What a lovely surprise when we recently discovered a group of fly agaric trooping their colour in Lady Anne’s arboretum. A bright and cheerful blaze of scarlet to behold on a dull autumn morning!
I expect we are all familiar with this beautiful but poisonous fungus and still remain in awe by the loveliness of these wondrous mushrooms… ah, the stuff of fairy tales! Did you know that the Edwardians and Victorians portrayed fly agaric mushrooms on Christmas cards as a sign of good luck?
The mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the fungus and the rest of its structure is hidden below ground. They appear as a small white spherical cap covered by a protective veil of white. Eventually they enlarge to a bowl-shaped or flat cap up to 15cm in diameter. The little blotches of white on the orange-red surface are the remains of the white protective veil. These are held on a white stem, and the caps fade to yellow as they age.
These fungi are mycorrhizal which means they have a symbiotic relationship beneath the ground with a nearby plant. This enables a host plant to absorb water and minerals more efficiently and in return the fungus has a constant supply of carbohydrates.
In this case, fly agaric is an ectomycorrhizal fungus which is one of several types of mycorrhiza. It is a sheath forming type, forming a sheath around the tip of a root of its host plant. Then it penetrates the structure with cell growth. Amanita muscaria
tend to have this association with various broadleaved and coniferous trees.
Also known as fly amanita they are commonly found throughout the UK and can be especially prominent during warm and wet autumns, as we have experienced recently. What an absolute delight!