Fungi identification: what do fungi look like?

Fungi growing from a fallen log
Look out for fungi popping up during autumn (Photo: Michael Heffernan/WTML)

In autumn, all sorts of exotic-looking fungi are bursting out of dead wood and tree trunks. They come in an amazing array of shapes and colours, and have some pretty imaginative names too.

Fungi are the ‘fruits’ of huge underground fungal webs, or mycelia. These help break down dead plants and creatures in the soil and carry nutrients to plant roots. Here are a few interesting ones to look out for.

Fly agaric

Fly agaric
Look for fly agaric's red and white cap (Photo: WTML)

There’s no mistaking this fairy-tale toadstool. You can often find it under birch and pine trees. It may look cute but don’t touch it as it’s poisonous!

Fun fact: the fly agaric mushroom often featured on Victorian Christmas cards as a symbol of good luck.

Chicken of the woods

Chicken of the woods
Can you find orange-yellow chicken of the woods? (Photo: WTML)

This is a type of ‘bracket’ fungus, which grows out of tree trunks in a sort of fan shape. It can be yellow or orange.

Fun fact: people say it tastes like chicken, but we don’t recommend you try it!

Shaggy ink cap

Shaggy inkcap
Spot the shaggy ink cap in fields and woods (Photo: Northeastwildlife.co.uk)

This mushroom is sometimes called the ‘lawyer’s wig’ because of the shaggy mane that grows around the edge of the cap. You can find it in woods, fields and grass verges.

Fun fact: the white gills underneath the cap eventually turn black and dissolve into a liquid ‘ink’ that you can write with. It might be a bit smelly though!

Amethyst deceiver

Amethyst deceiver
Purple amethyst deceivers pop up in all sorts of woods! (Photo: Northeastwildlife.co.uk)

This pretty little mushroom gets its name from the violet-coloured jewel. You can find it in all types of woodland.

Fun fact: its colour makes it look poisonous but it’s actually a fairly harmless mushroom. Perhaps that’s why it’s called the ‘deceiver’.

King Alfred’s cakes

King Alfred's cakes
King Alfred's cakes grow on beech trees (Photo: Northeastwildlife.co.uk)

These squashed black balls often appear on the trunks of beech trees. Their name comes from the legend of King Alfred, who forgot to watch a peasant-woman’s cakes and let them burn.

Fun fact: they make excellent firelighters – that’s why they’re sometimes called coal fungus.

Yellow brain

Yellow brain fungus
This yellow fungus grows on deadwood (Photo: Richard Becker/WTML)

This jelly-like fungus often grows on dead wood from broadleaved trees. You’re more likely to see it during late autumn and as we head into winter.

Fun fact: another name for it is ‘witches’ butter’. People once believed that, if it appeared on your gate, it meant a witch had cast a spell on you.

We’re sure you’ll agree that fungi are fascinating. Why not head to the woods on a fungi hunt armed with our autumn fungi ID?

Remember: look but don’t touch as many fungi are poisonous.

Found some amazing mushrooms? Don’t forget to share your snaps using #NatureDetectives.

Which fungi have you spotted?

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