A Fungus Foray with the Sorby Natural History Group

Saturday 17 September and my first experience of an organised fungi foray with an official expert leader!  This was the Sorby Natural History Society Fungus Group meeting to Coombs Dale.  I was looking forward to some expert identification help to improve on my “it could be that or maybe that approach” – not to be recommended particularly if any culinary intention is in mind.  Of course my first interest is in edible species but the dale’s environment of predominantly hazel and ash woodland on a limestone base was not promising.  This, explained Jim Horsfall the leader, was simply because most edible mushrooms do not associate with these sort of hosts.  However, the 3 hour excursion provided an excellent opportunity to widen my mycological knowledge which will help in all cases of identification.  Having taken some notes and photographs  it has also provided plenty of ammunition for follow-up research.

The Participants

Starting from the Calver Crossaroads we walked towards Stoney Middleton on the main road but soon struck off to the left along a lane leading into Coomb Dale.  It always amazes me that when you are looking and your eyes are tuned in how soon you start to make finds.  In this instance it was immediately on entering the wood that we found our first fungus of the day being Stag’s Horn or Candlesnuff Fungus – Xylaria hypoxylon.  Both names are very descriptive as the picture shows:

A few feet away Jim discovered this inkcap.  It was identified as Glistening Inkcap, Coprinus micaceus.

Glistening Inkcap

Up to this point I had only been aware of Shaggy Inkcaps as these are an edible species.  Edible though only to a point as they contain coprine which when mixed with alcohol causes severe symptoms of nausea and palpitations.  It is the same chemical that is present in disulfiram(Antabuse), an anti-drinking drug used in the treatment of alcohol dependence.

The next find demonstrated how hard it can be to positively identify an individual species within a group or genus.  The best that could be said of this fungus was that it was a member of the Mycena genus – a closer study with a microscope to look at details of its spore shape for example would apparently be needed.  This was getting technical!

One of the Mycena genus?

Moving along, but only a few feet we came across a Cramp Ball – Daldinia concentrica,  otherwise known as King Alfred’s cakes given their resemblance to a very overdone day of baking.

Cramp Balls

These have been used as a means of carrying fire once they are completely dry.  They are very common although appearing mostly exclusively on dead ash.

Fairy bonnet inkcap Coprinus disseminatus or trooping crumble cap was a great sight on this log, their ranks of neat lines really living up to their trooping name.

Trooping Crumble Cap

Stinking Dapperling – Lepiota aspera, (below) was found among a series of Bitter Poisonpie – Hebeloma sinapizans.  These had the distinctive radish smell.  I noticed that the group did a lot of smelling – obviously a mycologists trait.

Stinking Dapperling

The lovely little tuft of fungus below was identified by the group on the walk as honey fungus, a species which can be eaten after first boiling in milk and discarding the liqour.  I duly added it to my basket to examine further later.  At home I was not convinced it resembled fully the pictures in my books so sent the picture  to John Harris at the mushroom diary.  Here is his response:

“This looks like a cluster of ‘Sheathed Woodtuft’ (Pholiota mutabilis) and is quite a delicacy, but if you’re thinking of eating it, I’d urge you to check all identification characteristics (in books or online) as it looks similar to the ‘Funeral Bell’ (Galerina marginata). Use these names to check further.”

So not sure on this one, illustrating the need for further experience and perhaps seeing these fungus developing over different stages.

Honey Fungus?

Moving further up the dale we came out of the trees and onto steep meadows on limestone scree.  We climbed up and Jim pointed our Rock Rose – Helianthemum nummularium, growing prolifically.

Rock Rose

The presence of this plant is good news for mycologists as their woody roots provide habitat for fungi to associate with.  However, it was not until towards the top of the ridge that we found a web cap.  We were not able to identify this specifically suffice to say that web caps – the Cortinarius genus – are generally dangerous and best avoided altogether.

Spot the distinctive web of fibres - cortina on this specimin

On the way back across the meadows we found a lovely Parasol Mushroom – Macrolepiota procera.  These are an edible species but as it was a solitary soul I left it in situ to shed its spores.

Parasol Mushroom

Just before we dipped back into the woods I spotted this lovely bracket fungus a group know as Polypores.  Jim thought it may have been Hen of the Woods but as the rain was coming down we did not linger long to make further investigation.

Hen of the Woods?

We dropped back towards the main road and added Field Mushrooms Agaricus campestris “Dog Sick” fungus and Jelly Fungus – Dacrymyces chrysospermus to the day’s tally.  In all in this short excursion I counted that we had found around 24 species and the opportunity to look at them with others of greater knowledge was brilliant.  Heres to an Autumn of fruitful mellowness and many more foraging trips.  Thanks to Jim Horsfall and The Sorby Natural History Society who hold a wide range of indoor meetings and outdoor field trips.  Find out more here.

If of interest here are some recommended fungi guides:

Wild Mushroom Links

Rogers Mushrooms – http://www.rogersmushrooms.com
Probably the most complete collection of photographs and mushroom information available online.

MushroomExpert.Com – http://www.mushroomexpert.com
Another extensive mushroom identification site. This one focuses specifically on North America. Whilst there is a considerable overlap between UK and US fungi, some of the mushrooms described are not found in the UK. Care should be taken therefore in using the keys on this site to identify UK fungi.

MykoWeb – http://www.mykoweb.com
Another good, but US centric, mushroom site.

BioImages – Virtual Field-Guide (UK) –http://www.bioimages.org.uk/HTML/T156447.HTM
Extensive set of photographs to help confirm identification. However, the site lacks any search facility or identification keys and has be browsed by taxonomy. This makes the site less useful for identifying unknown fungi.

Northern Ireland Fungus Group – http://www.nifg.org.uk
A large collection of species photos but no other identification information.