Tag Archives: honey fungus

Desperately need some rain now…

Email: geoff@geoffdann.co.uk

EDIT 14/10/2018: I think we can safely say we’ve had quite a lot of rain now, except the south-east corner of Kent.

03/10/2018

After an encouraging start to the mushroom season, things are very sparse now. Very few ground-fruiting fungi are about in south-east England, and the reason is that the ground has simply not recovered from this summer’s heatwave. We’ve had some bits and pieces of rain, but not the prolonged drenching needed to return things to something like normal. In many places deep cracks that had started to close are now re-opening. It is even worse in some other parts of the country: on a recent visit to Northamptonshire the cracks hadn’t even started to close, and we walked for over three hours and saw no ground-fruiting fungi at all.

A typically spectacular fruiting of Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea)

Where fungi are fruiting they are doing so in ones and twos where in a more typical year there’s be a whole patch or a large ring. Only the wood-fruiting species are doing reasonably well, and even some of those seem to be suffering. Only one good edible species is fruiting abundantly right now and that is Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea).

In previous years when conditions have been like this at the start of October it has gone one of two ways. If a decent amount of rain finally arrives before the end of October then there could be a spectacular showing in November. But if it doesn’t then we might be looking at a write-off, and 2018 will go down as a dud year for fungi.

Because of this uncertainty I am reluctant to schedule any more public events. The ones I’ve already scheduled are almost entirely sold out, but there’s no point in me adding extra dates if it is going to be very difficult to find anything.

UPDATE 04/10/2018: Some signs of improvement today. A second flush of parasols and a fresh penny bun coming through. Not brilliant, but better than I expected.

UPDATE 11/10/2018: I have added an extra date at Mill Wood, on the hope that so many things are currently missing that if we do get some decent rainfall soon, early November should be pretty good.

 

Fungi and Climate Change

Phone: 07964 569715 Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
18/11/2016

A typically spectacular fruiting of Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea)

A typically spectacular fruiting of Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea)

Mushroom season 2016 is nearly over. Not quite over yet (I found some lovely Penny Buns today), but I am not expecting much new stuff to appear before the winter. It has not been a vintage year. Not the total wipeout of the second half of last autumn, but a lot of species either didn’t fruit at all this year or fruited very patchily and unenthusiastically. On the other hand, it was a memorable year for a few species, including a couple of the most spectacular: Fly Agarics and Honey Fungus.

The poor showing of most species has prompted more than one person to ask me whether it has anything to do with climate change, and what it is likely to mean for the future. 2016 is without doubt an important year in terms of climate change. We are on target for yet another record-breaking year in terms of average global temperatures, and there is something very scary going on in the Arctic right now. The deviation from historically-normal concentration of sea ice, which had been in steady decline for several years, has just fallen off a cliff. Some sort of tipping point has been reached, whereby the sea has gone from pretty much frozen in November, to pretty much not frozen.

arctic sea ice disappearance

Arctic sea ice disappearance

Among other side-effects, this disappearance of the sea ice has led to the starvation of 80,000 reindeer. The reindeer usually feed on lichens beneath soft snow, but the changing climate has caused the snow to melt and then refreeze, covering their food in a thick layer of ice they cannot penetrate.

Fungi are less directly affected by climate; they are more at the mercy of weather, which is not the same thing. It is highly unlikely that the British Isles, which sits under a moving junction of several different climate systems, will experience a radical change –  we are destined to continue getting random and unpredictable weather, even if on average it gets a bit warmer. We’ll still have extended spells of dry, wet, warm or cold weather, at unpredictable times of year, as the competing climate systems move about.  It was the extended dry spell in late summer and early autumn that caused the problems this year – drainage ditches and ponds that are normally 1ft deep in water were empty until the end of October, and are only starting to fill up now.

Ruddy Bolete (Boletus rhodoxanthus)

Ruddy Bolete (Rubroboletus rhodoxanthus)

A lot of fungi have extensive ranges that are determined by average temperatures.  Their spores travel far and wide, but they are specialised in terms of at what temperature they can compete successfully with other fungi.  They therefore tend to be common in the centre of their range, and rare at the edges, where the temperature doesn’t suit them so well. This is likely to be relevant to fungi foraging in the longer term, because quite a few species of interest to foragers are much more common further south in Europe. This includes quite a few boletes (mushrooms with tubes and pores rather than gills). British foragers are not accustomed to watching out for poisonous boletes because the only poisonous British boletes are so rare that most people will never find them. This is exactly the sort of thing that is likely to change, because at least five poisonous boletes are considerably more common further south and are likely to become more common in the British Isles as the climate warms up.  They are the Devil’s Bolete (Rubroboletus satanus), the Bilious Bolete (Rubroboletus legaliae), the Ruddy Bolete (Rubroboletus rhodoxanthus), the Oldrose Bolete (Imperator rhodopurpureus) and the Brawny Bolete (Imperator torosus).

Dark Penny Bun (Boletus aereus)

Dark Penny Bun (Boletus aereus)

It is not all bad news though! Also in this category of likely-to-move-northwards is the best edible bolete of them all: the Dark Penny Bun (Boletus aereus). I’ve only ever seen this species on a handful of occasions, and always near the south coast. It is the only bolete tastier than a Penny Bun, and it is very welcome if it chooses to launch a serious invasion!

In other news, I have now been given the go-ahead by the Forestry Commission to run public sessions in Hemsted Forest next year, which means vouchers are available for Christmas presents. Details of this and other events in 2017, including my first dedicated coastal foraging sessions are here.

