As part of the programme of events at Stoke Park, I led a fungus walk. This was a walk with a difference; it was not a race around the park with baskets in hand to see how many edible species we could find to eat, but more about the secret world of fungi and looking at some of their uses.
As I pulled up to greet my guests I noticed there were lots of children, which was fantastic to see. They were all excited to show me their books on mushrooms.
“Fantastic,” I said. “You can all help me identify some mushrooms as we go around the park with your books – you can be my fungus detectives.”
That was greeted with a cheer of delight from them, so the group of more than 50 guests and I set off into the park. I did my opening speech and welcomed everybody to Stoke Park.
We then set off into the woods to see what we could find. In no time at all the children spotted a red fungus poking out of an oak tree. They all looked through their books to see who could identify it first. I asked if they could tell me what they had found. Young Emma shouted “beefsteak”, which was correct.
The beefsteak is also known as the ox tongue fungus, pictured, because it resembles the tongue of an ox. It is called beefsteak because when you slice it up it looks like sirloin beef steaks. It is an edible species.
As we continued through the woods the kids were so excited that they had found the first fungus, and the race was on to locate the next one. But this time they found something very different. A massive oak tree that is more than 260 years old had been toppled. This was caused by a fungus called the oak bracket or weeping bracket. You do not see this fungus too often.
I explained that this species of fungus is very clever as it finds its way into the heart of the tree, sucks out all the moisture, and drops it through its pores, hence the name weeping bracket. Once it has sucked all the water out of the tree, the fungus will start to attack it and kill it. This is what had happened to this tree.
Soon my fungus detectives gave a shriek. “Found another.”
This was the yellow stag’s-horn fungus, a bright yellow one that looks like a deer’s antler.
Well done, detectives.