British woodland fungi ID guide

Autumn is when a variety of mushrooms are on show in British woodlands. Use our ID guide to try and spot these 12. 

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Mushrooms or toadstools – call them what you will – are the colourful manifestations of subterranean fungal webs or mycelia, which comprise the real engine room of our woods.

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Some fungi are saprotrophic: they obtain their nutrients by breaking down organic remains. Others form mycorrhizal associations with trees or other plants: the mycelia bond with the root cells and thus ferry nutrients to the hosts. Up to 90 per cent of all plants are thought to have such fungal ‘helpers’.

Putting a name to the trees in a wood will tell you what fungi to expect. The magpie fungus occurs mainly in beechwoods, for example, while the sickener prefers pines and the larch bolete is (you’ve guessed it) a denizen of larch plantations.

All illustrations by Felicity Rose Cole

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Chanterelle

Cantharellus cibarius

Coniferous and deciduous woods. Brilliant yellow; gills run part of way down thick stem. Edible (delicious).

Common and widespread

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Horn of plenty

Craterellus cornucopioides

Deciduous woods, often in groups. Blackish, funnel-shaped or tubular cap with frilly edges.

Local: easy to see in some spots

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The sickener

Russula emetica

Pine woods. A ‘brittlegill’ with a scarlet cap and pure white gills and stem; gills break easily when touched. Poisonous.

Common and widespread.

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Charcoal burner

Russula cyanoxantha

Deciduous woods. A ‘brittlegill’ with a lilac or red wine-coloured cap, often with olive tints.

Common and widespread.

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Wood blewit

Lepista nuda

Deciduous woods and hedges. Rich tan cap; lilac stem and gills. Has a sweet, perfumed smell.

Common and widespread.

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Larch bolete

Suillus grevillei

Under larches. Cap sticky, orange when young, yellower as it matures. Has pores instead of gills.

Local: easy to see in some spots.

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Common stinkhorn

Phallus impudicus

All woods. Cap covered in slime when fresh; releases foul smell to attract flies that spread its spores.

Common and widespread.

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Hedgehog mushroom

Hydnum repandum

Most woodland types. Cap creamy on upperside; underside has soft, pale spines (hence the name).

Common and widespread.

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Violet webcap

Cortinarius violaceus

Mainly birchwoods. Big, beautiful mushroom with a rich violet cap; browns with age.

Scarce: searching needed.

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Verdigris roundhead

Stropharia aeruginosa

All woods; also heaths. Unique turquoise colour with white, fleecy patches when young. Poisonous.

Common and widespread.

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Magpie fungus

Coprinus picaceus

Deciduous woods, mainly beech. Bell-shaped cap with irregular white patches. Liquefies when old.

Local: easy to see in some spots.

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Yellow stagshorn

Calocera viscosa

Coniferous woods, on rotten logs and stumps. Slimy when wet; when dry a deeper shade of orange.

Common and widespread.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

  • Join a fungi foray – it’s the best way to pick up ID tips. Many local conservation organisations organise forays on their reserves.
  • Take spore prints from your fungi. Place the cap on a piece of clean paper, cover it overnight and next morning you should have a perfect spore print. Fungi fun!
  • Specialise in a few fungal types, such as colourful waxcaps, coral fungi or boletes. Report unusual finds to your local records group; find a list here.
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Correctly identifying fungi to species level is extremely difficult and many species are poisonous, and even fatal, so if you wish to forage fungi, we would advise doing so with an expert.