Finally, just a reminder that I am still selling signed copies of my book at the RRP of £20, including packing and postage.

Honey Fungus: Armillaria on the march

Email: geoffdann@hotmail.com
Phone: 07964 569715

10/10/2013

Temperatures across the UK have plunged several degrees. It was T-shirt weather just two days ago, but I needed a coat this morning. The first major fall of leaves is also underway in the deep south, and there has been a changing of the mushroom guard as the late summer species fade away and the mid-autumn species make their first appearance.

I saw clouded funnel (Clitocybe nebularis) for the first time yesterday, which generally marks the halfway point in the progression of autumn-fruiting fungi. This species likes growing right next to roads and is recognisable as you drive past at 60mph, which leaves little doubt about just how common it is. It never has an off-year. Shame it smells of vomit! Anyway…it reliably turns up at the mid-point of the mushroom season and that is right now.

A wide selection of Tricholomas have also appeared in the last few days, along with another species which never has an off-year: honey fungus (Armillaria) is so super-abundant as to make even the displays of Clouded Funnel look sparse. Combined with the fact it is a virulent parasite and serious forestry/horticultural pest, this means that unlike so many other good edible fungi, foragers can eat Honey Fungus to their heart’s content with absolutely no worries about sustainability or the ethics of taking lots of stuff. The only problem with taking too much of this one is that you might end up with more than you can consume, and you absolutely do not want to be putting any on your compost heap – not if you value the trees and shrubs in your garden, anyway.

Armillaria mellea ("true" Honey Fungus) on the march. Mid-October 2013

Armillaria mellea (“true” Honey Fungus) on the march. Mid-October 2013

I can’t help but associate the word “army” with “Armillaria”; the fruit bodies seem to march across some logs and stumps just like an army on the move. In many cases this fungus will have been the cause of death of those trees – it is one of the few organisms which is both parasitic and saprophytic – capable of killing a living tree and then continuing to feast on its corpse. If you fancy feasting in turn on it then make sure you cook it well and be aware that some people suffer gastric problems after consuming it. My favourite way to cook it is in the roasting dish with a fatty joint of meat, or fried for ten minutes in bacon fat. Long cooking reduces the chance of a reaction, apparently. Either way, it is very tasty.

“Armillaria” does not have any connection with armies, by the way. It derives from the latin “armilla”, meaning “bracelet” and refering to the bracelet-like ring on the stem (see picture). This is one of the identifying features of the species (although there is a ringless form). It’s not the easiest fungi to identify, owing to there being so many other species which grow in great tufts from decaying logs. The pattern on the cap is probably the most helpful indicator, but my advice is just to look at quite a few pictures on the internet and keep your eyes peeled for the next couple of weeks. You will soon learn how to recognise it, and once it is familiar then the only thing you might get it mixed up with is one of the Pholiota species, none of which are seriously poisonous, although some of them don’t mix well with alcohol.

Geoff at a fungi talk and tasting session at The Garden House, Brighton.  October 2013.

The author at a fungi talk and tasting session at The Garden House, Brighton. October 2013.

2013 is also (apparently) turning out to be a vintage year for the chanterelle family.  I’ve been seeing considerably more chanterelles (Cantherellus cibarius) than normal, winter chanterelles (Craterellus tubaeformis) have appeared earlier than normal, yesterday’s group of foraging students happened across a the largest fruiting of horns of plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides) I’ve ever seen and we also found the very rare velvet chanterelle (Cantherellus friesii). To top it all, somebody posted a picture yesterday at Wild Mushrooms Online of the even rarer ashen chanterelle (Cantherellus cinereus).

As a final note I’d just like to thank The Garden House for hosting a highly enjoyable fungi talk last Friday, a review of which can be found here.

Autumn arrives in Britain – It’s Mushroomtime…

07/09/2013

As anyone in rural areas of the north will not need to be told, yesterday autumn arrived in Britain, with a splash. The temperature dropped by about ten degrees in most places, and nearly everywhere had a very welcome downpour. We’ve just had the best summer since 2006, but it does now look as if it’s over. Hopefully (from my point of view anyway) there will be no repeats of the misplaced October heatwave we were subjected to in 2011.

7th September 2013, Sussex.

7th September 2013, Sussex.

It’s also perfect timing in terms of fungi. The first big flush of autumn species had just started poking their heads above ground in the last few days, and the change in the weather means they won’t get dried out and with a bit of luck they will start fruiting in abundance. Today was my first (advertised as) peak session with a group of foraging students, and it produced my first decent basketful of English wild mushrooms of 2013 (we are about 3 or 4 weeks behind northern Scotland down here on the south coast).

We found in excess of forty species altogether, and if I include a couple I found before the session officially started, the list of edible species found today is as follows:

Parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota procera), ruby bolete (Xerocomus rubellus), larch bolete (Suillus grevellei), bay bolete (Boletus badius), the blusher (Amanita rubescens), tawny grisette (Amanita fulva), brown birch bolete (Leccinum scabrum), blackening russula (Russula nigricans), rooting shank (Oudemansiella radicata), orange oak bolete (Leccinum aurantiacum), velvet russula (Russula violiepes), the miller (Clitopilus prunulus), blushing wood mushroom (Agaricus silvaticus), honey fungus (Armillaria mellea) and chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus).

Now is the time to book if you want to go mushrooming with an expert this autumn! 🙂

Geoff