Friday, 22 November 2013

Fantastic fungi

 Laetiporus sulphureus or chicken of the woods

The Deceiver. Poison Pie. The Humpback. Devil’s tooth. Skullcap dapperling.

They might sound like a list of best-selling horror novels, but they are in fact the names of just a handful of the staggering 15,000 species of fungi found here in Britain. And after a hot summer and mild autumn this year the display of fungi at Lyme Park has been particularly spectacular.

What are fungi?

Fungi are often referred to as the recyclers of nature. This is because they break down dead and decaying organic materials and release nutrients back into the ecosystem. Put simply, without fungi, nature would be unable to renew itself.  

The fruiting body of the fungi is what most of us recognise as a “mushroom” or “toadstool”. This is actually only a tiny fraction of the fungi. To draw an analogy, a mushroom to a fungus is like an apple to a tree. Underground each fungus has a network of thread like roots known as mycelium, which absorbs nutrients from the surrounding environment. One particular type of honey fungus is thought to be the one of the largest organism in the world, strecthing over 3 kilometres in size! Much of this is underground and made up of the mycelium root system.

Fungi spread by releasing a huge amount of spores from their gills, which are carried by wind to colonise other areas. Spores to fungi are like seeds to a plant. For the majority of species, this takes place from September through to November, which is why you may have seen so many fruiting bodies of fungi on your travels around Lyme and elsewhere.

Unlike plants, which generate their energy themselves through photosynthesis, fungi generate energy to grow by absorbing nutrients from their surroundings. Most plants and trees have a “symbiotic” relationship with a specific type of fungi, which allows them to exchange nutrients in a mutually beneficial way.

Here are a handful of photographs the rangers have taken this autumn of some of the favbulous fungi to be found at Lyme Park. If you have any photos please send them to

Fistulina hepatica or Beefsteak fungus
Coprinellus micaceus or Glistening inkcap
Auricularia auricula-judae or Jelly ear
Amanita muscaria or Fly agaric
Ganoderma applanatum or Artist's fungus
For more information on fungi some of the videos on the BBC wildlife webpage are well worth a look: