Fabulous Fungi finds this year

(c) Charlotte Targett

Dappled sunlight, autumn rains, carpets of fallen leaves and fluctuating temperatures create the perfect conditions for fruiting fungi to appear across our landscapes.

The magic world of fungi is mostly hidden underground as an exquisite network of thin threads called the mycelium – growing outwards beneath our feet in search of nutrients in the soil so it can grow. The part of the fungi that we see above ground as a mushroom or toadstool, is actually just the fruiting body of the whole system. These appear for as little as an hour to around three weeks.  

For most of the year fungi is hidden, but autumn is always a great time to look out for them as they pop up and add to the array of spectacular colours surrounding us at this time of year.  While our teams have been out on our reserves carrying out our winter work for wildlife or teaching young nature lovers about wildlife, they’ve had some exciting moments finding mushrooms poking through the leaf litter or growing on vegetation. Here are a few of our favourite fabulous fungi finds by our teams this autumn:

Devil’s fingers

The devil’s fingers fungus was appropriately found on Halloween by two members of our land management team, Charlotte Targett and Joe McSorley, while carrying out important conservation work at our Dolebury Warren reserve on the Mendip Hills. Devil’s fingers fungus first came to Britain in 1914. Until this Halloween, there were only two known records from our Avon region, both from 1999. Careful conservation management over the years, means that Dolebury Warren is particularly rich in fungi, and the team were surprised to find this strange and spooky looking sight in the grassland.  

Earth star

This earthstar fungi was also spotted on our Dolebury Warren nature reserve. It's also known as a 'barometer earthstar' because of the way it reacts to humidity. When the air dries, the points fold up around the centre to protect it and when it's raining they open out! At first, when it emerges, the fungus looks like a puffball, but then it opens out to give it a star shape. They are usually found under deciduous trees (trees that flower and shed their leaves) in the late summer and autumn.

Jelly ear fungus

Jelly ear fungus hangs down in groups from branches of mainly elder, but sometimes other trees. This fungus got its name because it takes a similar shape to a human ear! It feels velvety like human skin, and grows on elder trees all year around.  This was found at our Feed Bristol site, by our learning team while teaching school children about the wonderful world of fungi at our Schools Fungi Day. Historically, jelly ear fungus was used to treat sore throats, sore eyes and jaundice.

Common bird’s nest fungi

Our Land Management Team found the tiny bird’s nest fungi, wrapped around branches in a private woodland in North Somerset. Found in woodlands, the bird’s nest fungi often grow in clusters on decaying twigs and bark. Although relatively common around the UK bird’s nest fungi are seldom seen as they hide themselves away in the depths of dense woodlands and hazel coppice.  This type of fungi looks like little bird’s nests with tiny eggs inside which are in fact are small sacs containing the mushroom spores called “peridioles”. Tucking themselves away under trees is part of their evolutionary strategy as the peridioles need heavy drops of rainfall to expel them from the cup so that they can establish somewhere else.  This reproductive process means that when you do find birds nest fungi you’re likely to find hundreds if not thousands.