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British wild mushroom and fungi guide: how to identify and where to find

 
The UK’s woods, riverbanks and meadows are home to roughly 15,000 species of wild mushrooms. Find out how to identify the most common species found in Britain, plus essential safety tips on which mushrooms are edible or poisonous in our British fungi guide.

How to identify:

 
Some fungi cannot be identified without a microscope, however those in this blog can be identified using macro characteristics displayed by the fruiting body. Most are umbrella or mushroom shaped with gills on the cap underside. Below are some key characteristics to look out for when identifying:
 
  • Fruiting body – shape, colour and size 
 
  • Gills – in particular how they attach to the stem, a spore print can also be taken
 
  • Stem – shape, colour, size
 
  • Smell and texture
 
  • Habitat
 

Mushroom picking and safety

 

1. Hedgehog Fungus – Hydnum repandum

 
Hedgehog Fungus by Lynn Martin via Flickr
 
Other common names: Wood Hedgehog, Sweet Tooth or Pied de Mouton
 
Identification: In place of gills, this species has spines (stalactite-like projections) under the cap, making it look rather hedgehog like. The spines are paler than the cap, and the cap is creamy, medium-sized and fleshy. Cap is 3-17 cm across. Stem is short and stocky.
 
Where to find them: On soil among litter, under broad-leaved woodland, in particular with beech or oak, sometimes with other species, including in coniferous woods; often in troops.
 

2. Giant Puffball – Calvatia gigantea

Identification: One of the largest fungi in the UK, it is similar in size to a football. The young fruiting bodies are solid, white, thin and smooth and then later turn olive, then finally brown when it opens. When mature it is roughly 20-75 cm across. There is no stem, however it can be connected to the ground by a fine root like filament.
Where to find: Can be found in grasslands, pasture, lawns, commons and roadsides, and can be found in open woodlands, often with nettles and rubbish.

 

3. Wood Blewit –  Lepista nuda or Clitocybe nuda 

Identification: Has a blue to violet tinged cap and gills when young, however older caps turn tan or grey from the centre. Gills are crowded and grow into the stalk and fade to brown as the mushroom matures. The cap is roughly 5-15 cm across, and the stem 5-10 cm tall.
 
Where to find: Amongst leaf litter in woods, hedgerows and gardens. Can also be found in grasslands away from trees

 

4. Common Inkcap – Coprinopsis atramentaria

Other common names: Inky Cap
 
Identification: A grey to fawn cap that is at first egg-shaped and then later bell shaped. The surface is smooth and splits into a few tiny scales from the apex, the edges are often wavy and split. Stem is white and hollow. Cap is around 4-8 cm across and stem is 5-15 cm tall.
 
Where to find: Very common – wherever there is buried wood.
 

5. Fly Agaric – Amanita muscaria

Other common names: Fly Amanita
 
Identification: One of the most iconic toadstools depicted in fairy-tale illustrations.  It has a shiny, scarlet red or orange cap with white wart-like spots dotted across. Cap is 8-20 cm across. The gills are white and free, and the stem is swollen with rings of scales.
 
Where to find: In mixed woodlands and heaths, mostly amongst birch, pine and spruce.
 

6. Jelly Ear – Auricularia auricula-judae

Other common names: Jew’s Ear or Wood Ear
 
Identification: Initially cup-shaped and smoothed, the fruiting body develops lobes in the shape of a wrinkled human ear. Soft, gelatinous and a date-brown colour, but when it dries it is much smaller, darker and harder. Upper surface is velvety, and is attached laterally by a small stalk. Up to 8cm across.
 
Where to find: Commonly found on living or dead wood of elder, but also recorded on many other woody species.
 

7. Common Stinkhorn – Phallus impudicus

Identification: Known for releasing a foul odour to attract flies which eat the spore-bearing slimy head. The foul smell can be detected far and wide, most often before seeing it. Initially it appears like a white egg which feels soft, but then later splits at the apex and a thick, white hollow stem appears with a polystyrene texture. Head is conical shaped, slimy and olive-green topped by a small, white ring. Grows up to 25 cm tall.
 
Where to find: Among leaf litter in woodlands and also in gardens.
 

8. Chicken of the Woods – Laetiporus sulphureus

 
Chicken of the Woods by Thijs de Bruin via Flickr
Other common names: Sulphur Polypore, Crab of the Woods and Sulphur Shelf
 
Identification: A thick, fleshy, bracket that is fan-shaped and soft to touch. Older brackets become sharp-edged with a dry, chalky texture. The upper surface is initially bright orange or yellow with a velvety touch, this later fades to a creamy-yellow with a smooth, dry surface. The very small pores on the underside are a pale yellow. Bracket is 10-40cm across.
 
Where to find: Can be found growing tiered mostly on oak trunks but also on sweet chestnut, yew and beech.
 

9. Scarlet Elfcup – Sarcoscypha austriaca

 
Scarlet Elfcup by Claire Dell via Flickr
 
Identification: Are cup-shaped and scarlet, however can also be bright orange. Stems attach to the leaf litter making them appear as hollow bowls lying on the woodland floors. Cups are roughly 4cm across.
 
Where to find: Although not very common it is reasonably widespread, and can be found in damp, shady areas on decaying sticks and branches. It can be found on the fallen twigs and branches of hazel, elm and willow in late winter and early spring.
 

