Fungi breaking down the forest floor

November is still a good month for finding fungi on our forest floors and our friends at Scottish Fungi have recommended two rather cool species to keep an eye out for at this time of year.

Pickling cucumbersThe cucumber cap is a ‘small brown job’ but actually quite distinct once you get your eye in for it. It is the smell that really gives the game away though – it ranges from putty, through cucumber to distinctly fishy – along the lines of cod liver oil. The combination of habitat, macro characters and the distinct smell make this almost always identifiable in the field and then easily confirmed with a microscope.

Macrocystida cucumis 1

Cucumber Cap

The cap can grow up to 5cm across and usually has a rich, dark red brown rather velvety appearance. The colour will fade as the cap dries out. The cap can be conical or more flattened and the edge of the cap can be faintly striate and is often a paler and contrasting yellow brown colour. The gills are paler, starting out white and becoming a reddish ochre colour. The stipe is stiff, pale at the apex, but dark and velvety below.

Fruiting occurs throughout the year but can also be found in the late autumn and winter month. It likes rich humus or nitrogen rich soils and so is often seen in nettle patches and increasingly on woodchip mulches in gardens and parks. As with so many fungi, this species is almost certainly overlooked – possibly because it often occurs late in the season when people are less often out foraying.

Olive Oysterling

Olive Oysterling

The Olive Oysterling, like the Cucumber Cap, is a saprotrophic or ‘recycler’ fungus, which is breaking down dead wood and plant material on the forest floor. Fungi are the only group of organisms that can break down lignin and without them we would be buried under many metres of woody debris. They also play a vital role in driving the carbon cycle, releasing nutrients that they don’t require back into the habitat.

The Olive Oysterling likes dead deciduous wood, usually large fallen trunks or branches, particularly beech and birch but also on alder, ash, oak, willow, elder and elm.

Olive Oysterling

Olive Oysterling

This species has a much reduced stipe forming to the side of the cap (described as lateral) and a more or less kidney shaped cap which can reach 10cm across. The upper surface is distinctly olive greenish, sometimes with reddish or lilac tones near the point of attachment to the wood. In wet conditions, the cap will be viscid and glutinous but the cap can become dry and matt. The under surface has yellowish /orange gills and the spore print is white.

Fruiting occurs throughout the year but is mostly recorded between late November and February.

Many thanks to Scottish Fungi – take a look at their website for loads of info on fungi in Scotland, including how to get more involved.

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