Tuesday, 12 October 2010

My World Tuesday - Hunter Gatherers

Orange Peel Fungus (Aleuria (Peziza) aurantia)
This grows on open ground in woods and is very common in autumn. It starts as very small  cups, looking flat, but grows to 3-4" across. It is edible.
From August to November walking with the dogs in the woodlands takes on a new aspect. Silent figures in ones or twos may be observed, causing warning barks or excited approaches, depending on the character of the dogs. The objects of their interest walk quietly among the trees, eyes cast down, frequently stooping to gather something from the rich soil. Such persons may emerge suddenly from the cover of the woods, holding plastic bags weighed down with their booty. Occasionally, they carry shallow baskets. These folk are the mushroom seekers, the amateur but very knowledgeable mycologists, for at this time of year the earth gives up an abundance of toadstools. Though fungi grow throughout the year they are most noticeable in late summer and early autumn.
I think this is Brown Birch Boletus (Boletus scaber) - but I could be wrong!!
It is quite common in summer and autumn in woods around birch trees.  The caps are edible and good to eat but the stalks are rather tough.
English people have little folklore about mushrooms and many of the tests to decide which ones are edible and which poisonous are not to be trusted. They may well grow in grass or not blacken a silver spoon but these are dangerously ill-informed methods for testing the toxicity or otherwise of them.
In Europe the knowledge is deeply ingrained, with France having perhaps the greatest interest and understanding. Until the Second World War Englishmen were very suspicious of wild mushrooms but learnt much from immigrant Poles and other Europeans who taught them that some toadstools can be delicious. Others, though edible, are so bland as to be not worth eating. The most prized fungi of all, the truffles, do not generally grow in UK, but when they do they are mostly found under beech trees. In France they usually grow under evergreen oaks. Specially trained pigs or dogs are used to sniff out the wondrous treats that develop underground, often at a depth of a foot or more.  Since the war, interest in UK has grown to the extent that there is growing concern because mushrooms are very important in maintaining moisture in the soil and providing a source of water for trees. In times of extended periods of dry weather or drought such water caches are invaluable.
Just as scavenging birds and beasts keep our world largely free of decaying carcases so fungi perform a similarly significant service. Indeed, they have been described as ‘the great scavengers of the vegetable kingdom.’ (‘Wayside and Woodland Fungi’, W.P.K. Findlay D.Sc., F.I.Biol., F.I.W.Sc)
Trametes (formerly Coriolus) versicolor, commonly called Turkey Tail in USA
This is very common on fallen branches and trunks. It is a medicinal mushroom in China and used in China and Japan as an immunoadjuvant therapy in the treatment of cancer.
Together with bacteria they break down organic detritus - without them the world would be cluttered with dead trees, fallen branches and deep, deep leaf drifts. The enzymes they produce liquefy the wood of trees and the soft tissues of leaves and fruits to provide nourishment for the fungi. Anything that is not consumed forms rich humus on the forest floor and acts as a sponge to retain moisture. Some fungi are adapted to decomposing hoof and hair remains of animals.
Fungi are a source of food, drugs, poisons and diseases. They cause most of the serious plant ailments and some that are troublesome to man and animal, like ringworm. Every gardener who maintains a compost heap owes its success in part to moulds as well as bacteria and worms.
If you should feel inclined to eat wild fungi please don’t rely on identification through illustrations. Toxic and non-toxic mushrooms can look remarkably similar and a simple mistake can lead at best to several hours’ discomfort and at worst to an agonising death. Take advice from a knowledgeable mycologist and if in doubt, DON’T!
Thank you to the My World team for organising this meme.

18 comments:

  1. I just love those orange-peel ones, Janice.

    kay, Alberta

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  2. I funghi di stagione sono un cibo meraviglioso.
    Nel mio terreno in montagna ce ne sono tantissimi...
    Amo molto cucinarli e "mangiarli" !!!
    Buona serata e grazie della visita :)
    Myriam

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  3. Great post on the fungus and mushrooms. The ornage peel fungus is really cool looking.

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  4. Very interesting! The first ones are so bright. I would never trust myself to correctly identify any. I remember when I used to go riding in the countryside we would see mushroom collectors-though they were only after the magic ones! We really wanted to go to the woods in East Sussex where we went bluebell hunting in the spring, but were just too tired on Sunday. My main thought was exciting funghi hunting-though with a camera. I have been looking at my mushroom /toadstool book. Maybe this weekend if the weather is good!

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  5. What a usefully informative piece about mushrooms and fungus! I thank you.

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  6. Hunter gatherers abound in the regional forests here in Ontario. They also carry bags or buckets, even though signs at each entrance tell visitors to remove nothing from the forests except trash.

    I'd love to know more about mushrooms but so I'm not brave enough to eat the wild varieties.

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  7. I always wondered where truffles came from. We used to gather -- and eat -- mushrooms from the fields behind our house in Flamborough.

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  8. Wow this was really a unique post to come across. Great..and love those orange peel mushrooms. Very Hobbit-like plus edible? I'll take your word for it.

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  9. Great post! I wish I had the confidence to hunt mushrooms, I'm sure some of the many ones I see in my area are edible but as you say, a mistake could have deadly consequences.

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  10. Very informative with beautiful shots. I have not seen orange fungi before.

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  11. Ah, Sweden is full of mushroom hunters too!

    Love that first shot.

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  12. I have never seen such an orange mushroom. When I was a little girl I used to go with my grandpa in the woods collecting mushrooms. He knew all kinds ! That was so nice !

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  13. Beautiful pictures!
    i find Mushrooms very fascinating and think they make wonderful subjects for some close-up pictures. they are an intersting subject for painting too...the shades are so intricate..
    But when it comes to cooking them I am rather suspicious.Even about those that are vouched for by well know super markets!!!
    My husband loves them but I seem to have no signs of getting rid of my phobia!!


    have a wonderful day

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  14. I've always admired mushroom hunters and how knowledgeable they are. I've seen mushrooms in the forest and lawn, but would never eat one. It always worries me that they must be poisonous.

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  15. I'm rather partial to wild fungi. Seems it has become the 'in' thing here and some of the parks and forests are now fining people who take fungi. Seems they are taking everything and destroying the ecologiacal balance. I wonder how much of what is gatered is really eaten.

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  16. A very interesting post! I am far too craven to try wild funghi, and even steer clear of them in restaurants!

    In Italy last week, I went into a 'mostra dei funghi' - an exhibition of wild funghi, edible and inedible, held by a local club, I suppose. It was fascinating, the labels telling us which were edible and which were not, but the worrying thing was that some of the edible ones were only edible 'when young' (how do you tell the age of a fungus?) and how similar some of the deadly ones were to the harmless varieties.

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  17. What an informative post! I adore mushrooms, but don't ever pick them to eat... I know they can be fatal. I've never thought of mushrooms being an environmental issue, though, that was totally new to me. The photo of the orange peel mushrooms is delightful.

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  18. Great post for the day, Janice! And very informative and interesting! I learned a lot and that's always good! Love the orange ones! Hope your weekend is going well! Sorry to be so late, the last few weeks have been hectic!

    Sylvia

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