It’s funny the things we remember from childhood that pop back into our memory as
an adult. I was four years old, playing in my Auntie’s Garden with my older cousins,
when along the fence panels, poking out of the grass, I found a
surprise! Mushrooms! Something I was very excited about, as it was a new food in
my diet at the time and I thought they were a tasty treat... Don’t worry, no
mushrooms were consumed! In fact, my aunt came running outside as soon as I
started investigating my discovery with the tip of my shoe, telling me to get away
from them. Confused, I complied. But I was never told why I shouldn’t touch them.
Still to this day, I have no idea if those mushrooms were dangerous or completely
harmless. Whilst we are creeping into spring, mushrooms will start popping up in
natural areas where your kids adventure. To help you identify common mushrooms
found in the UK and if they are dangerous or not, here’s a handy guide of the key
things I have learnt about wild mushrooms!
Common mushrooms found in the UK
One of the most easily identified autumn mushrooms, can be found from late summer
until the first frosts of December.
Seeing the vivid red caps poking up from the leaves can make you feel as if you've
stepped into a storybook. It gets its name from its past use as a natural pest control: fly-
infested country residents would mix cut up portions of the mushroom into a cup of milk
to create a pleasant but lethal trap for insects.
Where to find it: Look for these mushrooms in woodland, growing near birch, pine and
If you come across this uniquely formed fungus, you'll immediately understand why it got its name: it emits a powerful, terrible stench that some compare to the scent of rotten meat.
But this stench serves a purpose. It is used by these fungi to attract flies and insects, which subsequently spread their spores. So, if you smell something weird while strolling through the woods, check the ground to see whether you've come across a stinkhorn!
Where to find it: Stinkhorn are common in woodland from summer to late autumn. Follow your nose…
This fungus's long, shaggy cap has given it a variety of titles, ranging from 'lawyer's wig' to 'shaggy mane.'
When you go near to it, it looks a lot more mushroom-like. If you're feeling very creative, shaggy inkcaps can be used to make your own ink. A word of caution: mushroom-based ink smells a little more than regular ink.
Where to find it: Lots of open areas – grassy fields, lawns, parks and even roadside verges.
Dead man’s fingers
One of the creepiest mushrooms you’re likely to see in England, the black finger-like caps poking up through the soil look like somebody’s hand clawing up from beneath the earth!
Although they can be seen all year, dead man's fingers blacken with age and are most visible from summer to late autumn.
Where to find it: Growing on rotting wood and tree stumps, poking up through fallen leaves and moss.
Mushrooms to avoid!
A small but lethal mushroom found in clusters on tree stumps and bark. It's not very common in the United Kingdom.
Where to find it: mixed or coniferous woods. It thrives on dead and decaying wood.
When: Between August and November.
Symptoms: It also contains lethal poisonous amatoxins, which are the same poisons found in death cap. It causes vomiting, liver damage, and death in some cases.
Death cap (Amanita phalloides)
It is the most lethal fungus known, and it is common in England. It is the cause of most fatal mushroom poisonings worldwide.
Where to find it: It grows on the ground in broadleaf woods.
When: Between August and November.
Symptoms: Vomiting, diarrhoea, and severe abdominal pain occur 6 to 24 hours after ingestion. It leads to kidney and liver failure. Even ingesting half a cap can result in death.
It's also known as the sweating mushroom, which describes its potentially lethal properties. It frequently grows alongside the edible Scotch bonnet (Marasmius oreades), so be cautious if you're out foraging for edible mushrooms.
Where to find it: lawns, meadows, and other grassy areas.
When: From July to the beginning of December.
Symptoms: contains the toxin muscarine, which when consumed has a variety of effects on the body, including excessive salivation, sweating, and tear production. Symptoms of high doses include abdominal pain, sickness, diarrhoea, blurred vision, and laboured breathing. In severe cases, it can be fatal, but it is rarely fatal in healthy people.
If like four-year-old me, your children’s curiosity is peaked by little mushrooms, it is a great opportunity to teach them about fungi. Making sure they stay safe whilst enjoying outdoor adventures!
Redirecting their attention to studying the shapes, colours and varieties of mushroom in your environment is also a great way to keep kids engaged! Mushrooms are a really important part of the Earth’s ecosystems, so unless you are experienced in foraging for mushrooms to eat, I would not risk picking or eating any mushroom found in the wild!