Demistifying fungi

I’ve always found fungi a difficult group to get into the serious identification of. I think it’s getting started which I’ve had trouble with; with a bewildering number of species and genera to choose from, I’m always amazed by the experienced mycologists ability to recognise seemingly nondescript mushrooms at arms length! A large proportion of the species I have managed to identify are host-specific microfungi growing on plants.

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One species that even I have always been able to identify: the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria).

Fortunately, last week I had the opportunity through my recently-started placement with the Aigas Field Centre to help out and join in with the first two days of a week-long course on fungi, led by expert mycologist Liz Holden. After just a few hours, I could feel several genera and a few species I’d never encountered before becoming ingrained into my memory! Things I’d been looking straight past as unidentifiable pieces of grey and brown matter had suddenly become beautifully textured pastel-peach Milkcaps, distinctive blue-bruising Boletes, and fascinating  parasitic Spikes (Lactarius torminosusBoletus badius and Gomphidius spp. respectively)! By the end of my two days, I couldn’t believe how much I’d learnt about the identification,  For the first time I felt as if maybe, in a few decades, I could become quite good at identifying fungi. Even examining spores and sections of caps under a high-power microscope seemed not only possible, but appealing!

Below is a small selection of fungi found around the Aigas site and in our nearest large valley: Glen Strathfarrar, which I visited with the fungi group on my second day with them.

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The lovingly-named Stinking Earthfan (Thelephora palmata), an uncommon species which smells something like rotting Onions!
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Angel’s Wings (Pleurocybella porrigens), a beautiful species found almost exclusively on rotting Pine in Scottish woodlands.
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The Horsehair Parachute (Marasmius androsaceus), a very common species often found growing on pine needles and cones, with visible Horsehair-like mycelium.
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The Silky Piggyback (Asterophora parasitica), an unusual species that grows only on the rotting fruiting bodies of Brittlegills (Russula spp.).
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The Lacquered Bracket (Ganoderma lucidum) with its distinctive waxy appearance (shared by one similar species). This one definitely seems to be sticking its tongue out!
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A Milkcap (Lactarius spp.), possibly a small Ugly Milkcap (Lactarius turpis). A rather unfairly-named species if you ask me!

These last two species I found whilst helping to lead a ‘walking and wildlife’ group around the beautiful Glen Affrich. Though they are both fairly distinctive, I was pleased to identify them without assistance! 

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The Bay Cup (Peziza badia), a deep chocolate-olive-brown Cup fungus. A widespread species found growing on soil, usually in open woodland situations.
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A fantastic specimen of Scaly Tooth (Sarcodon squamosus) meauring 20cm across! A scarce species growing with Scots Pine.
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A close-up of the underside of Scaly Tooth (Sarcodon squamosus), showing why it’s called a Tooth fungus! Tooth and Hedgehog fungi are unique in having their spores borne on spiky tooth-like structures, as opposed to amongst gills or pores in other fungi.

 

Glen Affrich: there are worse places to spend a day at work.

Seeing some of the above species and learning about how they fit into their ecosystems has really piqued my interest in fungi. I can’t recommend enough getting out there to appreciate these incredible, functionally-diverse organisms in their many colours and forms!

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