Foraging for fungi is a bit like comedy I imagine – it’s all in the timing.
I awoke early on Friday morning determined to make my biggest fungal haul in my new Suffolk home. The day previous I had collected a decent amount of sea buckthorn berries, for the first time from within 10 miles of my home, and I was pleased. But at this time of year the woods beckon and hints of the earthy aroma tantalise the nostrils. I wanted puffballs, ceps, saffron milk caps maybe, whatever I could uncover.
So I set off across the heath to the trees. The scenes that greeted me on a late September morning were truly spectacular, as I hope these photos show.
So, as I entered the forest I was eager and expectant. I inspected the tree trunks and canopy and my ordnance survey map to try and stay among mixed pine and deciduous woodland, avoiding the depressing lines of plantation conifer. I expected this habitat to provide the best substrate for fungal spores to develop and mycelia to spread.
I trod a roughly circular route around the wood. I found what I suspect were milk caps of some kind, but they were blue with mould. I spotted an in-its-prime stinkhorn (of the rather obviously coined genus Phallus) but avoided its foul, insect-luring aroma.
There were a few other small obscure toadstools, a lone, insignificant bolete and a couple of common (not giant) puffballs which were not worthwhile by themselves. Nothing else. Perhaps returning to the comedy comparison, when you fail in foraging you become extremely self-critical, but how can you rouse an environment that’s not ready to provide? It’s the timing and a week later it could be so different (or a week earlier?) You see spots so similar to scenes that have been prolific with different species before but there’s nothing there. What have I done? Why are there no mushrooms? But it can’t really be your fault. You have to try, to look for them. Eventually the right amount of rain will seep through the ground, and the temperature will be correct and they will start to emerge. Or I may have already missed them? The few mouldy specimens – all that’s left to say that there was something there but I’ve been too slow.
So, I continued through the wood. I saw more beautiful sites. By a sun-dappled stream I disturbed a two-foot grass snake that slowly curved away ahead of me and climbed past a fallen tree trunk, revealing its distinguishing yellow collar. I spotted a couple of young frogs, climbing about amongst the damp sedge.
As I reached the completion of my circle and neared the start point of my walk, I spotted something more encouraging. Wood sorrel (unusually and slightly confusingly amongst similar-leaved clover) and wild oregano. Wonderful wild herbs that when the fungi do appear in this spot will make a tasty accompaniment. Not so much a foraging failure, more the beginning of some new discoveries I’m sure.