Much-room for mushrooms this autumn!
This summer and autumn we saw a lot of rain. Not good news for those who booked a staycation, but it's been a bumper year for certain fungi species. Jassy Drakulic from the Royal Horticultural Society tells Harry Lewis what you might have seen sprouting out of your gardens.
Jassy - At the Royal Horticultural Society, we have a 'members advisory service' where people send us pictures of things that are going on in their gardens and ask for advice about them. One thing we've noticed this year is that we've had 76% more inquiries about saprophytic fungi, which grow on dead material, than we did last year. It's usually with the angle of, 'what is this? I'm afraid of it. Is it going to cause harm? How do I get rid of it?' We're trying to educate them to say, 'well, there's very few things that are out there that are going to be causing any harm to your garden. The overwhelming majority will be doing a good service by rotting down dead material.' This is the type that we've seen so many more of being sent into us this year and in doing so that liberates the nutrients locked up in that woody material.
Harry - What have people seen more of in their garden, what species and how do we identify them?
Jassy - I think on a mass level, I've seen so many more inkcap mushrooms coming in this year than I have before and inkcap mushrooms are really wonderful because they're very varied, but what they all do is after the mushrooms have formed, they then 'della ques', which is a fancy word for dissolve. They then turn into black ink, which are droplets of spores which can range in size from really robust shaggy inkcap mushrooms, which I think they look like a big white club when they're first growing up and they're all kind of flaky and hairy on top and reach over a foot in height. On the flip side of things, you have very dainty, delicate hairs for ink caps. They start off as this little hairy foot that comes up on a tiny stalk and it's only there for a few hours in the day, usually from the dewy morning and then by lunchtime, they're gone and they're just so fleeting and so delicate. I think they're just really charming.
Harry - You painted a fabulous picture there Jassy. At the moment, with years to come, are we expecting different fungi to pop up in different areas? Are we expecting more fungi in general?
Jassy - The fruiting season for fungi has increased dramatically over the last 30 years, we think because of the changing climate, and that's affected different groups of fungi in different ways. When we look at the 'wood rotters', it seems like there's more of those species that have increased their fruiting season. So you'll be seeing them earlier in the year and also for a longer time during the autumn. In contrast to things like the mycorrhizal fungi and fungi that associate with the roots of plants and help them take up nutrients and water, their fruiting season seems to be shortening.
Harry - And we've come to what feels like the end of the fungi season. Am I right in saying that as we go into winter, is there anything that people can be looking for or harvesting sustainably?
Jassy - The Jewelled Amanita that only really comes up, once the first frost has hit, and it signifies that winter is coming. Even honey fungus really prefers the later part of the autumn. And then there's some more friendly wood rotting, funky ones that are also edible, like the oyster mushrooms that do quite well throughout the very cold, cold spell. And whilst these are edible, we'd always make sure people if they are going to go out and look for things to eat, that they do so responsibly, not just for their own health, but if you are picking things, not to completely clear, cut everything that is there and just to take a few specimens for your table to have a chance to spread their spores first.