There is a real dearth of fungi (including mushrooms and toadstools) in the woods this year. This does not mean they have become extinct – far from it. The fungi ‘plants’ are growing out of sight eating up all the dead leaves and wood. Fungi ‘plants’ are quite different from ordinary plants. They consist of threads (called hypha and look a bit like roots) but resembling cotton wool when matted (called mycelium). Toadstools are equivalent to the fruits of ordinary plants, but having spores instead of seeds.
Fungi only ‘fruit’ and shed their spores when the conditions are right. Clearly the conditions in our woods are not quite right at the moment. This does not mean that the fungi will die out. The microscopic hypha can keep growing for years, and it just as well they can, otherwise all the dead leaves and wood would not rot down (and life would ultimately come to a stand-still). Actually some species seem only to ‘fruit’ at long intervals. Two specimens of the curious Strobilomyces floccopus (‘The Old Man of the Woods’) were found in Copse Wood in 1977, but have not been seen since. On the Fungus Foray last year the bright yellow Larch Bolete (Suillus grevillus) was found – guess where?- under the only Larch tree in the woods. That tree has been growing there for years (the only one) but this is the only time this toadstool has been recorded in our woods.
The few fungi to be seen at the moment are growing on logs. Dead wood seems to provide less erratic conditions for fungi to produce spores. These are different species to those that grow on the ground, – many looking most un-toadstool like. The flat growth of the orange Hairy Sterium ((Stereum hirsutum) on the end of logs can resist frosts and desiccation. Another to look out for is Candle-snuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) sticking up like candle wicks. There are also a number of bracket species growing on wood. However there is some Sulphur-tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) around at the moment and this is a proper toadstool. It may look as though growing on the dead leaves, but close inspection will show that it is really growing on deadwood.
Colin Bowlt 18.11.14