It’s not always easy to tell which is safe and which is deadly, so never eat wild fungi unless you are absolutely certain they have been expertly identified. Fungi are nature’s recycling service and play a vital part in breaking down and decomposing everything from dead wood to dead bodies. Without fungi dead wood and fallen leaves would not decay and many of our planet’s basic ecosystems would cease to function.
The most poisonous species of fungi in Britain is called the death cap, but signs of poisoning can take up to two days to have an effect, and then it kills you. It looks quite like a mushroom so take care!
Fly agaric: With a red cap covered in white flecks this is one our most distinctive and brightly coloured fungi. This fungus often grows under birch trees. It is poisonous.
Giant puffball: Looking like a large white football this spectacular fungus makes a noteworthy find. Fresh specimens are edible. A single specimen is said to produce more than a billion spores. Look for this in fields and under hedgerows.
Jelly ear fungus: Shaped just like an ear and jelly-like to the touch. You may find this growing on the dead wood of elder. It is said to be edible but rather you than me!
Shaggy ink cap: This fungus is also called lawyer’s wig. As it gets older it becomes scaly and bell-shaped and then black ‘ink’ starts dripping from the base of the cap and staining you black if you touch it!
Bracket fungi: There are several kinds of bracket fungi. They live in dead wood and stick out at right angles from the trunks of trees. Dryad’s saddle is an especially large bracket fungus, often found on beech trees, with a fan-shaped bracket up to 50cms across.
See if you can spot fungi growing in a 'fairy ring', where the fungi all grow in a circle. In reality it isn't made by fairies, but by the unseen part of the fungi which forms web-like fibres underground called mycelium. This mycelium grows outwards from a central point, in a circular shape and then dies off in the centre. The fungi then grow up from this mycelium circle to make a fairy ring.
Image credits: Fly agaric, Jelly ear fungus, Shaggy ink cap and Hoof bracket fungus, all (c) Les Binns. Giant puffball (c) Dr Malcolm Storey. Fairy ring (c) Martin LaBar