Neither animals nor plants, fungi are a separate group of organisms.
They can recycle dead and decaying matter, but can also parasitise plants and animals. Usually all we see are the fruiting bodies, which cast spores into the air, and come in various shapes and sizes, helping to identify them.
As well as foraging for mushrooms, you could also have a go at growing your own edible mushrooms.
Take a look at some of the UK’s most common native mushrooms, with our detailed garden mushroom identifier.
Field mushroom (Agaricus campestris)
Cap: 4-10cm across, convex, domed, expands slowly, smooth white to start, scales peel as it ages.
Stem: short and white, narrows at base.
Gills: pink to start, turning chocolate brown to deep black.
Edibility: eminently edible.
Yellow-staining mushroom (Agaricus xanthodermus)
Cap: 8-15cm across, globular at first then broad-domed, white to greyish brown, cracking or becoming scaly.
Stem: white, bulbous at the base.
Ring: broad, hanging off. Flesh turns yellow immediately if bruised.
Gills: pink, turning grey.
Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria)
Cap: 8-25cm across, broad dome, bright orange or scarlet, sometimes brownish or yellow, flecked with white warts, though rain can wash these off.
Ring: hangs skirtlike.
Gills: white. Often found under birch or pine trees.
Edibility: very poisonous.
Shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus)
Cap: 5-15cm wide, pale, woolly scales, bell-like then conical.
Stem: tall (up to 20cm) and narrow.
Gills: white, then pink, then dissolving to drip black ‘ink’.
Edibility: edible, tasty when young (before ink), but if consumed with alcohol produces mild poison.
Fairy ring mushroom (Marasmius oreades)
Cap: 2-5cm across, pale brown convex dome, becoming floppy, with edges wrinkled or grooved.
Gills: whitish. Occurs in large, gradually expanding rings in lawns.
Edibility: edible, but can be confused with other, poisonous, species.
Sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare)
Cap: 4-8cm across, convex, or domed, bright sulphur yellow with orange tints and a brown centre.
Gills: yellow, then green and brown.
Stem: long and fibrous. Sprouts in large tufts, with often hundreds of caps, from tree stumps and logs.
Common ochre russula (Russula ochroleuca)
Cap: 4-10cm wide, dull beige-yellow, convex when young, expands to flat top, becomes wrinkled or ridged at edges.
Gills: brittle, white or cream.
Stem: soft, often hollow.
Edibility: edible but not especially flavoursome.
Liberty cap (Psilocybe semilanceata)
Cap: 1-2cm wide, conical, pale brownish-yellow with greenish tints, often slimy, edges rolled under when young.
Gills: dark purple-brown.
Stem: tall, thin, wavy, white.
Edibility: inedible and hallucinogenic, this is also known as magic mushroom.
Giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea)
Up to 1m wide, but usually 20-50cm. Irregularly round, flesh is white then yellowish, with thick, smooth, white skin that splits across the dome to emit clouds of brown spores.
Edibility: edible when young, before spores form.
Many thanks to Chris Shields for providing the beautiful illustrations used in this feature.
Spending a couple of hours foraging for mushrooms is fun and rewarding, but stick to the rule that if you are not absolutely certain of a mushroom’s identity, then do not pick it or consume it. Also, avoid picking any rare, protected fungi.
Safest wild edible mushrooms
- Giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea)
- Hedgehog fungus (Hydnum repandum)
- Wood ears (Auricularia auricula-judae)
- Scarlet elf cups (Sarcoscypha coccinea)
- Cauliflower fungus (Sparassis crispa)
- Field blewits (Lepista personata)
- Porcini (Boletus edulis)
- Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)