Tag Archives: fly agaric

Merry Yule and a Happy New Year

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk


For me, the solstice is more important than Christmas. For a forager, or anybody else who spends a lot of time outdoors observing the natural rhythms of life, the shortest day is the most meaningful mark of the ending of one year and beginning of the next.

Every year is different, but some are more different than others. I can only hope 2019 is something closer to normal than 2018 has been. First we had “the beast from the east”, then the hottest, driest summer since 1976, and finally the weirdest, longest and least predictable autumn for fungi that I can remember.

My last post was premature; the end of October wasn’t the end of the mushroom season. After the rains just didn’t come in sufficient quantity, I had started to give up on any sort of major recovery, and stopped taking bookings for mushroom foraging in November. Since then the downpour has been relatively relentless, and the result was a very late fruiting of all sorts of species, including some that had already fruited three times earlier in the autumn, and others I’ve never previously seen in December at all, let alone new ones coming through in the middle of the month (including Fly Agaric, which has had the most incredible year).

Velvet Shanks (Flammulina velutipes), showing fruit bodies produced behind bark, looking remarkably like cultivated Enokitake

Normal service has finally been restored. It’s now muddy again where it is supposed to be muddy, and all springs in my immediate locality are back in full flow (some of them had been dry since August). And today, even though there hasn’t been a frost yet, I spotted the first of the winter specialists: Velvet Shanks growing in a ghyll in my local park. In this case they were fruiting partly beneath some dead bark, which showed, much more than normal, how they are in fact the same species as the cultivated Japanese enokitake.

Our Christmas tree isn’t up yet. Christmas trees are one of the traditions taken from yule, rather than having anything to do with Christianity. We’ve decided to go easy on Christmas anyway, it being our daughter Dorothy’s first and us being somewhat allergic to the whole commercialised consumerist merry-go-round it has become. So the tree will go up tomorrow, on the solstice itself (yule). It is currently in a pot in our back garden (we decided to try to keep the same tree each year, so it grows with Dorothy), and when I inspected it this morning I noticed a load of

Snakeskin Brownie (Hypholoma marginatum)

mushrooms growing in the pot. They were exactly the sort of “little brown jobs” I wouldn’t usually bother putting much effort into identifying, since there’s so many that look a bit like that and almost none of them are edible, but I also didn’t want to kill them unnecessarily but didn’t particularly want anything poisonous coming into our living room. Turns out they are Snakeskin Brownies (Hypholoma marginatum), closely related to the very common and poisonous Sulphur Tuft (H. fasciculare), as well as couple of good edible species. This species is a saprophyte, usually found in coniferous woodland growing on needle litter. They are of unknown edibility, but if the rest of the family is anything to go by then they aren’t likely to be dangerous, and if they are poisonous at all then they are probably bitter.

Anyway…Merry Yule, Christmas and a very happy new year.  Keep safe.


The mysterious case of the missing mushrooms, and other news…

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715


Larch Bolete (19/09/2015, south-east Sussex)

Larch Bolete (19/09/2015, south-east Sussex)

Given the length of time that mycologists and foragers have been watching fungi, you might think we would have a pretty good idea if there’s going to be a good year or a bad year and be able to predict what they are going to do. If so, you’d be wrong. This is actually part II of the mysterious case of the missing mushrooms – part I was the second half of last autumn. In that case what happened was an extended dry spell from mid-September to late October. That this led to a lack of fungi isn’t remotely mysterious; fungi need moisture or they cannot produce fruit bodies. The mystery was their total failure to recover when the rains finally came. I expected November 2015 to make up for the disappointing October, but the situation actually got worse, and by the end of November there was nothing to be found, even though the usual season-ending hard frost hadn’t happened. My most successful outing of last autumn was exactly one year ago: September 19th 2015. Today I returned to the precise locations I visted that day and I found sweet fanny adams. And it is not just some species that are missing; it’s almost everything apart from a few wood-consuming bracket fungi like Giant Polypore and Beefsteak Fungus. This is particularly strange, since last year’s poor showing might have been expected to be followed by a bumper harvest this year. A further element of strangeness is a geographical inconsistency – in the northern half of Britain there is a completely different story unfolding. Judging by the photos and the words of mouth, the start to the mushroom season in Scotland and northern England is at least average and in some places very good indeed.

Fly Agaric (19/09/2015, south-east Sussex)

Fly Agaric (19/09/2015, south-east Sussex)

I won’t pretend that I know what is going on, but my best guess is that it is a combination of temperature and soil moisture. We’ve just had the highest September temperatures for over a century, and my home territory lies just on the border of what botanists call “hardiness zone 9”. Most of the UK is in the colder zone 8, but the south west and the areas immediately adjacent to the south and west coasts of Britain are warmer. This is due to the sea acting as a temperature buffer: daytime highs are slightly lower and nighttime lows are slighty higher. The result is that while the average lows further north have fallen below the level that triggers most of the autumn fungi to fruit, in the far south the fungi still think it is summer. Although it is more complicated than that, because what I’ve been seeing over the past two weeks is one fruit body here and there – one Deathcap, one Blusher, or as today, one Scarletina Bolete (spotted from the car, growing by the side of a road). This suggests that soil moisture content is also playing a part, even though we have had a reasonable amount of rain recently. I won’t pretend that I know what is going to happen next either, but my best guess is that it is just taking a while for the fungi to respond to recent temperature falls and heavy rain, and that within a week or two there will be fungi all over the place. I certainly hope so, because I have got a busy October ahead of me.

Penny Bun / Cep (19/09/2015, south-east Sussex)

Penny Bun / Cep (19/09/2015, south-east Sussex)

Speaking of which, it is probably worth reminding people of some important dates and events which still have free spaces.

Firstly, I have just added another extra date to my fungi foraging sessions in Hemsted Forest (west Kent), due to the others being booked up. This will be on Saturday November 5th (see fungi foraging link at the top of the page).

There are still places available on the fungi foraging workshops on Sat/Sun 8th/9th of October at Bay Tree Cottage in Northamptonshire, and the fungi foraging day and chef-prepared meal on Sun 16th of October at Catthorpe Manor in Leicestershire.

There will be a book launch event (free) on Sat Oct 22nd at Bookbuster, Queen’s Road, Hastings. This will include talks at 6pm and 7.15pm, and signed copies of the new book will be on sale.

There will be another launch event on Fri Nov 4th at The Garden House in Brighton, East Sussex. The launch event will include a display of a wide variety of fungi, signed copies of the book will be available, and it is followed by a talk, a tasting session and a meal (see their website for details).