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Searching for rare and unusual New Forest fungi

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

Russ writes:

Like many wildlife enthusiasts, my early focus on birds, butterflies, and moths has morphed over time into an appreciation of the full range of fauna and flora here in the New Forest. In the last two years I’ve focussed on another kingdom, the fungi, and spent many happy hours in the autumn and winter months poking around in dark, damp corners of the forest searching for mycological marvels. This blog focusses on some of the rare and unusual fungi that I’ve been fortunate to encounter during my wanderings in the New Forest over the period 2020-21.

Fungi searching is often a family affair - here my young son is helpfully pointing out a large clump of Golden Scalycaps Pholiota aurivella!

We are fortunate that the New Forest is home to over 2700 species of fungi and is recognised as a UK and international fungi hotspot. However, only a relatively small proportion of species can be identified confidently using macroscopic features (i.e. visible to the naked eye) and most require microscopic analysis to identify with certainty and/or have only been recorded very sporadically.

Over the last two years I’ve recorded about 300 fungi species, based on macroscopic features, which is quite sobering when one thinks this is only about 10% of the New Forest total! I'm certainly more of a fungi enthusiast than an expert mycologist, but I have managed to find several rare and unusual species, in part because much of my effort has been focussed on high-quality ancient woodland habitats, with a particular focus on Beech-dominated woodland. As the photos below will demonstrate, there is also a bias towards larger and more obvious species, which is simply because they can be identified (relatively) confidently using macroscopic features alone.

The species featured in this blog have all been recorded less than 250 times in the UK and/or less than 25 times in the New Forest, based on records held in the most recent version of the Fungi Recording Database of Britain and Ireland (FRDBI). However, it should be noted that this database is not comprehensive, particularly due to under-recording of many fungi species, and so these are only relative indications of scarcity. There are also many challenges in fungi recording, not least the issue of accurate identification and verification, but also the confusion around multiple databases and duplicate records. Having said that, although some of the species featured here are probably just under-recorded at national and/or local level, others are generally rare, and feature on one of several UK fungi ‘red lists’ for species of high conservation concern.

I’m going to start with one of my most unexpected finds, and it’s the only species featured in this blog that was found beyond the New Forest National Park boundary, albeit only a short distance away. During a family outing to a popular country park I noticed a large and rather battered brownish fungus next to a well-used gravel track bisecting a conifer plantation. Closer inspection of the cluster of fruiting bodies revealed they had fine teeth underneath, and I suspected they might be the Scaly Tooth Sarcodon squamosus or something similar. Later online checks appeared to confirm my suspicions, showing that it always pays to keep your eyes open! This species is largely restricted to the Caledonian forests of northern Scotland but is a rare find in lowland southern England.

Three images showing the habitat and macroscopic features of this rather trampled specimen of Scaly Tooth Sarcodon squamosus

In contrast, the rarest species I’ve found to date within the New Forest was located just a short walk from my front door and was discovered on the last day of 2021, only a couple of hours after I had found a fine specimen of Bearded Tooth Hericium erinaceus elsewhere in the forest! A fleshy white bracket fungus covering the end of a fallen shard of Beech attracted my interest due to the spectacularly dentate (toothed) underside, and I suspected it may be Spongipellis pachyodon. A series of images were shared online, and the initial consensus was that it was indeed S. pachyodon - the identification was nailed a few days later when Sue Rogerson of Hampshire Fungi Recording Group kindly collected a sample for microscopic analysis and confirmed the diagnostic spore shape. There are only ten records of this species listed on the FRDBI, although half of these have been from the New Forest.

Three images showing the various macroscopic features of the Spongipellis pachyodon found on the final day of 2021

The New Forest is also a UK hotspot for two other scarce white bracket fungi that are often associated with Beech, the Greasy Bracket Aurantiporus fissilis and the rather similar Aurantiporus alborubescens; the latter species appears to be a relatively new arrival in the UK, having been first recorded in 1990 in the New Forest, and two-thirds of the 56 records on the FRDBI are from this area. I’ve found three fruiting bodies that show features of this species, with repeat visits showing a gradual and impressive colour change from pink through to dark red (with fruiting bodies persisting for over six months).

