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Forest Floor

Fungi recycle plants after they die on the forest floor and transform them into rich soil. If it were not for mushrooms and fungi, the earth would be buried in several feet of debris and life on the planet would soon disappear. Some of the oldest living mushroom colonies are fairy rings growing around the famous Stonehenge ruins in England. The rings are so large that they can be seen from airplanes. The Honey Mushroom (Armillaria Ostoyae) is the world’s largest know organism. It covers 2,384 acres of soil in Oregon’s Blue Mountains. Put it another way, this humongous would encompass 1,665 football fields or nearly four square miles (10 square kilometers) of ground. It is estimated to be 2,400 years old but could be as ancient as 8,650 years. Mushrooms have their own immune systems. Some mushrooms can destroy cancer cells, and others facilitate nerve regeneration. Fungi are incredibly resilient, even surviving radioactivity. They can actually harness radiation in order to thrive, as was found by a robot that was sent to map the inside of the entombed Chernobyl nuclear reactor in 1999. The robot found a hardy fungus chowing down on 200 tons of melted radioactive fuel. Under the right conditions, some mushroom spores can sit dormant for decades or even a century, and still grow.

Mushrooms are comprised of 85 – 95% water. The world of mushrooms and fungi hold many secrets. The Psathyrella Aquatica (discovered in 2005) is a mushroom that lives completely under water. It has gills and has been observed fruiting on water logged wood on the bottom of clear, cold, flowing waters of the upper Rogue River in Oregon, USA. Penicillin (the antibiotic) was derived from the fungal species, Penicillium. Mushrooms are useful not only as food and medicine; some are also being used in bioremediation (a waste management technique), to absorb and digest dangerous substances like oil, pesticides and industrial waste, in places where they threaten the environment. In the Amazon Rainforest, mushrooms release spores high into the air, creating the surface water to condense, thus triggering rain. A feedback loop is created as the rain promoted more fungal growth so they help to keep the Amazon wet and ‘rainforesty’ – a pretty neat trick. The Mycena family of fungus contains more than 70 species of mushrooms that in glow in the dark. These mushrooms produce light by a chemical reaction called bioluminescence. In the past, travellers illuminated their way through the woods using these glowing pieces of fungus-colonized wood.

Fungi are as uniquely different to plants as plants are from animals. Also, they are more closely related in DNA to humans than they are to plants. You can dye clothes beautiful colours by boiling wild mushrooms and dipping the cloth into the resulting broth. In various civilizations around the world including Russia, China, Greece, Mexico and Latin America, mushroom rituals were practiced. Many believed that mushrooms had properties that could produce super human strength; help in finding lost objects and lead the soul to the realm of the Gods. The sudden, rapid eruptions of circles of mushrooms from the soil led people to believe that terrible forces were at work i.e. lightning strikes, meteorites and shooting stars. A truffle is the fruit of fungus that grows in tree roots, and many people prize it for its flavor. Truffles are very precious and in 2010, the highest bid during a sale, held simultaneously in London, Rome and Macau, was $330,000 for two pieces of the rare tuber weighing a total of 1.3 kilograms (2.78 pounds). It came in Macau of behalf of Stanley Ho, chairman of SJM Holdings, Asia’s largest casino operator.

Dead Man’s Finger

Dead Man's Finger

 

 

 

If you have black, club-shaped mushrooms at or near the base of a tree, you may have dead man’s finger fungus. This fungus may indicate a serious condition that needs your immediate attention. The fungus shows a preference for apple, maple and elm trees, but it can also invade a variety of ornamental trees and shrubs used in home landscapes. The fungus is the result of a problem rather than the cause because it never invades healthy wood. On trees, it often begins in bark lesions. It can also invade damaged roots, which later develop root rot. A dead man’s finger “plant” is actually a mushroom.   Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies (reproductive stage) of fungi. It is shaped like a human finger, each about 1.5 to 4 inches tall. A clump of the mushrooms looks like a human hand. The mushroom arises in spring. It may be pale or bluish with a white tip at first. The fungus matures to dark gray and then black. Trees infected with the disease show a gradual decline. Apple trees may produce a large number of small fruit before they die. When you find dead man’s finger, the first thing you want to do is determine the source of the growth.   Is it growing from the trunk of the tree or the roots? Or is it growing on the mulch at the base of the tree? Dead man’s finger growing on the trunk or roots of a tree is very bad news.   The fungus breaks down the structure of the tree quickly, causing a condition known as soft rot.   There is no cure, and you should remove the tree before it becomes a hazard. Infected trees can collapse and fall without warning.

Dog Stinkhorn

Dog Stinkhorn

There’s no polite way of saying it: stinkhorns are gross, and they stink so strongly you usually smell them before you see them. The Dog Stinkhorn spreads its spores, which are present in the slime, by attracting flies and other creatures that like decaying flesh. The slime sticks to the insects, which then transport the spores.   This is quite an advanced method of reproduction, paralleling flowering plants (which didn’t evolve until toward the end of the age of the dinosaurs), the most advanced members of the plant kingdom, which use insects for pollination (not all flowering plants depend on insects — some use less efficient wind pollination). Stinkhorns are too disgusting to eat but they are supposed to be a delicacy in China, once the slime is removed. Stinkhorns are one of nature’s most foul-smelling creations, but they’re nothing compared to decomposing stinkhorns!

Woodlouse

Woodlouse on Snail Eggs

 

 

 

Snail eggs have taken France and Spain by storm and now suppliers are desperate to turn it into a hit with Britons. Snail’s eggs could soon be lining the shelves in the UK as chefs throughout Europe rediscover the delicacy, known as ‘WHITE CAVIAR’.   Already stocked in tiny cans by Harrods, the tiny pearl-like eggs have been used in banquets for wealthy Romans, Egyptians and Greeks for centuries.

