October 2013 - Autumn Fungi

Giant Puff Ball showing mobile phone for size comparison, photo taken 20th August 2013

It is officially autumn and the time for mushrooms and toadstools to be seen. Of course not all of these fungal fruiting bodies develop at this time of year. Some can be seen throughout the year, but autumn is the time when we are likely to see the most variety. Imagine my delight and amazement when giant puffballs were seen on the verge outside Jean Blake's bungalow in Marlingford Road. The first one grew in August and since then more have appeared.

The giant puffball is a large, white, nearly spherical fruiting body of a fungus that can grow up to football size. It is most often found on verges and hedgerows, sometimes in meadows, and prefers locations where the nutrient content of the soil is raised.  Whilst immature specimens are said to be edible, older specimens which have started to develop spores are said to cause digestive upsets. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust specifies that the giant puff ball is widespread in Norfolk although not common, and asks that these fruiting bodies be left alone to develop and shed their spores so dispersing and propagating this iconic species. The old country name for the giant puffball is 'bulfe' and pieces of the dried spongy spore mass were kept to staunch bleeding of injured farm animals (and probably humans too).

Fly Agaric - taken by Dominic Gwilliam-Bell    27th October 2012


Another iconic autumn toadstool is the relatively common fly agaric. This fungus is highly poisonous, although I am glad to say, nowadays rarely fatal. This fungus contains the psychoactive ingredient muscimol, which in small quantities, causes hallucinations. When fully grown it has a flat pillar-box red cap, with white spots and white gills. It is found on acid soils, particularly around birch trees and in conifer woods. The Woodland Trust is asking for recorded sightings of this toadstool to assess the possible impact of global warming on this fungus. The name fly agaric is believed to originate from its historical use as an insecticide produced when pieces of the fruiting body are mixed with milk.

There seems to be some confusion these days about using the terms mushroom or toadstool. These words are subjective and interchangeable. There is no scientific distinction between them. A mushroom or toadstool cannot be defined by shape, colour, appearance, toxicity, or whether it is edible or not. They are merely fruiting bodies of environmental fungi.


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