffolk’s woods. Location was also important too, were the fungi growing on stump or living trunk, field or forest floor? Once you start to look there are fungi everywhere.

Armanita – fly agaric – Photo Fe Morris. Unfortunately not found that morning

We had barely set out along the path when the colossal trunk of an ancient oak complete with protruding beef steak fungus brought us to a halt. Jon described the life history of some species of bracket fungi. He explained how they penetrate into the heartwood of a tree and over long periods of time become a cause of classic hollowed-out trunks. Next stop was the first of a series of group gathering exercises where we were dispatched into various different tree stands to search and bring back our finds for discussion.

Cantharellus Cibarius – Chanterelle – growing out of a pine cone – Photo Fe Morris

Fungi are not poisonous to the touch (as explained in the risk assessment) and in the handling, smelling and inspecting one begins to appreciate the differences between species such as the simple differentiation of the cap as an ‘outy’ or ‘inny’ referring to the umbos or central swelling on the cap. Lots can be seen with the naked eye but Jon’s thoughtfully provided hand lenses advice in how to hold them were most welcome.

Photo Helen Bynum

When we were all invited to chose from a fungi themed pack of playing cards and find the species shown, a competitive edge crept into the forages. I picked a classic – the Fly agaric, Amanita muscaria – which has a mycorrihizal relationship with birch trees. This was my only disappointment of the day. No sign of this red and white capped, poisonous beauty. As climate change shifts moisture and temperature levels, fungal seasons are also being disrupted. These and many fungi are fruiting later in autumn but more prolifically. Though we have known about the importance of symbiotic mycorrhiza for trees since 1885 it is only relatively recently that the importance of the mutualism between fungus and plant have come to the popular consciousness along with a greater respect for their role in carbon sequestration and biomass turnover.

Collected samples
The TW group with samples for identifying. Photo Helen Bynum

It was an excellent morning and Jon seemed pleased with the day’s finds too. We left him sitting with a pile of books and two baskets of material to record. As well as the specifics (Jon’s handouts are pinned up on my noticeboard), this was a great way of learning to see and becoming aware and as ever for tree wardens, a joy to be in the woods, connecting.

List of species found (PDF)

Helen Bynum

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