Spot some weird and wonderful fungi

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By Tom Quinn

We don’t often notice them, but mushrooms of all shapes and sizes are hiding in England’s countryside – and autumn is a great time to spot them.

Keep your eyes peeled on your next woodland walk and you’re sure to spot some of these unusual specimens.

Fly agaric

Fly agaric
Fly agaric

One of the most recognisable autumn mushrooms, fly agaric can be found from late summer to the first frosts of winter. Spotting the bright red caps peeking up from the leaf litter can make it feel like you’ve been transported into a fairytale. Its name comes from its historic use as natural pest control: fly-plagued peasants would sprinkle chopped up chunks of the mushroom into a bowl of milk to form a tasty but deadly trap for insects.

Where to find it: Look for these mushrooms in woodland, growing near birch, pine and spruce.

Common stinkhorn

A textured, white mushroom head on a long stem
Common stinkhorn | Maja Dumat via Flickr.com

If you come across this distinctively shaped fungus you’ll know straight away where it gets its name: it gives off strong, unpleasant stench that some people say is like the smell of rotting meat. But its stink has a purpose. These fungi use it to attract flies and insects which then go on to spread their spores. So if you smell something strange while you’re walking through the woods, have a look around on the ground to see if you’ve stumbled on a stinkhorn.

Where to find it: Stinkhorn are common in woodlands from summer to late autumn. Follow your nose!

 

Shaggy inkcap

Shaggy inkcap

The long, shaggy cap of this fungus has earned it many nicknames, from ‘lawyer’s wig’ to ‘shaggy mane’. The white scales on its cap give the appearance of a ruffled head of hair, although it looks a lot more mushroom-like when you get close up. And if you’re feeling creative, shaggy inkcaps can be used to make your own ink. (Warning: mushroom-based ink is a bit smellier than the stuff you get in your ballpoint pen!)

Where to find it: Lots of open areas – grassy fields, lawns, parks, roadside verges.

 

Bay bolete

Bay bolete
Bay bolete

These brown, chunky-looking mushrooms are widely prized as one of the tastiest things to find on an autumn forage (though you should always check a proper mushroom guide and never eat a mushroom if you’re not 100% certain what it is). These mushrooms have a long season, from summer to late autumn, and their white undersides turn a distinctive blue colour when handled.

Where to find it: broadleaved or coniferous woodland.

 

Dead man’s fingers

Dead man’s fingers

One of the creepiest mushrooms you’re likely to see in England, the black finger-like caps poking up through the soil look like somebody’s hand clawing up from below the earth. Although you can spot them all year round, dead man’s fingers blacken with age and are at their most distinctive from summer to late autumn.

Where to find it: Growing on rotting wood and tree stumps, poking up through leaf litter and moss.

An enamel mug full of delicate orange mushrooms
Chantarelle mushrooms