Sweet chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts and more...Autumn brings with it an abundance of foods. The woods are alive with the dash to get ready for winter. The forest floor is covered in a carpet of sweet chestnuts and hazelnuts. The perfect feast for small mammels. Scurrying and scuttlings, a nibble here, a cache there.

Surrounded by this maelstrom, the Fly Agaric slowly spreads its spores.

Fly Agaric – Aamanita muscaria

Among the pine trees at the edge of the broad-leaved woodland, the red and white cap of the Fly Agaric shines against the green.

Fly Agaric - Aamanita muscaria

Fly Agaric - Aamanita muscaria

Emerging from the soil looking like a white egg this poisonous fungus can grow to around 25cm (10 inches). As it grows, the red cap breaks out of the white “shell”. Age and weathering reduce the spots further and a completely red Fly Agaric is not uncommon. Coming to the end of their lifespan the fungus often curls.

Fly Agaric growth stages

Growth stages of the Fly Agaric

While unlikely to be deadly after one mistaken bite, the Fly Agaric can cause violent stomach upsets, severe headaches, increased heart rate and uncontrollable muscle spasms. It also contains a number of psychoactive compounds.

A familiar image to anyone who has read a fairy tale, the FLy Agaric’s connection to other worldly-ness may be down to its hallucinogenic properties. Reindeer are known to become intoxicated and prance around after eating the mushrooms. A possible explanation of that part of the Santa myth. (It also made them easier for the Siberian tribes people to catch for dinner!)

Fly Agaric Bitten

Intoxicates reindeer but not so good for humans!

The Fly Agaric forms a symbiotic relationship with a number of trees, especially introduced pine. It’s hair-like roots attach themselves to the tree roots to feed off the nutrients. This doesn’t appear to damage the trees, although it will damage us. Not one for our Autumn Harvest but a colourful addition to the pine wood.