Glowing in the dark is just the start …

Fly agaric (c) Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

Did you know that 90% of fungi in existence are unknown to science? DNA tests on soil samples can produce fungi which don’t match any known species. These are the ‘Dark Taxa’ – a great name for a vast gap in human knowledge. Dan Rose, Secretary of NWWT's Wrexham Branch, shares his fungal fascination …

Sitting and staring at a bowl with mushrooms floating around was my greatest hate as a child. I’d rather have starved than have to even touch them! The blame for this I put wholly on Lewis Carroll …  Anyway, it wasn’t until high school that I slowly began to realise just how vast the fungal kingdom was – or that, in producing everything from vegan leather to bread, their use by humans dates back millennia.

Today, I love seeing tiny mushrooms in my plant pots or the blankets of tiny white hypha (branching filaments which make up the fungal body) in the potato bed, as I know they’re breaking down organic matter in the soil ready for plants to take back up.  I now understand that fungi are everywhere – not just in the soil, but in the air and even inside each one of us!  Some can glow in the dark, some can make you hallucinate, some can kill you with only a tiny dose – while others can be used to produce antibodies for use in medications, or simply taste nice (allegedly) ...

I was also lucky enough to be part of a recent Wrexham Branch-led walk around Panorama, near Llangollen. Our visiting expert, Clive, was even able to spot a little fungus which lives off bracken.  Known as bracken club (Typhula quisquiliaris), its tiny fruiting bodies were only just visible to the naked eye – but, without them, the braken would have taken over the entire mountain.  A different fungus played its part in creating the lovely cold beer I enjoyed afterwards!

If you’re interested in finding out more about our fascinating fungi, why not join one of the Wildlife Trust’s upcoming ‘fungal forays’?  My own Wrexham Branch are holding one at Chirk Castle 07 October or, if that’s a bit far east for you, the Conwy Valley Branch have one on the same day in Gwydyr ForestFull details for both are on the Trust’s website.

Finally, I have a confession to make.  I’m now in awe of just how interesting, varied and vital fungi are, and the fact that life without them wouldn’t be possible, so my respect and fascination grows every year.  But some things don’t change.  I still won’t ever eat mushrooms – eurgh!

Want to find fungi for yourself in North Wales? ... visit our website for some tips.