What better way to mark UK fungus day
#UKFD than by looking at some of the weirdest, creepiest and most fascinating fungi from around the world.
Devil’s fingers (Clathrus archeri)
To some, a terrifying fleshy claw reaching up from the bowels of hell. To others, an alien egg hatching into a mucilaginous octopus. Either way, it’s a remarkable fungus that’s occasionally spotted in the UK.
Humongous fungus (Armillaria spp.)
Across the pond there’s a honey fungus that’s so large it’s argued to be the largest organism on Earth – even bigger than a blue whale!
Zombie fungus (Ophiocordyceps unilateralis)
Truly nightmarish, this fungus infects the minds of ants, turning them into zombies that abort their duties and attach themselves to a twig.
Here, the fruiting body of the fungus ruptures from the ant’s head and sends its lethal spores out into the rainforest to find a new victim.
The closely related O. sinensis or 'yartsa gunbu' preys on ghost moth caterpillars and is eaten as a delicacy in China. In fact, it's the most expensive fungus on earth - even more valuable than truffles!
Werewere-kokako (Entoloma hochstetteri)
This mushroom is one of the purest, most brilliant blues in nature. It is so unique that it has made its way onto the New Zealand $50 bill – quite an achievement for a humble little toadstool (main image).
Veiled Lady (Phallus indusiatus)
Also known as the crinoline stinkhorn, this toadstool may look like a bridal gown but smells more like rotting offal.
Surprisingly, however, it is eaten in its east-Asian homeland and its cousin, the common stinkhorn (P. impudicus), is widespread in the UK.
Indigo milk cap (Lactarius indigo)
Average looking on the outside, slice the indigo milk cap in half, and the sap inside is a striking bright blue. Even more remarkable is the fact this cerulean mushroom is actually edible! Although I don't recommend trying them!
Bleeding tooth fungus (Hydnellum peckii)
A fairy-tale gone awry, the bleeding tooth is an unsettling-looking fungus which grows on the roots of trees.
Rare in the UK, young fruit ‘bleed’ red sap from pale toadstools, leading to the much less gruesome name of strawberries and cream.
Truffles (Tuber spp.)
A byword for luxury, truffles are notoriously expensive. Why? They’re challenging to farm, tough to find (collectors often rely on dogs or – famously – pigs), and lose their earthy scent quickly once picked.
The most glorified of all truffles are the European white truffles (T. magnatum) which can sell for upwards of $3,600 per pound. If you’ve got a sensitive nose, then you may sniff-out our native ones, growing in the southern counties.
Dung cannon (Pilobolus crystallinus)
This comically-named denizen of the dung heap is the fungal equivalent of superman. Not so much because it wears pants on the outside, but because the spores can accelerate faster than a speeding bullet, fired from filaments after a build-up of pressure. Because of their size, they don't reach groundbreaking speeds, but can still reach about about 25 metres per second!
Foxfire (Panellus spp. Omphalotus spp., etc.)
The term used for the eerie and somewhat magical glow of bioluminescent mushrooms. A surprising number of species illuminate gloomy forest floors around the world. Read more about them, here:
Death cap (Amanita phalloides)
This UK native has the insidious title of being the world’s deadliest mushroom. The Death Cap takes more lives than any other toadstool, and each cap has enough toxin to kill a human being.
The olive green-brown cap is sticky to the touch, and any forager should familiarise themselves with this lethal toadstool as well as its equally unkind bone-white cousin, the destroying angel.