Yesterday I made my first venture into the highly complex, cult-like world of mycology. Well, sort of. Joining a mixed group of die-hard mushroom enthusiasts, photographers and fellow novices we set out on a guided foray through the grounds of Dyffryn Gardens, all led by our guide for the morning Teifion Davies.
Joined by a friend, who later turned out to be the female mushroom hunting equivalent of a Lamotto Romagnolo, we made our way to the venue on one of the hottest days of the year. This unexpected autumn heat didn’t bode well for finding delicate fungi, this coupled with my inability to find the “other” walking shoe before leaving the house (why is this always the case?) led to a rather uninspiring and frustrated start.
The UK has an amazing range of fungi and to the untrained eye it’s incredibly difficult to differentiate between those that are tasty and those that would kill you. Gills, pores, spores and stipes all give clues to what fungi you’re looking at but giving a positive I.D. requires serious dedication to mycology and nerves of steel. It appears that the balance of edible versus inedible species is stacked against us and I would be rather reluctant to go picking alone with my lack of knowledge. Then again my friend the mushroom hunter did say that you should leave some of the offending mushroom in the kitchen when you’re cooking it – I guess the ambulance crew appreciates this.
It was interesting to see decompostion in action in the gardens. A Sorbus had died recently and was absolutely surrounded by a species of fungi called a Sulphur Tuft. This species looked ripe for the picking but once told that this one was also toxic, I kept my distance. This species is a saprophyte and lives on dead plant material, tree trunks, roots and bark – a sure sign that if you see it in the garden your beloved, leafless tree has moved to the big arboretum in the sky. Other sightings here included some small bracket fungus and cramp balls.
After a few hours of foraging we'd stumbled upon many different species and many others which I didn't manage to get the names of. In this short space of time I learned a great deal about foraging and grown a new appreciation for just how complex identification can be. This was a steep learning curve but one that only fuelled my interest further. I may not have got a meal out of it but I almost certainly gained a new hobby.