Autumn has been a perfect time to look for the fantastic fungi found in nature. Coming in all shapes, sizes and colours the wet autumn days have presented us with these wonderful fungi. Our previous blogs have mentioned some of these interesting organisms but let’s explore them more. They are split into three different groups that serve an important part role in our ecosystems, feeding on dead and live wood to give nutrients back to our soil.
The Rotter – Saprotrophic
These are the fungi that feed on decaying matter such as tree stumps and logs rotting on the forest floor. Releasing nutrients back into the soil, the Yellow Staghorn is a great example. Its vibrant colour and presence in many of the forests in the National Park, the Staghorn will feed on rotting coniferous wood. Even if you do not see the deadwood they are growing from, they are doing an important job of releasing nutrients back into the soil. Other examples are Angel’s Wings and dead man’s fingers.
The Helper – Mycorrhiza
These fungi coexist with the rooting systems of plants and trees, feeding on their sugars and giving them nutrients that help them to grow in return. Many of the fruiting bodies of mycorrhizal fungi are found in line or circles following the tree roots beneath. The most obvious and recognisable fungi are the Fly Agaric. With their ‘fairytale’ appearance, the Fly Agaric is unmistakable with its red cap that is spotted with white membrane spots on top. They are toxic to humans but can be an important food source to wildlife like slugs and even Red Squirrels who will eat them to stock up for the winter.
The Deadly – Parasitic
The parasitic fungi rely on a living host to feed and thrive, often found near the base of the trunks. They can slowly kill certain trees, drawing out the moisture and nutrients. The Wood Cauliflower is one of the most bizarre fungi to find on a walk in the forests here in the Cairngorms and can grow to be 40cm in width. Although they feed on the roots of coniferous trees like the scots pine, they are too weak to be deadly killers to the trees.
Fungi need to be able to release spores to be able to reproduce with a good example of this method being the Common Puffball. With the smallest drop of rain, it can release these spores into the air. Follow Speyside Wildlife on social media and book a day guide with us in the Autumn to see some of these fantastic fungi for yourselves.