I was just drifting off to sleep last night when I was rudely awoken by the immortal words:

“May I tell you about fungus on cow dung?”

 Unreal.  So, now I know all about fungus on cow dung since there was no escape.  Apparently they can “pop” their little spores twelve feet in the air to escape the surrounding grass and ensure the perpetuation of the species. 


And – if you’re in the UK – you, too, can find out by watching this wonderful series The Nature of Britain.  The fungal episode is repeated on Sunday, 21st October, at 7pm on BBC 2.   The photography is sublime and this week’s programme concentrates on the wildlife enjoying the increasingly friendly practices of farmers – organic farming, wide headlands, new hedges and so on.  There is more than mushrooms – I missed that bit.

My husband has become very keen on fungii and slime mould though I deride his Casaubon-like interest.  He has a book, signed by the author, to aid identification.  Of course, it is neither here nor there that the book is signed by the author, nor is it in the least bit reassuring, but it is exactly the sort of book that would be signed by the author, I think.

My husband came across a horde of unidentified mushrooms last weekend in the woods surrounding our house.   He was lucky, as it happens, that they were only mushrooms since other more frightening UFOs have been seen only a fungus spore away – by serious American USAF commanding officers who perhaps had been tasting their own mushrooms.

The mushrooms look like this when they are in their prime:

Or this when they are past their best:

They are called the Shaggy Ink Cap, or coprinus comatus – which doesn’t sound very nice.  My husband felt much more at home with their common name – The Lawyer’s Wig. 

Being a cautious soul with a love of life, I refused to eat them until he had consumed some and survived for several hours without ill effects.  I finally condescended to eat them sauted in an alcohol-fuelled sauce and can report that, first, I am still alive though feeling decidely unwell after a glass of wine, and, secondly, that they tasted quite good. 

Once the mushroom deterioriates it dissolves into a black mess which produces a black liquid, formerly used as ink, though the liquifecation is a survival strategy for dispersing spores.  In this putrefying state the mushroom is not good to eat, and will make tummies ache.  It may also be confused with the similar Ink Cap mushroom, coprinus atrementarius, which causes severe poisoning if consumed with alcohol …

“A compound in the mushroom has the effect of turning off the body’s ability to produce the enzymes responsible for breaking down alcohol. As alcohol normally goes through two enzymatic processes in the body before “safely” arriving in the bloodstream, it is essential to heed this warning to avoid seriously toxic effects.  Furthermore, a prolonged sensitivity to alcohol can persist up to 2 or 3 days following the consumption of these mushrooms.”

coprinus atrementarius 

If you are also keen on fungii, you might also like to know this about the Lawyer’s Wig:

“despite its seemingly frail appearance, this mushroom can generate enough power to perform one of nature’s most astonishing weight-lifting acts. Emerging shaggy mane caps may lift asphalt pavement into the air in segments, fragmenting it in the process. They do this by gradually absorbing water and slowly expanding, exerting upward pressure far out of proportion to their fragile substance.”

A bit like the fungus on cowpats.


Buy-your-own Lawyer’s Wig


Frightening information on mushroom poisoning