by Paul Cormacain
THE red-cracked bolete is a type of fungus found commonly through most of Europe. Its preferred habitat is under broadleaved trees, in grassy copses, but the ones we saw last week were on a front lawn. There were some trees and bushes in the vicinity, so maybe that counts as the correct habitat.
This bolete has a dull olive-brown skin, which becomes cracked with growth. The pink layer underneath is then revealed. The pores are coloured dirty yellow to greenish, and the flesh is yellow. If the flesh becomes bruised, it may sometimes turn green or blue.
In spite of all our travelling we have yet to come across an edible mushroom in the pink, so to speak. So all the mushrooms we have eaten this year have all been from the shops. We will keep looking.
Common puffballs are also edible when young, but we have never been brave enough to attempt to eat them. Their preferred location is lawns, pastureland and grassy sand-dunes. They are easy enough to find at this time of the year. You may well come across other puffballs, like the earth-balls. And if you see a monster weighing up to several kilos, you will have come across the giant puffball.
Also common is the milk-drop Mycenae, found by us regularly on our recent travels. This is a common and widespread fungus, and its preferred habitat is among leaf litter in all kinds of woods, although never living on trees. I seem to come across this Mycenae in short grass in reasonably open ground, not necessarily in woods.
It is a small greyish-brown mushroom, very fragile, and breaks easily. It has a hemispherical cap, striated at the edges. The cap colour can vary from whitish to near black, and to further help identification the stalk is very narrow. It is smooth, with small 'hairs' growing at the base, and these can look like roots.
Also common in woods are blackening russalas, and we have also seen many of them of late. When the fungus matures, the top turns black, and persists for a long time. This is a good aid to identification. The gills and flesh are brittle. Before the black top, the colours are whitish to grey-brown, and the flesh reddens on cutting. You can eat this fungus, but an expert I know says they are 'not worth eating'. So you may make do with shop-bought mushrooms.
In the meantime, you can always provide cheap food for yourself by picking blackberries and making jam. This autumn, (what, is it autumn already?), the blackberries are late, but they are coming very strong now, and a good crop is now available along the hedgerows. Did you know it is best to leave roads and head into the fields to pick your blackberries? That way you are assured of getting dust-free fruit.
You just need fruit, sugar and water to get real jam, not the synthetic jam you buy in shops. If you grow apples, there is a great crop this year. Folk I know have so much fruit that even after giving some away to all and sundry, they still have a surplus. So they are leaving the remaining apples on trees to feed the birds during the coming winter. Mind you, I see the blackbirds already eating the apples in our garden. Chances are they will be all eaten by the time the redwings and fieldfares arrive.
Saturday 29th September: At 13:00 hunt for fungus at Drumbanagher
Estate, Poyntzpass, and if you want to find out more phone 028 2766 2953
RSPB at Lisburn are heading for Belfast Lough Reserve and Groomsport, details from 028 9262 1866
Saturday 6th October, Sunday 7th: Witness the spectacular arrival of the pale-bellied brent geese from Bathurst Island, Arctic Canada , observers at Castle Espie and National Trust, 11:30. Find out more by contacting 028 9187 4146
Friday 12th to Sunday 14th October: Had your fill of geese? If no head for Castle Espie, then take a trip to Caerlaverock to see thousands of barnacle geese, phone 028 9187 4146 for more.
Thursday 18th October: Bird photography, help from Anthony McGeehan, 19:30, at Castle Espie, details from 028 9187 4146.