FABULOUS FUNGI: Autumn arrives with its weird and wonderful array of mushrooms
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FABULOUS FUNGI: Autumn arrives with its weird and wonderful array of mushrooms

AUTUMN has always coincided with the arrival of twin conditions: dampness and weird-looking mushrooms.

This year, heavy rains and hellish winds arrived during August bringing an early end to a forlorn summer.

Now, in this second week of a new month, I see, close to where I write, gleaming growths which announce the impending winter.

Fungi and mushrooms of every shape and size, edible and poisonous have appeared as if by magic during the damp and darkness of the lengthening night.

Gardeners are rightly suspicious of all fungi (with the exception perhaps of the field mushroom) which ironically is easiest to confuse with poisonous species.

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This antipathy may derive from the fact that toadstools and mushrooms were once associated with the devil and witches, and that they are horribly hallucinogenic if eaten.

On the Continent however, mushroom collecting is something of an occupation, whilst in Russia, mushroom hunting parties are a regular feature of autumn.

Along with knowing their fungi by their botanical names they also call them by their weird and common names: puff ball, horn of plenty, ceps, horse mushrooms, even destroying angels.

But what are fungi?

The word fungus covers everything from the mold on gable end walls and lichen on rooftops to what can appear between your toes, so let us use the much nicer word, mushrooms.

Some, like the pale brown miniature parasols found under the canopy of large trees are certainly more deserving of the name toadstools, the furniture of the fairies. Others are more corporeal; the clammy soft feel of the Oyster’s cap feels like brown suede, and underneath, the perfection and off-white colour of the tightly packed gills show as neat and geometric as the seed heads of alliums.

Mushrooms are found in many places during autumn but by late October they usually get hidden by a thick carpet of fallen leaves.

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The autumnal rains are the trigger for most species whilst the first frosts usually put an end to their growth. In the meantime, if you tire of these on the lawn or in borders, then use Jeyes Fluid (an eggcup of fluid to a watering can of water) freely about their position.

Many types of toadstool will grow in lawn turf, and a few scattered here and there over the lawn are not particularly objectionable.

The usual cause is buried organic debris (especially roots of long demolished trees) and removing these will often eliminate clumps of toadstools.

Not all grow in lawns however and some, like the oyster mushroom (illustrated) grow in tiers on tree stumps, logs, and branches of hardwoods, particularly beech

Please be careful when collecting wild mushrooms.

They could easily make you a memorable feast (or a more memorable bout of food poisoning) so instead, take what is pre-packed and stripped of dirt and found on offer on supermarket shelves.