After the last week or so of dry weather, at first sight last Saturday didn’t seem that promising a day for a fungus foray, but it ended up being remarkably rich. Tilgate is an old parkland, with lakes created for the Wealden iron industry, and many very old trees and quite varied habitat. The foray was organised by Gatwick Greenspace Partnership, and led by the great Nick Aplin of the Sussex Fungi Group. Not knowing the park, it took me a while to figure out where we were due to meet, and so a few of us circled around the walled garden before finally tracking everyone down. There was a good-sized, interested and enthusiastic group, and Nick was great at showing the main characteristics of the groups and in explaining the differences between species, as well as giving us a bit of extra background. In the end, the number of species was rather impressive, with many I’d not seen before, and it was a bit of a struggle trying to keep up with making notes and taking pictures as we rolled around the park.
Though everyone else had already got started, first off for me was Lyophyllum decastes (Clustered Domecap; I thought Nick said something about ‘custard’, which set me off on completely the wrong track). I’m glad my pictures got better over the course of the morning.
Growing on the ground under a fallen Horse Chestnut was the fibrecap Inocybe geophylla. Unusually for this genus it is white. As it matures the cap will become more bonnet-shaped. It has brown gills and is poisonous.
With so many similar-looking species in this complex genus, the Cortinarius fungi are a best avoided if, like me, you are still a bit of a novice. However, Cortinarius hinnuleus, growing near oak, has distinctive, distant, thick gills.
Then a couple of Milkcaps turned up. The first one was in the vicinity of oak and the milk of which had a very hot taste, which meant that I didn’t get a picture of it as I was somewhat distracted by the burning sensation on my tongue. It was Lactarius flexuosus. In contrast, this Lactarius is very distinctive to look at, due to its woolly appearance and is Lactarius torminosus (Woolly Milkcap). It is poisonous.
There are some incredible old trees at Tilgate, and on one of the great old oaks in the park was the splendid bracket Daedalea quercina (Oak Mazegill).
Birch has many fungi associated with it, including many Russulas, though they are a bit hard to tell apart. The one we found was Russula atropurpurea (Purple Brittlegill). Another fungus associated with Birch is Tricholoma fulvum (Birch Knight), which has a white spore print, but pale yellow gills and similarly-coloured tones to the flesh.
Growing quite close to it was the white Russula delica. Nick explained that this starts to develop underground and then emerges, often covered in soil and has inrolled margins when it first emerges.
I’d seen Suillus grevillei (Larch Bolete) before, but it is always useful to be reminded of these species. Like other Suillus species it has a sticky cap, and it also has a stem ring, and a woolly white veil covering the pores.
Near the base of a pine was Phaeolus schweinitzii (Dyer’s Mazegill) with its yellow felty margins. As its English name suggests, it is a source of dye, the colour of which depends on the mordant used.
At the base of another dead tree was a rather damaged clump, which Nick identified as Pholiota gummosa (Sticky Scalycap). Unsurprisngly given its English name, the cap is indeed a bit sticky, and a bit scaly, and the stem has scales too.
Helvella lacunosa (Elfin Saddle) was an interesting find. It was our first Ascomycota of the day, and normally favours rich soils and burnt ground, but at Tilgate it was on a piece of grass that had previously been cleared of a reasonably large tree.
After seeing one Corinarius species, a couple more turned up, which isn’t that surprising sice it is the genus with the most species in the UK. Nick was certainly happy to find Cortinarius purpurascens (Bruising Webcap), which is fairly rare, along with Cortinarius triumphans (Yellow-girdled Webcap or Birch Webcap, depending on who you read).
At first sight I thought this next fungus was Macrolepiota procera (Parasol), though it doesn’t have the snakeskin-like markings on its stem. Turns out it used to be in the same genus, but has now been renamed as Chlorophyllum rhacodes (Shaggy Parasol). It isn’t edible, and Nick noted that it could also be potentially confused with Chlorophyllum molybdites, a species reasonably recently arrived in the UK from North America which has green spores and gill edges and is decidedly poisonous.
I do struggle with the fact that fungi are so variable and the differences between species can be so subtle. We saw Mycena pura (Lilac Bonnet) twice in leaf litter over the course of the morning, and they had quite a different colour.
Then you can get species which look very similar, such as some of the Ganoderma brackets, which have always puzzled me. Nick explained that he has checked the spores of a huge number of samples of the species in Sussex and without exception Ganoderma australe (Southern Bracket) occurs on beech in this county, whereas G. applanatum (Artists Bracket) tends to be on oak here.
Next up, the Waxcaps, which are a very appealing group, not least since they are so brightly coloured and such remarkable indicators of special unpolluted grassland habitat. Many of them are quite hard to differentiate too, though at least two of the three we saw were fairly distinctive: the sticky Hygrocybe psittacina (Parrot Waxcap) with its green tinges, and the darkening Hygrocybe conica (Blackening Waxcap). I’m glad Nick identified Hygrocybe chlorophana (Golden Waxcap) as I certainly haven’t got at all familiar with the differences between the yellow, orange and red species.
Entoloma serrulatum is not at all common in the south of England and is a particularly fine-looking thing. The dark blackish-blue contrasts wonderfully with the gills. A smart mushroom.
We weren’t looking for edible mushrooms, but Lepista nuda (Wood Blewitt) would have met the requirement. They are a pretty good eating mushroom, and I remember buying some many years ago from a market stall in Portobello Road. However, knowing now how similar they are to poisonous Cortinarius species (see above), I might not do so again…
As the Waxcaps and others have illustrated, fungi do add an amazing array of colour to woods and grassland in the autumn, and Aleuria aurantia (Orange Peel Fungus) takes the biscuit. There was quite a bit of this Ascomycota about, so we all spent a bit of time taking pictures of its unfeasible orangeness.
By now I was beginning to wonder if we’d had our fill of new species for the day, but of course not. Passing a load of leaf litter Nick pointed out Tubaria furfuracea (Scurfy Twiglet) and was then on to the next spot.
The next spot brought us another Russula, this time R. sardonia (Primrose Brittlegill), with its distinctive pinkish stem, and pale yellow gills. A couple of us nibbled a small piece of this fungus, and of necessity quickly spat it out for it has a very hot acrid taste. Give me a vindaloo any day.
Funnily, I’d never seen Agaricus bisporus (Common Field Mushroom) in the field, though in this case it was hiding under a load of brambles. It has a ring on its stem, and has free, tightly-spaced brown gills.
My final fungus of the day was Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca (False Chanterelle), which was growing on conifer debris. Maybe this time I will remember that it has dichotomously-forking gills, in comparison with the Chanterelle in which they are irregularly branched. I then had to dash off home, but all told, there were 61 species that the group uncovered in about three hours, plus another ten that Nick found after we’d all gone home. Nice work, and huge thanks to Nick for sharing his expertise.