Beefsteak fungus

Penny Bun (Cep)

Richard’s Fungal Infection (sorry Affection)

On one of the latest New Forest based weekends in October, we took a safari through the lesser walked jungle between Shave Wood, north of Lyndhurst, and the New Forest Lodge hotel, on the outskirts of the village.  The route was one of Steve’s enjoyable meanderings ‘off piste’, as he likes to put it, in other words there is no distinct path and the group has to trust his unerring sense of direction.  They don’t call him the human sat-nav for nothing.  These always remind me of those Tarzan films where the group steers away through seemingly impenetrable foliage, only to find safety after several pit-falls, fallen trees and swamps.  We were lucky we didn’t get ambushed by angry bushmen or, more likely here, the irritated dog walker taken by surprise.

The thing that slowed us down though, on this exploratory trek, was spotting so much of interest along the way.  What Steve wanted to show us was his ‘Pair of Trousers’ tree - well worth it, but too hard to explain here unless someone has a picture – but as well as this we kept finding so many fascinating looking fungi, we had to divert off (even more!) to take a closer look.  I think we actually started to annoy Steve in the end, as the time taken up threatened to make us late for the hotel bar (untrue - Steve), but really all the dodging round helped mask the fact that he didn’t know where he was going (true - Steve).

Plenty of the fungi were useful examples of the sort of thing I like to point out as being safe or not safe, and more of those in a minute, but one fantastic spectacle became the highlight, even though it is of dubious culinary interest.  Those of you there will remember that I wasn’t completely familiar with this one, as I hadn’t seen it in such lovely clusters so high up the tree, although I mentioned I thought it was one of the Pholiota genus and I would look it up and get back to you.  Well, I’ve looked into it and sure enough it is definitely a Pholiota and there are a couple that go under the field name of golden pholiota or golden shaggy caps. 

Golden Shaggy Caps  (the fungi, not the people!)

.  I tried to pin down the identity even more, between Pholiota aurivella and Pholiota adiposa but when I read about the distinction (or lack of it) I quite happily gave up.  This is what Michael Kuo of (yes, there is one! Not to be confused with says:  most members of the genus Pholiota are wood-rotting saprobes (eat dead stuff – Rich.) with brown to cinnamon brown or rusty brown spore prints, gills that are attached to the stem but do not run down it, and rings or ring-zones. The most commonly collected species are large, showy mushrooms that feature scaly and/or slimy caps.  (So far so good, but then he says:) Traditional identification of pholiotas generally requires microscopic analysis. While naked-eye features may successfully lead to identification of a "field guide species" like Pholiota aurivella, the truth is that Pholiota aurivella required microscopic analysis (of spores – Rich.) for accurate separation from other species …if using a microscope doesn't sound like fun to you, I certainly won't blame you if you decide to call it "Pholiota aurivella" and find something else to do.  -You said it!!

Chicken Of The Woods

Hedgehog Mushroom

Anyway, this brings me on to the other fungi which are commonly found on our walks in the autumn and are very useful as examples of the things to avoid and those that are worth looking into, if you are at all interested in taking that leap of faith and putting some from the wild in your mouth.  Before going any further I would always stress that if you want to pick the odd fungi for the table, please always follow the Forest’s fungi code (look that up on the National Park website) and read more about the species I’m talking about, get to know them, make sure you can really identify them for yourself.  I don’t mean to put you off at all, but mistakes can be fatal.  Having said that, the ones I point out are easy to distinguish and nearly all the fungi you come across generally are either harmless or inedible, or will just give you a tummy ache at worst.  There are just a very few that are dangerous.

Number one family of those that are pretty safe and you should try and spot are the Boletes.  The most famous is the Cep (or penny bun or porcini) and we came across a fine example.  Look for the chunky stems and nicely domed caps.  If you look on the underside of the cap you see that they don’t have slit gills like the mushrooms we put on our pizzas, but have ‘pores’ which give them the appearance of being made out of foam rubber.  As a rule, all the members of this family of mushrooms are safe, some are highly sort after and others just don’t taste so good, a couple are bad news, just avoid the ones that have any red in them.  Not all the red ones are bad but it’s easier to avoid the bad ones that way.  The bay bolete and the birch bolete are other examples of common ones that are ok. 

Number one family of those that should definitely be avoided are the Amanites.  As is often said: “never eat an amanita”.  Not strictly true, there are some edible ones, but their cousins are so dangerous it’s not worth taking the risk of misidentification.  This family contains the deadliest of all the UK mushrooms, namely the death cap and the destroying angel – need I say more?  We saw false death caps and Amanita spissa along the way and these served as models of what to avoid – they emerge

from ‘egg sacs’ and often have flaky specks of the remains of this sac on their caps.  These fungi have gills that are the same shape as the field mushrooms we eat.

Bought mushrooms are generally farmed but as a rule of thumb, I say just don’t bother trying any of the wild fungi that are the same shape as bought mushrooms and have slit gills like them, apart from oysters which are pretty distinctive.  There are enough of the different shaped ones that you will be able to identify and know are safe, to keep you going and not have the bother of any mistakes.  Stick to things like wood hedgehog, with its spines, beef steak with its gory blood effect, chicken of the woods with its bright yellow brackets and the boletes, already mentioned.  Most of these we saw on our walk.

Failing all of that above, why not just admire these things without eating them?  This is what we do on our walks – there are enough people out there picking away for us to worry there’ll be nothing left to see!  And you can buy enough mushrooms for two meals for a quid at the shops.