Just about now an amazing transformation is about to happen in your local woodland. Mysterious natural explosions are going to appear over the forest floor and on fallen branches. These strange growths of different shapes, sizes and colours are, of course, fungi. It’s time for them to spread their spores to make sure the natural balance of our woodlands continues.
Mushrooms, toadstools, brackets and moulds are all fungi. Together, they are nature’s decomposers, breaking down all the dead wood and leaf litter and turning it into nutrient-rich soil. Many are beneficial to the trees around them and have an association called symbiosis, where the fungus attaches to the tree root system and they benefit from sharing vital nutrients with each other. There’s even a ‘Wood-Wide Web’: the internet of the forest, through which fungi systems pass information to the trees about the conditions around them.
Fungi can be beneficial to humans too – some are delicious to eat, and everyone will have heard of penicillin, the world-changing antibiotic. Some, however, are deadly poisonous – the death cap and destroying angel are not given their names lightly!