Nine amazing autumn fungi to spot

Amethyst deceiver by AJC1/Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

What’s your favourite thing about autumn? Ours is fungi, and there are so many weird and wonderful wild mushrooms and moulds appearing at the moment that it’d be a crime not to go for a fungi walk and try to spot them.

The UK is home to around 15,000 species of fungi. They can pop up everywhere from woods and riverbanks to meadows and even your garden, with different species favouring different environments.

What do fungi do?

Fungi are neither plants nor animals. Instead, they belong to their own fascinating kingdom.

The mushroom we see above the soil or rotting wood is just one small part of the fungus: the fruiting body. It releases spores for reproduction, while below ground the rest of the fungus concentrates on drawing nutrients and energy from organic matter using a series of long threads called the mycelium. In some fungi, the mycelium can stretch for several miles, making them the largest living organisms on earth!

Fungi play a pivotal role in our ecosystem. They recycle waste and break down organic materials like leaves and wood into new nutrients, helping plants and trees to grow and thrive. In fact, the existence of 95 per cent of plants relies on fungi – we certainly owe them a lot of gratitude.

Which wild mushrooms are edible?

Edible wild mushrooms aren’t uncommon in the UK. Some are rich and flavourful, while others add texture but not much taste. Remember, though, that there are plenty of poisonous fungi in the UK, and they aren’t always easy to identify. Many can look really similar to certain edible mushrooms, so our advice is to never pick fungi unless you’re accompanied by an expert in fungi identification. Plus, leaving them where they are means other people can enjoy their beauty, and the wildlife that eats them gets extra food.

Nine amazing autumn fungi to spot

1. Common puffball

This spiky-looking mushroom is also known as ‘the devil’s snuffbox’ and tends to grow in small groups among the leaf litter in open woodland. As it ages, it turns brown and the pimples fall away to reveal a beautiful, netted surface that looks like delicate lace. The best time to look for common puffballs is from summer to late autumn.

2. Giant puffball

Much, much larger than its ‘common’ cousin, the giant puffball is one of the largest fungi in the world. It can grow truly colossal – one giant puffball can contain more than seven trillion spores and some have been known to reach the size of a small sheep! Look for giant puffballs in grassland environments from summer to autumn, where they can often be found growing next to stinging nettles on nutrient-rich soil.

A fresh common stinkhorn mushroom growing on the woodland floor

Common stinkhorn by Chris Lawrence

3. Common stinkhorn

Undoubtedly one of our favourite autumn fungi, the common stinkhorn (Latin name Phallus impudicus – oh my!) lives up to its name. It gives off a foul odour that’s been likened to the sickly sweet smell of rotting flesh. This attracts insects and flies which land on the stinkhorns slimy cap; spreading its spores. Look for common stinkhorn in woodlands from summer to late autumn – you’ll often smell it before you see it!

4. Amethyst deceiver

How beautiful is this bright purple mushroom? Emerging from the leaf litter between late summer and autumn, the amethyst deceiver brightens up broadleaved and coniferous woodlands. It’s fairly small, so despite its vivid colour it can be easily missed as it hides amongst the leaves. Take a close look around the bottom of beech trees.

A clump of dead man's fingers fungi growing up through leaves on the forest floor

Les Binns

5. Dead man’s fingers

It isn’t hard to see where this fungus gets its evocative name. Blackened, swollen and clustered together, dead man’s fingers look like the hands of zombies trying to claw their way out of the earth.

These fungi grow on rotting wood in woodlands across the UK. Though they can survive all year-round, they look their best (and creepiest) between summer and late autumn.

6. Plums and custard

Have you ever heard a more wholesome name for a fungus? The bright plum-purple of this mushrooms cap contrasts beautifully with the custard yellow gills underneath. Unlike some of the other autumn fungi, plums and custard favours really specific habitat: coniferous woodland. It grows on the wood of rotting coniferous trees between late summer and late autumn.

A fly agaric mushroom growing out of a mossy surface

Fly agaric by Guy Edwardes/2020VISION

7. Fly agaric

The classic fairy toadstool and one of the true signs of autumn, fly agaric is unmistakeable and always a delight to find growing amongst birch, pine and spruce trees in mixed woodlands and on heaths. You can find fly agaric from late summer to the first frosts of winter, though their bright scarlet colour tends to fade as the season runs on.

Layers of turkey tail fungus growing out of a dead tree

Turkey tail by Les Binns

8. Turkey tail

This small, tough, bracket fungus grows in colourful, tiered layers on dead wood and does look like the fanned tail of a turkey. Look closely and marvel at concentric rings variously coloured brown, yellow, grey, purple, green and black. The semi-circular caps often layer together to form impressive tiers on beech or oak wood, all year-round. Autumn is the time to catch them at their most vivid.

9. Chicken of the woods

Most commonly found growing on oak trees, chicken of the woods is another bracket fungus that tends to grow in fan-shaped, tiered layers. Unlike turkey tail, it’s yellow-orange in colour, and when young it makes a delicious alternative to chicken in things like curries (never pick mushrooms if you’re unsure of their species). Chicken of the woods often grows on oak trees, but it also likes beech, chestnut, cherry and even yew trees.

Chicken of the woods fungi growing out of a tree trunk

Chicken of the woods by Vaughn Matthews

The best places to spot autumn fungi in Lancashire

An accessible path through a bluebell wood

Amy Lewis

Help us care for our regions woodlands

Fungi are just one of the many natural wonders found in our precious woodlands, but these woods themselves are under threat. You can help us lobby government for a strong Environment Bill, protect important wild places from building developments at a local level, replant mistreated woods and continue to care for the woodlands in our care by making a donation or becoming a member.

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