The colourful mushrooms and toadstools of autumn are cut down by the first frosts, but even in the arctic conditions of midwinter, there are some eye-catching fungi to be found in the woods. They grow on dead timber, are hardy all year round and easiest to see when the leaves are off the trees. The smooth brown brackets of Birch Polypore (Piptoborus betulinus) can be seen in any Birchwood, sometimes along with the Hoof Fungus (Fomes fomentarius) a gnarled and wrinkly thing, often taller than broad, hard as iron when mature. Hoof Fungus also grows on beech, as does the even larger, but flatter, Southern Bracket (Ganoderma australe), which often forms layers, the lower brackets covered in a thick dusting of cinnamon-coloured spores from the ones above.
Hazel twigs are often found stuck together by the Glue Fungus (Hymenochaete corrugata). In ancient undisturbed Hazelwood’s this may be accompanied by Hazel Gloves (Hypocreopsis rhododendri), a Scottish west coast speciality. Pink Curtain Crust (Stereum rugosum) is very common on hazel, forming bark-like sheets, and you may come across the elegant fan-like Crimp-gill (Plicaturopsis crispa). Cinder fungi look like charcoal and are sometimes mistaken for charring of the trees by fire. Most of them are associated with a particular tree species, for instance, the Birch Woodwart (Hypoxylon multiforme), Hazel Woodwart (Hypoxylon fuscum) and Beech Woodwart (Hypoxylon fragiforme).
Rotting stumps often have small layered bracket fungi with variously coloured concentric zones. If these have pores beneath they are probably Turkey Tails (Trametes versicolor), but if the underside is flat they’re likely to be Hairy Curtain Crust (Stereum hirsutum). Some jelly fungi last the winter. The most conspicuous is Yellow Brain Fungus (Tremella mesenterica), usually on gorse but sometimes on other trees. Other browner jellies are harder to spot, especially when dry as many then shrink to a thin film.
Finally, there is one frost-hardy mushroom with a proper stem, cap and gills. This is the Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes). It too is fond of gorse but will grow on many kinds of deadwood. To see a cluster of the golden-orange caps covered in snow on a winter’s morning is a splendid sight. They can be seen in good condition until the end of January..
All the species named and many others have been recorded during LNHG field trips over the last few years.
Richard Wesley (Lorn Natural History Group)