An excursion involving all of the senses
Bergh Apton, Norfolk The collection symbolised all that our own species has pondered, learned and felt about mushrooms for centuries
he difference between a fungus foray and most other forms of nature study is the gregariousness of it all. There were more than 20 of us, aged eight to 80, joking and laughing and clustered around our guide, who is himself like a rare treasured specimen. Tony Leech is an expert who contributes as much simple human joy to a group as he does knowledge.
Each person scoured the ground for a contribution to bring back to the central hub of discussion. Our guide then marshalled these converging tributaries of inquiry into a wider delta of mycological conversation. This one was a dryad saddle. There was a wood blewit, or parrot waxcap, a collared earthstar. I often stood simply to marvel at the poetry of mushroom nomenclature. Ponder awhile the wrinkled peach, the parasol, the lilac bonnet – and the dog stinkhorn.
It was an excursion involving all the senses. We lay on the ground to be on intimate terms with the tiny earthtongue or dead moll’s fingers, whose pencil-thin fruiting bodies poked up like death-blackened digits. We inhaled a deep whiff of ocean in a mushroom called crab brittlegill. Best of all, we stood in amazement at the crazy fecundity of fungi: a fruit body of the football-sized giant puffball can produce 6bn spores.
Eventually the whole afternoon of encounter was distilled to Tony Leech’s basket of specimens. Here were gathered all the toadstools that were beyond our collective ken, and whose identities can sometimes only be settled by examination of spores that are 1/200th of a millimetre. In a sense, that collection symbolised all that our own species has pondered, learned and felt about mushrooms for centuries.
Yet that same basket also summarised the unfathomable wonder of life on this planet: for it contained the stories of 100 different fungi, which had each travelled through time probably for millions of years to meet on that afternoon in that October sunshine.