Toadstools and Fungi in the Garden

Toadstools and fungi are a natural and essential part of the garden ecosystem.  To have toadstools and mushrooms in your lawn is a sign of a healthy garden with soil packed with beneficial nutrients. 

These fascinating organisms carry out a vital job in the overall health of plants and the soil in your garden.  They can be seen on the lawn, in the compost heap and sitting alongside plants and trees.  Fungi break down organic materials and recycle it back into nutritious food for plants.  Some fungi will attach themselves to plants feeding the plant and in return the plant will feed the fungi sugars which it has stored up throughout the summer. 

There are over 15,000 species of fungi in the UK.  Ranging from microscopic to the standard looking mushroom. The world of toadstools and fungi is fascinating and well worth taking the time to learn about these often-overlooked organisms.  However, many wild mushrooms are deadly poisonous and should never be eaten unless you have an extensive knowledge of wild food.

Some common species of toadstools and fungi you will find in the garden.

Field mushroom (Agaricus campestris)

Field mushroom (Agaricus campestris) toadstools and fungi

The field mushroom is closely related to the button mushrooms you find in the supermarket.  They can be found in pastures, parks and fields from June to October.  The creamy white caps range from 3-10cm in size, rolling in on itself along the margin edge.  The gills start as a deep pink turning to a dark brown and eventually becoming black as the mushroom matures.  The stalk which can grow 3-10cm tall is smooth and cream in colour.  Although these are an edible mushroom, care should always be taken when identifying mushrooms for consumption.

Shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus)

Shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus)

Shaggy ink caps grow from April to November.  Coprinus comatus can be found growing on lawns, flower beds, grass land and alongside roads.  They have a white cylindrical cap which darkens to a grey colour with maturity and a long thin stem.  It has white gills which turn black with age and if left over a short period of time after picking, the mushroom will begin to dissolve and leave an inky stain behind.  Coprinus comatus can be found growing on lawns, flower beds, grass land and alongside roads.  Shaggy ink cap mushrooms have been used to make homemade ink for writing and creating art pieces.

Sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare)

Sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) toadstools and fungi

Sulphur tuft is commonly found growing during the autumn months mainly in woodland areas.  This clump forming fungus feeds on fallen trees, rotted stumps and can be found thriving amongst conifers.  Distinctly noticeable because this wood-rotting species grows in large groups tightly pack together.  The conical, sulphur yellow cap ages into a yellow/brown colour and has a thin yellow stem.  The gills are yellow when young but become olive green coloured with age.  Sulphur tuft is toxic and should not be ingested.

Fairy ring mushroom (Marasmius oreades)

Fairy ring mushroom (Marasmius oreades)

This mushroom is famously known for forming a circular fairy ring of fungi on lawns.  They can be found growing in large groups from April to November on lawns, meadows and fields.  The conical cap opens out flat with a tan colour sitting atop the thin off white/tan stem.  The gills are white in colour turning to a cream/tan colour with age.  Although the fairy ring mushroom can discolour the grass within the circle, these fungi are beneficial to garden lawns as they provide essential nutrients to the soil and leave no lasting damage.

Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria)

Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) toadstools and fungi

When talking about mushrooms, no article would be complete without mentioning the famous Alice in Wonderlands Fly agaric.  A mushroom surrounded in magic, mystery and tales of fairies and psychoactive properties.  The bright red cap with white spots is widely recognised growing amongst conifers and deciduous trees.  Fly agaric has a fascinating history in human culture.  It has been used as an insecticide to kill flies, used for shamanic rituals and has played a role in many myths and fables throughout the ages. 

One intriguing theory is that Viking berserkers used fly agaric prior to battle to evoke the famous berserker battle rage.  It has also been suggested that fly agaric was involved in the development of the Santa Clause look and legend due to it being used by Siberian shamans.    

Discover the wonderful world of mushrooms

The world of toadstools and fungi is enchanting and captivating.  The number of fungi in the world is enormous and new fungi are still being discovered.  Foraging for mushrooms in woodlands and grassland can be a rewarding adventure.  You should always avoid picking wild mushrooms, not just for your own personal protection from possible toxins but to allow these essential biological specimens to continue with their key role in providing nutrients to nature and plant life.

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