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Pete Gahan, Coast and Countryside ServiceAutumn and Winter are the peak time for fungi, suddenly they are everywhere announcing themselves with colours, smells and exotic shapes. Some are specialised for life in sandy places while others thrive in the more stable grassland and woodland communities. If you tune your senses correctly you will be rewarded with a host of beautiful natural forms that almost rival our rich summer slack flora.
Of course the objects we see on the ground or projecting out from a tree are just the fruits of the organism, these structures are ingeniously designed for the efficient distribution of reproductive spores.
The main body of the fungus lies beneath the ground or within the tree, a web like mass of tiny threads collectively called Mycelium. This Mycelium cannot produce its own energy so has to find something to act as a host a buried rabbit dropping, grass or tree roots. This connection may not always be a simple matter of digestion as some tap into tree roots in a give and take relationship.
The mild and muggy weather in Autumn triggers the mycelium into producing masses of these fruits. Each has the potential of releasing millions of microscopic spores to drift on the wind until landing in a favourable situation where it will germinate to produce another mycelium.
These flushes of fruit bodies may only last for a matter of weeks though and will surely be brought to a close by the first ground frosts of winter.
Fungi are amongst the most numerous and widespread organisms in the world, the British mycoflora alone is estimated in the thousands. I have selected some of the more unusual but noticeable ones which occur throughout the differing habitats encountered on a typical dune wander.
Dune Stinkhorn (Phallus hadriani)
Earth Star (Geastrum triplex)
Plums and Custard (Tricholomopsis rutilans)
Blackening Wax Cap (Hygrocybe nigrescens)
Please remember the nature reserves and the wildlife within them are managed for the enjoyment of everyone picking fungi, as with wildflowers, will only spoil that enjoyment for others. Be careful many fungi are poisonous and some even deadly, do not eat them and wash hands if you have handled any fungi.