This specimen of presumed Aurantiporus alborubescens was photographed in October 2019 (upper) and again in March 2020 (lower)

Another presumed specimen of presumed Aurantiporus alborubescens, this one photographed in October 2021 (upper) and again in December 2021 (lower)

Sticking with distinctive white fungi, one of the most prized finds for any fungi enthusiast is the Hericium group, comprising Bearded Tooth H. erinaceus, Coral Tooth H. coralloides, and Tiered Tooth H. cirrhatum. The Bearded Tooth has legal protection under Schedule 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, but the rarest of the three in a UK context appears to be the Coral Tooth. I’ve been fortunate to find all three species in the last two years, including several fruiting bodies that were previously unrecorded – all were associated with standing/fallen mature Beech.

Three well-developed specimens of Bearded Tooth Hericium erinaceus, photographed on 23 Nov 2020 (upper, fallen under its own weight from the underside of a Beech log), 07 Nov 2021 (middle) and 31 Dec 2021 (lower)

If you look closely you can see two tiny invertebrates crawling on the 'teeth' of this Bearded Tooth Hericium erinaceus - there is still much to learn about the complex inter-relationships between some of our rare fungi and specialist fauna and flora in the New Forest

A specimen of Coral Tooth Hericium coralloides, photographed on 28 Nov 2021

This rather slug-eaten Tiered Tooth was found on 10 Oct 2021 on fallen Beech logs

The final white fungus of note that I’ve found associated with mature Beech in the New Forest is the Silky Rosegill Volvariella bombycina. The only specimens I’ve located to date had emerged from rot holes several metres up a decaying Beech, and I therefore needed a long lens to get the image below, which nicely shows the beautiful white furry cap surface of a fresh specimen.

Silky Rosegill Volvariella bombycina; the upper image shows a close-up of the emerging fruiting body on 29 Sept 2020, and the lower image shows another fruiting body emerging from a different rot hole on the same tree almost exactly a year later, on 25 Sept 2021

There are several other bracket fungi that are nationally scarce but locally common on mature Beech in the New Forest, including the Beeswax Bracket Ganoderma pfeifferi and Clustered Bracket Inonotus cuticularis; roughly 20-25% of all FRDBI records of these two species come from the New Forest.

Clustered Bracket Inonotus cuticularis on fallen Beech on 13 Sept 2021

In contrast, the distinctive Hoof Fungus Fomes fomentarius is relatively abundant in Scotland but has started to be recorded more frequently in lowland England in recent years, with an apparent concentration in the New Forest to the west of Lyndhurst; I’ve found several specimens in this area on Beech and Silver Birch, but not elsewhere in the New Forest, consistent with records in the FRDBI.

Two examples of Hoof Fungus Fomes fomentarius, photographed on Silver Birch on 17 Jan 2021 (upper) and on Beech on 05 July 2021 (lower)

The commonest large bracket fungus on Beech in the New Forest is the Southern Bracket Ganoderma australe, which sheds brown spores. So, when I spotted a bulky bracket fungus at the base of a mature Beech tree on 09 Oct 2021 that was shedding ashy white spores, it immediately got my attention, and it turned out to be the Ash Bracket Perenniporia fraxinea. Just ten days later I found another specimen at a different site; these two records may be significant given there are only seven previous New Forest records on the FRDBI.

