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Thursday, 30 September 2010

Fungal Forays

I first started looking for mushrooms with a set of friends who were (and still are) keen on foraging for wild food. We would go to a nice place and wander round looking for mushrooms, on finding one we would leaf through a field guide, almost always fail to identify it, then move on. Occasionally we would come across something that one of us recognised as a good edible, and we would pick them, go home and prepare a feast!

I always felt dissatisfied at the vast number of mushrooms that we failed to identify, and so, one year I decided to 'learn my mushrooms' I went out several times a week, wandering far and wide, noting particularly mushroomious spots and returning regularly to witness the annual succession of fungi. At first I could identify very little - I would bring specimens home and leaf through guide books for hours, often having to give up without pinpointing what species I had found, but over the weeks I started to recognise some of the more distinctive ones, and the process continues to this day - filling in the gaps, making ever finer distinctions. There are still many that I can't tell apart.

I was identifying more and more edible mushrooms - and finding rarer and less familiar forms. There is always a risk involved in collecting wild mushrooms - every year people die from eating poisonous mushrooms, and most of those people are not idiots: they are smart people who think they know what they're doing - like me! There is also something overly acquisitive about mushroom hunting - you stumble across a beautiful patch of boletes and immediately - whomp! they are plucked and stuffed in your bag, ready for the pot.

These two considerations persuaded me to move from mushroom eating to mushroom photography as my primary form of appreciation - there is such beauty and variety in the textures, forms and colours that I find unending enjoyment from photographing and recording what I find, and pushing myself to improve my identification and seeking skills.

Mushroom hunting is an excellent pastime - it involves spending quality time in some beautiful countryside, gentle exercise, and an almost unending variety of species to find and identify. Every time you go out, you are likely to find something new. You just need to be satisfied with only being able to identify a small proportion what you see, at least at first.

The Fly Agaric - one of the very easiest mushrooms to positively identify.

The down-sides? It is a pretty seasonal activity, and you must always *ALWAYS* be 100% sure of your identifications if you plan on eating anything.

And here's a link to my old mushroom appreciation website