A Magical Time of the Year?
We're now in that time of the year when the long, hot and dry days start to fade and the autumn starts to take hold properly. A lot of people may find that a little depressing, and although I'll miss the warmth and the myriad of buzzy things to photograph, a new subject will soon provide plenty of opportunities for photographs!
While lots of toggers will be looking to the trees for those wonderful autumn colour photos, I can usually be found looking at the ground as usual, this time on the hunt for interesting fungi. There is so much variety in our area, from huge shelf brackets, right down to microscopic cup fungus covering fallen leaves.
But here in Surrey Heath, we are absurdly lucky to have the perfect conditions for the most evocative toadstool, one that takes you right back to childhood fairytales, the beautiful Amanita muscaria, or by it's common name, the Fly Agaric.
My local area has an abundance of the pine and birch wooded areas that are the favoured (but not the only) growing spots for this species. They form an Ectomycorrhizal relationship (a symbiotic relationship between fungi and plant roots) with these species in particular. The edges of the scarce lowland heaths here are particularly good. This isn't to say you won't spot them elsewhere though, indeed my best find was in the middle of a village green surrounded by oaks and beech!
The Amanita muscaria gets it's common name from it's use in some European countries as a fly control, crumbled and dissolved in water or milk to attract and kill them. Who needs fly paper? The Fly Agaric, also is well known for being a poisonous species, containing several harmful chemicals, including muscarine and can cause pyschotropic poisoning. These properties have made it part of religious rituals for thousands of years, including a hallucinogenic drink in India and Iran, called 'Soma', as far back as 2000BC. Deaths by Fly Agaric poisoning are rare but have been recorded, this is not one to add to a full English breakfast!
Fresh Fly Agaric
As with most fungi, the early bird catches the pristine fungi before the worm gets it! Well, maybe not worms precisely, but fungi are food for many creatures, and it usually doesn't take long before you'll have a less than perfect specimen. Sometimes you'll be lucky enough to have at least one side still photogenic, even if it leaves you with less options for your composition.
Check the bases of isolated trees, and be on the look out for the signs of new ones on their way through, the very young ones in their 'button' form are almost entirely white, covered in the white 'crust' that form the iconic white spots as the fruiting fungi expands and shows off that vivid, almost unbelievable red colour.
And if you don't spot this Fairy fungus, then there will always be other fascinating finds to photograph, and if you look really closely you may even spot some of the really, really tiny creatures that I love photographing too.
My next blog will discuss some of these teeny tiny critters........