I have to admit that, until just a few years ago, I found fungi generally pretty ugly and suspect. That is to say, the idea of fungi somehow disagreed with me, and I think this is much the same with many people. Every individual feels this differently, but fungi seem at first to wear their scientific classification (as non-plant and non-animal) with a kind of silent vehemence. The way they grow (often suddenly and startlingly), the way they reproduce (sometimes with smoke-like wisps of spores), the way they decay (the only people who use the word ‘deliquesce’ nowadays are mycophiles); in all stage of fungal life there are things happening that don’t seem to conform to the idea of the ‘natural’ world. As with most things about fungi, their beauty is both challenging and rewarding, but I think these recent photos of some native species show that, with a little patience and open-mindedness, their shapes and structures reveal a complex order where a very different, but nonetheless natural order expresses itself.*
Coral fungus, its common name showing that you often have to dive to the bottom of the sea to find something remotely like the fungus you are trying to describe.
A common, but unusually contorted specimen of the amethyst deceiver. As fungi are of course not set in their structure, they can react dramatically to factors obstructing their growth, ending up pinched, flattened, or twisted. It is perhaps worth noting that trees are similarly affected by their surroundings during growth, though we rarely find this strange.
The Amanita family is rightly one of if not the most distrusted and feared of the mushroom families, mainly because of the several deadly toadstools within its ranks. The ‘blusher’, pictured above, is however edible, and often gives itself away with a candour uncommon in mushroom identification: the flesh blushing pink when bruised or cut, it is often possible to make at least a provisional identification from the gnawed patches on the cap or stem.
The oak mazegill is a fungus not only sporting an amazingly structured lamella, but also a classicist’s pretensions. Its claustrophobic folds of intersecting walls surely must have been Daedalus’s inspiration for the Labyrinth of Crete.
Whether so-called orange peel fungus is ‘attractive’ in the generally accepted sense, is admittedly anyone’s guess. This specimen looks more like the discarded, severed ear found at the beginning of the film Blue Velvet, but there is delicacy in finding one, on a dry day, still brimming with drops of the last fallen rain.