Fungi – A Plants Best Friend?

I feel like I need to dedicate this piece to my dad, for he tried to get me in to mushroom foraging when I was about 12/13 years old but I was having none of it. He left it slightly too late; I had got all geeky about potatoes previously producing charts and all, but by then the teenager hormones had kicked in and he had no chance. 

Sorry dad!

Now look, 18 years on I have turned in an absolutely fascinated fungi geek. Can we go foraging now dad, please don’t say “it’s too late, you had your chance”?

I’m fascinated by their beauty, taste and the fear they hold over 99% of us, but most of all the power these living organisms have to provide a continuous lifelong supply of nutrients to plants. As a child I knew that some fungi are edible and taste divine to older people, a little too slimy back then for my liking. I also knew that others could kill you!

I didn’t know or appreciate though that fungi and 90% of all land plants have been living in a symbiotic relationship for at least 500 million years. Providing a secondary root system and water tank in return for carbon and sugars. Not realising that plants couldn’t survive in many uncultivated situations, like where most of us regularly go for stunning woodland walks,  without their relationship with fungi.

My need for a deeper understanding of foraging fungi for food alongside their role as mycorrhizas (simply put…their relationship with plants) was further heightened when I recently went on a Mushroom Foray with Forage London and Beyond in the New Forest.

A truly wonderful and fun day out even if we did get soaking wet, that’s why we have hot showers, hot chocolate and blankets though isn’t it – to warm up afterwards.

3 and half hours of being totally geeky, rummaging amongst crimson fallen leaves, being educated by our expert leader and harvesting many fungi to cook up later. Keeping our eyes totally peeled and our mushroom radars on full alert, we came across an array of fungi, edible and non-edible, but luckily non that could kill you. The edible species photographed below included Hedgehog aka Wood Urchin, Oyster, Chanterelle and Autumn Chanterelle, Horn of Plenty, Amethyst Deceiver, Puff Ball and the Penny bun bolete (aka ‘Cep’).

I came away feeling much more knowledgeable and whilst still not super confident, I do feel that I could go foraging for the Hedgehog and Horn of Plenty species with no concern for my life. That’s a win in my book and I definitely recommend you give a foray a go too. Even if it’s just for a lovely walk in a new place and an increased level of confidence to wow friends and family.

Since our mushroom adventure, I have already looked at doing another course and have done more reading up on native mycorrhizal fungi and also scientifically produced natural treatments as unfortunately in most soils there isn’t enough native fungi to really give new plants that we may have in our garden the mass benefits.

I may look into these further for my upcoming autumn planting and especially for the 2019 growing year. I want to make sure that I understand the detail fully first though then will be sure to you updated on my findings and potential growing progress. Maybe I could do a trial and comparison?

I will caveat that not all of the 3,000 species growing in the British Isles are mycorrhizas, the Penny bun bolete and Chanterelle definitely are, plus many more I could list. Those though I will leave off here as I’m still to research them fully, then find and capture personally. Plus I’m sure you don’t want me to go in to much of the finer detail mentioning words such as Ectomycorrhiza and Endomycorrhiza. I might lose you then if you aren’t as fascinated as me.

If you are though, then let me know and we can geek around about it for ages. Maybe arrange a group foray?!

How cool is it though that so many woodlands, forests and plants we love survive thanks to these little, quirky, alien like fungi?!

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