It's fast approaching my favourite time of the Year. Summer is a no-no for me and thousands of other Hay fever sufferers, so I wait eagerly for the beginnings of autumn which brings the fruit of what I consider to be the most fascinating of all 'plants'; the Fungi.
The roots of a life-long fascination
Growing up in Northamptonshire, I used to come across them every school day in late summer in the form of the common mushroom, growing in sandy soil by the roadside. And the fun didn't end there. Wicksteed Park was opposite school and at lunch I and several friends used to head for the golf course to collect fairy ring champignons. We'd bring them back to chemistry lessons for a small fry up over a Bunsen BurnerWe'd bring them back to chemistry lessons for a small fry up over a Bunsen Burner.
Weekend sorties to local woods found slippery jacks, shaggy ink caps, saffron milk caps and hedgehog fungusWeekend sorties to local woods found slippery jacks, shaggy ink caps, saffron milk caps and hedgehog fungus. Northamptonshire flora and fauna is rich, due to the calcareous soil and so the variety of
mushrooms was never ending. I used to take endless photos and slides, take spore prints and keep sketchbook diaries of everything we found. Leaving home for University, I ended up in North Wales where I came upon the kings of the mushroom world, the chanterelles.
What's not to like?
Everything about mushrooms is fascinating. Read the likes of Robert Graves and he argues convincingly that many early religions used the drug properties of specific mushrooms to compliment the powers of the gods. It is well known that the Vikings gained their ferocious reputation on the back of the fly agaric.
Watercolour sketch of a fly agaric by the author. (View bigger image.)In this country we have only three species to be found in appreciable numbers that are deadly, but even then you are most unlikely to come across themWe as a nation don't pay them as much attention as the continental European does. Is this because they have a bad reputation? Every year there are deaths involving fungi but this is due to Europeans being so hopelessly devoted to the culinary qualities of the mushroom that they eat everything that they collect. In this country we have only three species to be found in appreciable numbers that are deadly, but even then you are most unlikely to come across them.
Roger Philips' photographic book is indispensable to the mushroom hunter and he, along with Antonio Carrlucchi, are responsible for the revival in the mushroom's fortune in this country. They used to be far more sought after in medieval times and times of food shortage, World Wars for example.
See what you've been missing
These days, fungus forays are conducted at many of the parks and nature reserves around the countryThese days, fungus forays are conducted at many of the parks and nature reserves around the country. If you're curious, get yourself on one. If you want to look the part, you'll need two trugs (wooden baskets to collect your finds in, one for the 'not sure's' and the other for the 'definitely knows'). Roger Phillip's book is a must, there is a pocket edition which has all the most common one in. Paper bags are also useful, they soak up the moisture exuded by the mushrooms. Good hunting, maybe we'll meet up some time!
|First published July 2003.|
Copyright Mike Beswick 2003. Permission is hereby granted for anyone to use this article for non-commercial purposes which are of benefit to the natural environment as long the original author is credited. School pupils, students, teachers and educators are invited to use the article freely. Use for commercial purposes is prohibited unless permission is obtained from the copyright holder.|
Back to home page
Do you live in Merseyside? Interested in its wildlife?