Matchstick Lichen

Matchstick Lichen

Matchstick Lichen got their names because of their similarity to redhead matches. This means that they are sometimes referred to as ‘Devils Matchsticks’. It grows up to 30mm high and can be found in the bogs of Ireland (This one was photographed in the Bog of Allen in County Kildare). It can also grow on rotting timber. About 70000 species of fungi have been described; however, some estimates of total numbers suggest that 1.5 million species may exist.

Puffball Mushroom

Puffball Mushroom

 

 

 

Unlike most other groups, puffballs contain their spores inside, so they’re somewhat rounded.  When mature, any pressure from outside, such as a raindrop or a kick from a child’s shoe, ejects the spores in a cloud of dust. Immature puffballs are roughly globular, and white and soft inside, like cream cheese (or, if you’re a vegetarian, like tofu). They are ideal for beginning mushroomers because there are no poisonous species, and they’re easy to tell apart from other groups if you pay attention.  If a Puffball Mushroom has no stalk or “legs,” and is pure white, soft, and undifferentiated (no separate parts) inside, then it’s in an immature state, and it’s a choice edible mushroom. Puffballs beginning to turn yellow inside or are already forming powdery spores are too late to eat. They have a rich, penetrating, earthy flavor. These gourmet mushrooms won’t get lost in a recipe, even when there are lots of other ingredients or strong seasonings. They can stand up to virtually every form of cooking. You can sauté them, simmer them in soups, cook them with grains, and even bread and bake them in a casserole if they’re large enough.

Candlestick Fungus

Candlestick Fungus

 

 

 

The Candlestick Fungus is sometimes called the ‘Stags Horn Fungus’. This is quite a strong and rubbery fungus.  You can actually bend it without breaking it. It is black at the base, grey in the middle and white at the tips. Just like a snuffed candle wick – hence the name.

Shaggy Ink Cap

Shaggy Ink Cap Mushroom

 

 

 

The Shaggy Ink Cap mushroom is a mushroom that was named for the early era process of producing ink by boiling the blackened mushrooms in water with cloves. As a cousin of the Common Ink Cap mushroom, the Shaggy Ink Cap mushroom has a white skin with tan colouring across its shaggy appearing outer flesh. During the early growth of this mushroom, the cap appears compressed into an oval shape like a closed umbrella. As the oval grows and spreads out, the mushroom begins to form an umbrella-shaped cap.   It is during the early growth stages while still oval or egg-shaped that the gills beneath the caps of the young mushooms are very white and tender textured. As the mushroom ages, the gills darken and become blackened with an inky colouring that actually begins to drip dark black fluid as it deteriorates. Also known as the Shaggy Inky Cap, Shaggy Mane, Inky Top, and Lawyer’s Wig mushroom, the Shaggy Ink Cap can be kept only a few hours before beginning to deteriorate, so it is best not to attempt to air dry this mushroom. It is important to use caution if this mushroom is to be eaten or if the persons selecting this mushroom are unsure of the variety of Ink Cap being considered. As a cousin to the Shaggy Ink Cap, the Common Ink Cap, Inky Cap, or Alcohol Ink Cap mushroom as this type is also referred, it is a mushroom that can be toxic if eaten with or after consuming alcohol. The Common Ink Cap has a smooth appearance without the noticeable shaggy looking outer covering. Knowing the concerns about the Common variety of the Ink Cap mushroom make it questionable as to whether it should be consumed and is generally not recommended as an edible mushroom, especially one to be served to guests.

Purple Jellydisc Fungus

Purple Jellydisc Fungus

 

 

 

When the Purple Jellydisc Fungus (Ascocoryne Sarcoides) first grows on a dead deciduous log, it appears as spherical lobes.   Later, it flattens into a saucer shape. As the fungi gather in clusters, they press against one another to form a rope-like mass, looking like a tiny person had spilled their small intestines onto the forest floor.  The image is enhanced when the fleshy surface of their bodies are moistened by dew or rain. It favors broadleaf trees—particularly the beech tree—in Britain, Ireland, continental Europe, and Australia. Despite its jelly-like appearance (it’s also called “purple jelly drops“), it does not have a distinctive odor or taste and is considered inedible.

Grey Reindeer Lichen

Grey Reindeer Lichen

 

 

 

Green and grey reindeer lichens are most easily separated by colour. Northern native people used reindeer lichen in medicinal teas to treat colds, arthritis, fevers and other problems. Reindeer lichens were also used as a poultice to relieve the ache of arthritic joints. Reindeer lichens have been taken to treat fever, jaundice constipation, convulsions, coughs, and tuberculosis. Grey reindeer lichen is one of the lichens most frequently grazed by caribou and reindeer. In northern Europe it was collected as fodder for livestock, in the belief that milk from the cows would be creamier and their flesh would be fatter and sweeter. Grey reindeer lichen is an excellent example of a plant that has adapted to surviving the severe conditions of the north. Reindeer lichens grow slowly, and mature clumps are often about 100 years old. These lichens generally produce a new branch each year, so that age of a clump can be estimated by counting back through the major branching’s along a stem. Unfortunately, after about 20 years the lower parts start to decompose and eventually you must make an arbitrary decision as to what is living and what is dead. This lichen was photographed in a (now cut down) wood in Prosperous, County Kildare.

The Sickener

The Sickener

 

 

 

The Sickener – as its name implies, is inedible, though not as dangerous as sometimes described in older mushroom guides. The symptoms are mainly gastrointestinal in nature: nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.  These symptoms typically begin half an hour to three hours after ingestion of the mushroom, and usually subside spontaneously, or shortly after the ingested material has been expelled from the intestinal tract.