Or ‘Mushrooms and toadstools – the deadly and delightful’. SPOILER ALERT! – we never actually found out how to tell the deadly from the delightful. You really just have to know your mushrooms.
This was an odd time of year for a talk about fungi, since most of them fruit in the autumn, but Gordon had managed to find one which was in fruit – the scarlet elfcup (pictured), which actually used to be a rare mushroom but can now be found fairly commonly in Northumberland.
The usual mushrooming season is about eight weeks long from September to November, but this is gradually getting longer because of the effects of global warming. Every cloud, as they say!
So how do you tell a mushroom from a toadstool?
Well, unless there’s a fairy sitting on top of one, you can’t. Both have gills, both come in all colours, not all mushrooms are safe to eat and not all toadstools are poisonous. They are actually biologically identical and both are the fruiting bodies of higher fungi.
Some interesting factoids about fungi
- The Victorians grouped fungi with plants, but now that we have DNA sequencing we know that fungi actually share more genes with humans than they do with plants.
- A fairy ring is a ring of dark grass, which is actually the grass being fertilised from the nitrogen release by the fairy ring fungi as it breaks down the organic matter in the soil.
- The largest single organism in the world is a Honey Fungus which can be found in a forest in Oregon, USA. It’s estimated to weigh 100 tons, occupies 2,384 acres of forest, is up to 10,000 years old, and it has its own festival!
- When fungi are in fruit they produce millions of spores and are one of the leading causes of asthma and sick building syndrome.
- Fungi are nature’s refuse disposal agents as they break down organic matter and recycle it into compost.
- We eat fungi almost every day in the form of mushrooms, truffles, blue cheese and Quorn.
- As well as being a food source and a recycling agent, fungi can reduce a building to dust (dry rot), or wipe out entire species of trees (Ash dieback and Dutch Elm disease), or even cause almost an entire nation to emigrate (potato blight).
Fungi really are an amazing organism. Where would we be without them?