Mushroom magic as mild weather creates bumper crop

Stephan Helfer with some of the culprits he has found growing in the Botanics. Picture: Joey Kelly
Stephan Helfer with some of the culprits he has found growing in the Botanics. Picture: Joey Kelly
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THE mild temperatures over the last year have created a bumper season for mushrooms of all varieties – including a few yet to be identified.

The hot summer and mild autumn has brought an unusual mix of fungi to the Lothians, including record numbers of the lethal death cap – which is responsible for most deaths from mushroom poisoning but is normally very rare in Scotland – and the equally toxic destroying angel.

In some areas, an increase in edible varieties like the chanterelle has delighted foragers, with the popularity of picking your own woodland treats growing thanks to TV chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-
Whittingstall and his show River Cottage.

Stephan Helfer, mycologist at the Royal Botanic Garden, said: “It’s been a very good year for mushrooms.

“The late summer fungi are still around when normally they would already have disappeared and there’s been a number of things I have come across which I certainly haven’t seen before.

“I can’t even tell you what they are because I’ve yet to identify them.”

The surge of species – both edible and deadly – has led to repeated warnings from experts that anyone planning to forage should take extreme care with what they pick.

Neville Kilkenny, an East Lothian-based consultant field mycologist who works with organisations including the Botanic Garden, Scottish National Heritage and Plantlife Scotland, warned anyone looking to pick their own mushrooms that fungi can kill and should only be eaten if absolutely sure of identification.

He said: “Picking your own mushrooms is becoming more popular, and I think part of it might be down to shows like River Cottage and celebrity chefs who champion local produce. Certainly, this year the weather conditions have been great. What we’ve seen is a lot more diversity, rather than quantity.”

The boost is a stark contrast to last year when heavy rain and cold temperatures in autumn and winter all but wiped out the country’s wild mushrooms.

Dr David Genney, fungi policy and advice officer at Scottish Natural Heritage, said: “The consensus seems to be that this has been a good year for spotting fungi that we don’t normally get to see. They are all here all of the time, but they only produce mushrooms, toadstools or brackets when the conditions are just right.

“It’s incredibly difficult to predict which species are going to do well – it’s quite poorly understood and we only know in general terms.”