The relationship between trees and fungi
Its been a good year for mushrooms or fungi, on our smallholding.
What is fungi?
Fungi, together with the bacteria, are the ‘decomposers’ of our environment and they are just as important as the ‘producers’ the green plants. Fungi lack the green pigment chlorophyll, the pigment that is essential in converting sunlight into plant energy, because they don’t have this pigment, fungi have to get their energy from other sources, from organic material produced by other plants.
Fungi are not plants but belong in a kingdom of their own. Their cell walls are made of chitin (a white horny substance more easily recognised as the substance that forms the outer skeletons of crabs!) and instead of using photosynthesis to obtain energy they digest organic matter.
Where will I find fungi?
Many fungi grow only in very specific places, or are associated with particular kinds of trees. i.e. ‘Birch’ polypore or Razorstrop, a bracket fungus. Fruiting bodies may also be produced in a particular season. Although Autumn (August to November) is the most fruitful season. In spring for example, there are Saint George’s mushroom so named because the fruiting bodies first appear around the 23rd April, which is St. George’s Day. In Summer – giant Puffballs and the edible bracket ‘Chicken of the woods’.
The fungi in the picture above is likely to be Honey Fungus. This is a destructive parasite which can be found on tree stumps, roots and buried branches. It is recognisable from the black rhizomes encircling its host which resemble a network of leather bootlaces. Do not eat raw. Collect the caps when young, when the gills are white. Blanch before cooking and then fry slowly. Honey Fungus has a strong flavour and firm texture.
Types of fungi
Fungi can be divided into three groups:
are probably the most numerous, performing a vital role in breaking down dead organic matter. Feeding on dead tree trunks, decomposed plant remains in the soil, dead insects, man-made foodstuffs and clothes. e.g. Stinkhorns.
Parasitism is the dark side of fungal ecology, these fungi obtain all their nutrients from a living host. In many cases resulting in the death of the poor host. A plant parasite commonly seen locally is the Honey Fungus Armillaria mellea.
These fungi live in close association with the roots of other living plants to their mutual benefit, this symbiotic relationship is known as mycorrhizae (fungus roots). The fungus benefits by receiving sugars from a plant and the plant obtains phosphates and other nutrients from the fungus.
In particular, this is the type of mushroom I am interested in – the mycorrhizal. They have a symbiotic relationship (friendly exchange) with trees or other plants. Mushroom mycelium receives carbohydrates and other nutrition from trees while delivering minerals and water. The tree often receives a significant amount of it’s water intake by delivery from the extended mycelial network. Both organisms benefit. More than 90% of all plants form beneficial associations with fungus.
Trees in our woodland
Oak supports many species including maitake, chanterelles, chicken of the woods, honey mushrooms, oysters and many others.
White, yellow, and other birches can harbor polypores on the wood and chanterelles, and others on the ground. Mature, scarred, or dying trees usually produce more.
Beech are where you find chanterelles, and occasionally oysters.
What fungi is in our wood just now?
Bearded Milk Cap: Lactarius pubescens
All the Lactarius species produce a milky fluid if the gills or the cap is damaged, giving rise to the common name “milk caps”. Cap 3-10cm across, convex with a depressed disc and in rolled margin, becoming flat then shallowly funnel-shaped with an arched margin; pale tan or cinnamon pink, slightly darker at the disc. Found on soil amongst birch, Broadleaved and mixed woodland, parks. Common. Late August to October to autumn.
Jew’s Ear – Auricularia auricula- judae
Oyster Mushrooms – Pleurotus ostreatus
In the woods near me there is a semi-rotten beech tree that hosts oyster mushroom mycellium. Every year, after a very cold snap (usually in January) the mycellium runs and its fruiting bodies appear. Behold! Sumptuous oyster mushrooms.
Check out this website for lots more info
Check out other posts from Fife Smallholder on this topic including the Scottish Wild Mushroom Code.