Fungi of Cornwall: the Famous, the Familiar, and the Fantastic

“On the subject of wild mushrooms, it is easy to tell who is an expert and who is not: The expert is the one who is still alive.” -- Donal Henahan

The air is getting cooler, the woodlands are green and damp, and that means it’s mushroom season in Cornwall! Sometimes strange, sometimes delicious, and always an important part of a healthy ecosystem, fungi are one of the oldest forms of life on our planet. They may not be as beautiful as flowers or as majestic as trees, but without mushrooms our world would be a little less weird and wonderful.

While some fungi are subtle and shy, others are most definitely not. One of our most common and classic Cornish fungi, the aptly-named Giant Puffball Mushroom (Calvatia gigantea) resembles a white bubble or balloon and can grow to be larger than a human head! Other common Cornish species you may see as you explore woods and hills this autumn include the Porcelain Fungus (Oudemansiella mucida), a small and delicate white mushroom that grows almost exclusively on the trunks of beech trees, or the coral-like Clavarioid Fungus.

Giant Puff Ball by Malcolm Storey
Calvatia Gigantea by Malcolm Storey

Conspicuous and also worthy of mention (although not technically a fungus) is the slime mould Fuligo septica, known as the Scrambled Egg Slime Mould or by the much-less-appetising moniker Dog Vomit Slime Mould. Somehow, both names seem equally accurate in describing the yellow-and-white misshapen blobs that can be found on bark mulch after a heavy rain. Don’t let their unappealing appearance dissuade you from taking a closer look—there’s a certain fascination to be found in the gross and the bizarre!

The Scrambled Egg Slime Mould is not to be confused with the Yellowpored Bracket (Flaviporus brownei), a yellow crust fungus usually found in subterranean mines. Be sure to take a peek under damp logs, just in case—Yellowpored Bracket has rarely been seen above ground in the UK, so it would be quite a find.

Flaviporus Brownei by Paul Gainey
Flaviporus Brownei by Paul Gainey

Keen-eyed explorers should also watch for the Silky Rosegill Mushroom (Volvariella bombycina), a beautiful but uncommon pale pink mushroom, and if you’re lucky you may even spot a rare Hymenoscyphus menthae. This tiny, delicate mushroom is just a few millimetres tall and has only been recorded in the UK a handful of times, including in a Cornish garden, much to the excitement of our resident fungi enthusiasts!

Volvariella Bombycina by Sally Moore
Volvariella Bombycina by Paul Gainey

Unfortunately, some fungi species you may see are not actually a part of the natural Cornish ecosystem and were introduced from distant lands by human interference. The Orange Ping Pong Bat Fungus (Favolaschia calocera - see main picture) is an invasive species from Madagascar, vibrantly bright orange and sponge-like. Ecologists worry this invader may displace native fungi as it spreads throughout Cornwall and Devon, so like with any fungi species you see, remember to report your sightings to ORKS so that we may track its distribution!

Also growing far from its homeland is the Devil’s Fingers Fungus (Clathrus archeri), a native of Australia and New Zealand. With its red-black clawlike appendages and distinctive aroma of putrid flesh, it’s practically impossible to mistake.

Yet whether they are small or large, lovely or less so, fungi never cease to be as fascinating and vital as they are fragile and overlooked. To celebrate the endless magic of mushrooms, National Fungi Day festivities will be held on 8th October this year at Cornwall’s own Lanhydrock. Wilderness lovers of all stripes are invited to learn about fungi, go on guided walks through the woodland to find fungi, and celebrate just how incredible and unique fungi are.

To learn more about the work happening across the UK to study and protect our fungi, please feel free to visit the British Mycological Society or The Fungus Conservation Trust websites. Happy fungus hunting!!

Article by Caitlin Fikes, ERCCIS volunteer and University of Exeter student.