Fungi are important organisms that belong to their own kingdom, completely separate from plants and animals. The New Forest is home to a rich variety of fungi with over 2700 species found across its varied landscape, a small selection of which can be found in the gallery at the bottom of the page.
Unfortunately, in recent years, there have been organised teams picking indiscriminately for sale to hotels and restaurants. Their modus operandi appears to be to pick anything and everything, leaving the hotels and restaurants to sort out what is edible. If this continues, it will pose a serious threat to many rare species.
One of the most important things that fungi does within the New Forest is to break down wood and aid the decay process. These fungi are are known as “saprophytic”, feeding on dead organic material. They are nature’s recyclers and are extremely beneficial, breaking down this organic material into humus, minerals and nutrients that can be utilised by plants and insects – over 1,000 species of insects and other creatures depend on fungi for food and shelter.
In a woodland environment certain species of fungi will only grow with certain trees and a knowledge of this can be a useful in identifying fungi. Many species of fungi help trees and other plants to grow by capturing water and nutrients for them. In return the trees and other plants give the fungi sugars that they make during photosynthesis.
Fungi are made of fine threads that look a bit like cotton wool. These fine threads are called “hyphae” and lots of hyphae together make up the “mycelium”. Mycelium can grow over very long distances and, around the roots of plants, they provide the water and nutrients that help them to grow. This mycelium can reach water and nutrients in the soil that plant roots can’t reach on their own. Most of the time the mycelium is hidden from view because it is growing through the soil or under fallen logs or decaying plant and animal remains.
Autumn is the main fungi season and when conditions are just right the mycelium gathers together to form a fruit body and it is this that we recognise as toadstools or mushrooms which come in lots of different shapes, colours and sizes.
Mushrooms and toadstools have a stalk with a cap on top. Under the cap are either gills, pores or spikes and the pattern of these is often helpful in identifying the fungi species. Spores, which are like the seeds of flowering plants, are produced under the fungi cap. Spores are microscopic and cannot be seen with the naked eye. The easiest way to see them is to make a spore print by placing the cap face down on a sheet of paper and leaving it for several hours. In this way, you can see the pattern that millions of spores make on a the paper as shown in the image on the left. When spores land on a suitable surface they germinate and make the fine threads of hyphae which eventually overlap to form the mycelium.
The following examples are just a few of the many species of fungi found in the New Forest – images © Simon Currie.
New Forest Fungi
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NEW FOREST FUNGI RULES with effect from 2016
Never eat fungi unless you are sure that it is an edible fungus as only a very small percentage of the hundreds of species found in the New Forest are edible. The vast majority taste awful and can cause stomach upsets whilst there are a small number that are deadly! The rule is that you must never eat anything (fungi or plant) unless you are sure what it is.
If you fancy trying to pick some wild mushrooms these are some simple guidelines:-
- Get the landowner’s permission
- Go out with someone who knows what they are looking at
- Follow the New Forest fungi pickers code
- Don’t mix edible and non edible species in a basket
- Identify the exact species – be extremely careful as some mimic other species
- If you are trying a new one, eat a small amount
If in doubt – leave well alone