10. Beefsteak Fungus – Fistulina hepatica

 
Beefsteak Fungus by Curiosity thrills via Flickr
 
Identification: This strange fungus appears like an ox tongue or piece of raw meat and oozes a blood like substance when cut. When young the bracket is soft and moist with a pinky-red upperside and broad margin. Older brackets are a liver-brown and much firmer with a sharp edge. The underside has yellow pores which release red-brown spores and often exude a red, blood like liquid. Brackets are about 8-20 cm across and 3-6 cm thick.
 
Where to find: Usually found low on the trunk of old, living oak trees and sweet chestnut trees, and sometimes on their stumps.
The British Isles is home to a staggering 15,000 species of wild mushrooms or fungi. These organisms live almost everywhere in the UK, but tend to grow more abundantly in woodland and grassland. For those who know little about fungi, the task of identifying them can be difficult.
 
Here is our guide to 10 of the most common wild mushroom species found in Britain, each with a few key details regarding where they grow, characteristics and whether they are edible or poisonous.
 

Mushroom picking and safety

 
If you are unsure whether a wild mushroom is safe to eat or not, seek advice from an expert. Eating a poisonous mushroom can be fatal – or at least make you feel very unwell, so don’t risk it. There are many foraging courses you can join where you can be guided by an expert.
 Most common British wild woodland mushroom species
 
1
 

Oyster mushroom

 
Pleurotus ostreatus. /Credit: Getty Images
 
Generally found in a tiered formation on tree stumps, particularly beech. Its shell-shaped cap varies in hue from cream to grey-blue, beneath which is a white underpart and short, stubby stem.
 
Is Oyster mushroom edible or poisonous?
Edible, with a delicate taste.

2

Chicken of the Woods

 
Often, but not only, found growing on oak trees, this bracket fungus is made of fan-shaped layers with wavy edges. The young surface is soft and creamy in colour, with an acid-yellow underside.
 
Is Chicken of the Woods edible or poisonous?
Edible, especially when young, but may cause an allergic reaction.
 

3

Giant puffball

This colossal fungi, found in meadows and on sports pitches, is often mistaken for a football. Young puffballs have soft clean white skin and firm flesh when cut. Aged puffballs split to release spores.
 
Is Giant Puffball edible or poisonous?
Edible, best eaten when young.
 

How to forage responsibly

 
Always be sure you can positively identify any plant before you pick it, and never eat any plant you are unsure of. When foraging, ensure you leave plenty for wildlife.
 
Here are a couple of key foraging guidelines:
 
  • Seek permission before foraging. In certain areas, plant species will be protected so it is important to do some research and check with the landowner before you start gathering.
 
  • Only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply. Look for areas where you can find food in abundance and then only collect a small amount for personal use. Never completely strip an area as this could damage the species and deny another forager the chance to collect.
 
  • Leave enough for wildlife and avoid damaging habitats.Many animals rely on plants for survival, so never take more than you plan to eat as this could also deny wildlife from a valuable food source. Be mindful about wildlife habitats and avoid disturbing or damaging.
 
  • Never pick protected species or cause permanent damage. Britain’s wild plants are all protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), which makes it illegal to dig up or remove a plant. Check the law before you forage or if in doubt, why not take part in a foraging class with an expert and learn the basics.
 

4

Penny bun/porcini

Also called Penny Bun because of its brown, bread-like top when young, porcini has a short, pale-brown stem with a clear veiny network at the top. Found under oak and conifers.
 
Is Penny bun edible or poisonous?
Edible, used in cooking around the world. Can be dried and eaten.
 

5

Chanterelle

Found in woods, particularly beech and oak. This rich-yellow fungi, shaped like a funnel, develops a wavy, turned-under edge with age. Beneath, gills form deep ridges down the stem. Accompanied by a delicate apricot scent.
 
Is Chanterelle edible or poisonous?
Edible, among the most commonly consumed of all mushrooms. Versatile.
 

6

Shaggy inkcap

A fragile mushroom with an elongated, narrow dome cap, found on grassy verges. Gills turn from white to pink and finally black, before emitting an inky liquid as the mushroom deliquesces.
 
Is Shaggy inkcap edible or poisonous?
Edible, worth eating when young. Do not consume with alcohol as it can induce vomiting.
 

7

Jelly ear

Found on dead and decaying branches, particularly elder. The small fungi – gelatinous with a rubbery texture – often becomes ear-shaped with age.
 
Is Jelly ear edible or poisonous?
Edible, with an indistinct and gelatinous taste.
 

8

Fly agaric

Usually seen on the edges of mixed woodland. Its vivid red/orange cap is sometimes flecked white spots – although these can be removed by rainwater. Has white gills and a slim stem.
 
Is Fly agaric edible or poisonous?
Poisonous and hallucinogenic. Do not consume.
 

9

Razorstrop fungus

A bracket fungi, rubbery in texture, often seen on the trunk of birch trees, either living or dead. White and smooth when young, it turns grey/brown and increases in size as it ages.
 
Is Razorstrop edible or poisonous?
Edible, with a strong mushroomy smell and bitter taste.
 

10

Field mushroom

Smooth, slender stem, tapering downwards. Deep, pink gills, then dark brown. A white cap than can be discoloured brown. Was once very common, now harder to find due to agricultural chemicals and habitat lost. As implied by its name, grows in fields and meadows, as well as broad-leaved mixed woodland.

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