Two large specimens of Ash Bracket Perenniporia fraxinea showing the distinctive shape and ash-coloured spores, photographed on 09 Sept 2021 (upper) and 19 Sept 2021 (lower)

Poking around the decaying trunks and larger branches of fallen Beech trees has produced a couple of specimens of the bright yellow Lion Shield Pluteus leoninus (although separation from the similar Yellow Shield P. chrysophaeus based on macroscopic features is uncertain) and the Redspored Dapperling Melanophyllum haematospermum; curiously there is only one previous New Forest record of the latter species on the FRDBI, but it may be under-recorded given the rather inconspicuous appearance from above.

Two unconfirmed specimens of Lion Shield Pluteus leoninus, photographed on 19 Sept 2021 (upper) and 16 Sept 2021 (lower)

Two examples of the Redspored Dapperling Melanophyllum haematospermum showing the distinctive reddish gills, photographed on 02 Oct 2020 (upper) and 03 Oct 2021 (lower)

There are two very different and infrequently encountered species that I’ve found on smaller branches of Beech on the forest floor. The first is the Fringed Polypore Polyporus ciliatus, which looks rather similar to the Winter Polypore P. brumalis but is found in the spring and summer months (the specimen below was found in August). The second is the rare Pink Disco Aleurodiscus wakefieldiae, with about 30% of the FRDBI records coming from the New Forest.

Fringed Polypore Polyporus ciliatus, photographed on 18 Aug 2020

Pink Disco Aleurodiscus wakefieldiae, photographed on 31 Oct 2020

Moving from Beech to Oak, there are a couple of large and distinctive bracket fungi that are notable finds. The Oak Bracket Pseudoinonotus dryadeus is relatively widespread nationally but has only 16 previous New Forest records on the FRDBI – the specimen shown below was found protruding from the base of a mature Oak on the roadside in Lyndhurst. The colourful bracket fungus Ganoderma resinaceum is also infrequently encountered on Oak in the New Forest, so after finding an emerging fruit body in July 2021, I was pleased to find a spectacular set of mature fruiting bodies near Minstead two months later.

A large specimen of Oak Bracket Pseudoinonotus dryadeus exuding beads of moisture (called guttation), photographed on 04 Sept 2020

These attractive specimens of Ganoderma resinaceum were photographed at the base of a mature Oak on 29 Sept 2021

Mature Oak trees have also produced multiple records of the scarce and spectacular Zoned Rosette Podoscypha multizonata. My first was found while checking on a mighty ancient Oak with a girth of almost six metres. I’ve subsequently found three closely-spaced fruiting bodies in another part of the forest, each associated with mature Oak trees.

Two fine specimens of Zoned Rosette Podoscypha multizonata near the base of large Oak trees, photographed on 06 Sept 2020 (upper) and 16 Oct 2021 (lower)

The ancient and ornamental woodlands of the New Forest host numerous rare and scarce species on the forest floor, many of which are mycorrhizal and have specific relationships with Beech, Birch and Oak. The most notable that I’ve encountered so far include: a dapperling with orange-banded stem rings and a foul ‘burning rubber’ smell that appears to be Orange-girdled Dapperling Lepiota ignivolvata (only three previous records for the New Forest), a parasol that appears to be Macrolepiota konradii, the distinctive Violet Webcap Cortinarius violaceus, and the Deceiving Knight Tricholoma sejunctum.

This dappling, photographed on 31 Oct 2021, shows macroscopic features consistent with Orange-girdled Dapperling Lepiota ignivolvata - the site will be revisited in autumn 2022 with a view to collecting spores to confirm the identification

This parasol shows macroscopic features consistent with Macrolepiota konradii, photographed on 01 Nov 2020

Violet Webcap Cortinarius violaceus, photographed on 30 Oct 2020

A rather slug-eaten specimen of Deceiving Knight Tricholoma sejunctum, photographed on 13 Nov 2021

One of the smaller fungi that I’ve seen a couple of times in mixed woodland, and is no doubt under-recorded, is the tiny Holly Parachute Marasmius hudsonii, which can be found on fallen Holly leaves on the forest floor.

