Mushrooms like growing in damp, mulchy ground so now is the perfect time of year to go looking for them (particularly if it’s just rained). From golden-gilled bolete to olive earthtongue to beechwood sickener, their names could have been lifted straight out of a Roald Dahl story. There are as many as 3.8 million fungal species in the world and only 144,000 have been recorded so far.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi. They emerge to spread their spores which are stored under the gills. They grow from vast thread-like roots called mycelium that are very important in breaking down leaves and plant debris into simple nutrients. A whopping ninety per cent of living plant species depend on fungi to break up nutrients for them.
These eerie, flesh-like odorous growths are all over London’s parks. Some other-worldly visitors (such as the deadly dapperling and autumn skullcap) are silent assassins that have been poisoning amateur mushroom hunters for centuries while others (such as the liberty cap) just get people really high. On Sunday afternoon I went on an urban foray with my cousin Hope. We got the train down to Brockwell park and mooched around looking for sprouting mushrooms among long shafts of autumn light.
Identifying them was very difficult. We found a few field mushrooms (top pic) which look like the ones you buy in Tesco. We also found ‘common crumble caps’ ( I think but could very well be wrong, see second two pics). These delicate little fungi are common in meadows and woodland throughout the UK. They are considered ‘edible but not worthwhile’, by high-brow foragers.
Mushrooms appear rapidly, sometimes overnight. Some are so fragile they get disheartened and die after just one bout of heavy rain. We didn’t eat our specimens but Hope managed to get a good spore print.
According to botanist James Wong if you have a compost heap growing shrooms is really easy. You need to buy a packet of oyster mushrooms (£2 on Ebay) and follow the instructions at the bottom of Wong’s article. He says that establishing a colony in your compost heap takes minutes and could be productive for decades. I’ve just ordered mine. Tweet me your pictures of your mushrooms/fungal forays using #rewildinglondon