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Urban Mushroom Hunting

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

Note: NEVER eat fungi unless you know what you are doing or have the advice of an expert. Remember that fungi are living so unless you are foraging, please consider whether you really need to pick them.

As we move from summer to autumn, we pass into the height of mushroom season. For the vast majority of us, fungi are a mystery and to confuse us even more, are neither flora nor fauna. Fungi fall into their own kingdom (of the 5 kingdoms; Bacteria, Protista, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia). In fact, unbelievably they are more closely related to humans.

Other than adding to a pizza, throwing out mouldy bread or trying out something new like a foraging course, we generally don’t think about fungi.

Most of us only really give them any real attention at this time of year, yet they are with us all year long with only the fruiting body visible above ground when reproducing. Consider it the equivalent to seeing flowers in springtime.

Super Mario Mushroom Cop by Banksy
Super Mario Mushroom Cop by Banksy

The Wood Wide Web

This underground structure, aided by bacteria, provides nutrients to trees via an interconnected web of organisms all taking place under the forest floor, adorably known as the wood wide web. As such, the oldest and largest living organism is almost 4 square miles in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon weighing between 7,500 tons and as much as 35,000 tons.

The visible fruiting bodies comes in the form of a mushroom, puffball or birds nest.

The greater the diversity of plants and animals, the greater the diversity of fungus which is why they thrive in a forest environment.

Fear of Fungi

From Mushroom Spotters UK FB Group
Destruction: a common fear response*

There does appear to be an innate fear or perhaps distrust of mushrooms. We all know that if you eat the ‘wrong’ one you could be dead. But in the same way that we don’t see all plants as edible, why do we do the same with fungi? I can assure you, none of us would be too happy if we were served up a plate of daffodils, ivy and hemlock for dinner.

Therefore, the combination of association with food and lack of knowledge results in us distrusting and even fearing these fantastic, vital organisms.

A common fear response can be to destroy them but surely the answer is to leave them be?

*the screen shot was taken from a thread on the UK From Mushroom Spotters UK FB Group.

Urban Fungi Hunting

This time of year tends to bring us city dwellers out of our homes and into wooded areas to learn about our fungi friends with the hope of identifying the ones that won’t kill us and cooking up a nice freshly, foraged meal. I myself will be off on a foraging course in Surrey at the end of October.

However, as well as going on a foraging courses or joining a mushroom foray, we are able to interact with them without leaving the city or feeling the need to eat them.

Warhol’s Campbell's Soup Can
“They are everywhere but easy to miss. They are inside you and around you. They sustain you and depend on you” – Merlin Sheldrake

If there is anything the 2020 has taught us, it’s that we don’t always see what is right on our doorstep. We are so familiar with our immediate neighbourhood or rushing to work and running errands, that we often don’t actually see what is around us so taking the time to slow down and use our senses can open up the city.

For that reason, you will find mushrooms everywhere.

Show Us Your Fungi

I have been told that once you start looking, you will find fungi everywhere across London. Therefore, as a run up to UK Fungus Day on 3 October 2020, I would love for you to send photos of London fungi that are found in your gardens, streets or other locations across the city.

*no photos of mushrooms bought from the local supermarket please ;)

I will share to Twitter, Insta and the London National Park City FB Group:

- Via Twitter, RT with a photo and the location where they were found

- Anything you want to tell us about what you found

- Instagram: use the #LondonFungi

- FB - reply via the post :D


If you are keen to learn more more about what you find, the Facebook pages such as 'London Fungi' and 'British Mycological Society' can be helpful with identification.

The London Fungus Network is a new initiative from London National Park City which aims to inspire people about the Urban Fungal Kingdom.

"Fungi are all around us, even in a big polluted city like London. I love it when mushrooms pop up in unexpected places, like industrial estates or outside my local library. But many of us are not aware of fungi, or treat them with suspicion. So we want to change the narrative, from fear to fascination." - Michael Green, London Fungus Network.

Note: NEVER eat fungi unless you know what you are doing or you have the advice of an expert. Remember that fungi are living so unless you are foraging, please consider whether you really need to pick them

All photos and images from the internet

Cover photo from Startupagora, Flickr

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