This tiny Holly Parachute Marasmius hudsonii was photographed on 07 Jan 2021

I haven’t spent much time searching for fungi in coniferous woodlands, and so the only notable species I’ve found in this habitat to date is the Powderpuff Bracket Postia ptychogaster, which I’ve found in two locations associated with fallen conifers; there are only five records on the FRDBI but I presume this is an under-recorded species.

This furry Powderpuff Bracket Postia ptychogaster was photographed emerging from amongst the roots of a fallen conifer on 24 Nov 2020

Moving into more open habitats, one of the New Forest specialities is the Nail Fungus Poronia punctata, and over 40% of the 170 or so records on the FRDBI are from this area. I regularly record it on moderately degraded pony dung on acid grassland and heathland habitats, although I have once found it on pony dung on the grazed margin of a woodland ride in a relatively enclosed setting. There are indications it is becoming less scarce nationally due to the reintroduction of free-ranging and clean-living ponies as part of rewilding projects, something that has of course been a part of the New Forest environment for millennia.

Images showing the typical habitat of Nail Fungus Poronia punctata (upper) and the detail of the spore-bearing surface (lower)

Another local species of tighly-grazed grassland habitats is the bizarre Devil’s Fingers Clathrus archeri; this non-native antipodean species apparently arrived in the UK during the First World War and was first recorded in the New Forest a couple of decades ago - it is still mostly associated with sites that hosted wartime activity such as former airfields and bombing ranges. I’ve found it recently in several grassland locations between Bolton’s Bench and Matley Wood, often associated with gorse debris, but I’ve also seen it in more atypical woodland habitat near Brockenhurst. As with the more common Stinkhorn, the spores are contained in a sticky mucus that smells of carrion – it is therefore attractive to flies that unwittingly act as highly effective spore dispersal agents!

Two images showing the typical grassland habitat and morphology of Devil’s Fingers Clathrus archeri, photographed on 26 Oct 2020

I’m going to finish with two colourful roundhead fungi that I’ve found in ornamental borders containing woodchip, and that appear to be genuinely rare in the New Forest. The first was found in the grounds of a hotel near Brockenhurst and is probably the Blue Roundhead Stropharia caerulea (although similar species can’t be ruled out with certainty); the other is the Redlead Roundhead Leratiomyces ceres, found in the grounds of my son's pre-school - the only other New Forest records on the FRDBI are from Exbury Gardens.

A series of fruiting bodies that are probably the Blue Roundhead Stropharia caerulea, photographed on 01 Nov 2020

This Redlead Roundhead Leratiomyces ceres was photographed on 09 Nov 2021

Many thanks to Hampshire Fungi Recording Group (HFRG) for support with identification of some of the featured specimens, particularly Eric Janke, Sue Rogerson, and Simon Currie. All of the featured records will be uploaded onto the FRDBI and provided to Forestry England as the land manager.

If you’re interested in finding out more about New Forest fungi then you might consider joining one of our Wild New Forest ‘Fungi Explorer’ walks, which usually run from September to November to coincide with the peak fungi season. It’s not unusual to record 60-70 identifiable fungi species during our walks, as well as lots of other great wildlife - they are designed to be both accessible to non-specialists and interesting for experienced wildlife enthusiasts. Further info on our guided walks here.

Our guests taking a break and enjoying the early autumn sunshine during a Wild New Forest Fungi Explorer walk in Sept 2021

Finally, it should be noted that most of our New Forest walks and fungi recording activities are on the Crown lands, which are managed by Forestry England; we therefore operate under a Forestry England permit and support the Forestry England “look but please don’t pick” campaign. We take nothing but photos and don’t allow fungi to be removed or damaged during our walks - the emphasis is very much on enjoying them for their aesthetic value and understanding their role in the New Forest ecosystem.

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Wonderful fungus photos. I would like to get in touch with Russ as I am about to produce a video showing the fungus around Minstead.

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