Whenever I’m creeping around the woods with a mushroom basket on my arm, my eyes regularly flick skyward. I’m not looking for birds, or checking for rain clouds but keeping in eye on the trees and more specifically the species beneath which I am walking.
Fungal mycelium form a network of strands within the soil that break down fallen leaves causing them to rot. The rotting matter provides the tree with a perfect compost onto which to drop its fruit while the nutrients within the leaves provides vital sustenance for the mycelium.
In autumn, when this co-dependence is most obvious, the mycelium pushes its own fruiting bodies above the soil in order to maximise the opportunity to spread and seed spores. As a result, in a damp October mushrooms seem to carpet the forest floor.
Some mushrooms are associated with particular trees. I get very excited to find a mixture of birch and pine, while oak and beech are also productive. It is in these places, particularly on acid soil, where some of the very best edible fungi can be found.
Moreover, several mushroom species have similar tastes and are often found side by side. The fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) is one of the most iconic and easily spotted of toadstools, and can often be found in the company if the mighty cep (Boletus edulis).
If you spy a fly agaric, always have a closer look behind it – there might just be something rather tasty nearby…