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Although there’s a lot I love about living in the city, and it’s really the right place for me to be at the moment, I can’t deny that when I went back home a couple of weekends ago I felt this kind of bliss at being surrounded by greenness again! Luckily, there is a huge park called Warley Woods about 15 mins walk away with a beautiful woodland and huge green space. It’s also where I found these cute teeny tiny fairy doors in a tree trunk a while ago – no idea what they were about. Geo-caching perhaps?

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During my first explorations of the park I found a noticeboard which had a list of activities that go on there… one of which was a “Fungi Walk” which happened on Sat 5th October – held by the Warwickshire Fungus group. I have missed having easy access to foragables and, even though I knew this would probably be more of an educational trip than about edible fare, I decided to go along & get back in touch with nature a little bit.

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At first I wondered how much we’d find around on a wet, autumnal day. And then there was fungus everywhere. I have to admit – I’ve always found fungi a bit freaky, and the first one we looked at – in the two pictures above – was sticky and jelly-like! I’ll apologise now that I can only remember the more poetic & far less accurate or useful names of them – this one was ‘Porcelain fungi’. It looks almost sea-urchin-like to me. But the more I learnt the more I discovered the beauty and fascination in these strange organisms…

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I learnt that there are good and bad fungi – some which feed the trees around them, and some which destroy them. I also learnt that the ‘spores’ – the particles the fungi send out in order to reproduce themselves – are integral for deciphering their species. There are several ways to examine the spores more closely (their colour being one of the significant factors) – including shining and light through the fungus, placing paper over it for a while and seeing what colour residue is left there, and taking a photograph at the exact moment of dropping water onto the surface, which disseminates the spores.
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This one is sometimes known as ‘Judas’ Ear’ – although someone also remarked that it looks a bit like a chewed fruit pastille! One quite surprising way of identifying a species of fungi emerged when our guide would rather bravely chew on a little piece of it and spit it out – not unlike wine tasting – and some would have a mild taste & some would burn the tongue. Apparently this also tells you something. What exactly it tells you, I couldn’t say!

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These little fellas on the left looked to me like a certain hallucinogenic variety, we were told that they are in the same family as magic mushrooms but not the same things. Although I’m sure he wouldn’t have told us if they were! 😉 That would take foraging a little too far for me personally anyway!

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Another fascinating detail I learnt was that some varieties of fungus have milk inside – which can come in white, green, grey or even violet colour! And some even bleed when you pick them – we saw one of these, its stem saturated with a deep purple-red stain. But then, some varieties are closer to an animal-like organism than mere plant. Strange, beautiful, and slightly unsettling.

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This tiny fungus, apparently one of the larger types in its particular family, has tiny eyelashes. They remind me of little Venus Fly Traps!

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And this one is sometimes known as ‘Artist’s fungus’ – because a gentle line drawn with a nail creates pencil-like patterns across its surface. I think my family would like this one!

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And finally, some varieties are huge – I learnt from Qi that the largest living organism on earth is a type of fungus (because it mostly lives underground… what we see on the surface is the ‘flower’ of the plant) – and some, like this image, are tiny.
If you are an enthusiast, or wannabe mycologist, then I apologise for my lack of latin names… they are simply too difficult to pick up during one walk in the woods! But a handy tip I did learn is that to take a specimen with you, take some wax paper and wrap it up like a boiled sweet/ christmas cracker shape to keep it freshest. Then you can take it home with you a identify it properly! Also, be careful what you eat… most varieties won’t kill you, but some will certainly make you ill.
Next weekend the same group are doing another walk in Coombe Abbey, Coventry, meeting at 10.30am I believe next Saturday. I would highly recommend it – it certainly exceeded my expectations this weekend and, most importantly, reminded me to look around more, and notice the beauty that lies in every corner.
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