Guide to British fungi: where to find and how to identify

Our woods, riverbanks and meadows are home to roughly 15,000 species of fungi, making identification a tough job. Our guide looks at 10 of the most common fungi species found in the UK to get you started, from the edible oyster mushroom to the poisonous fly agaric

10th August 2018
Porcini in forest

The British Isles is home to a staggering 15,000 species of wild mushrooms or fungi. These organisms live almost everywhere in the UK, but tend to grow more abundantly in woodland and grassland.

For those who know little about fungi, the task of identifying them can be difficult. Our guide covers 10 of the most common species found in Britain, each with a few key details regarding where they grow, characteristics and whether they are edible or poisonous. 

Oyster mushroom  
Oyster mushroom
Pleurotus ostreatus ©Getty

Generally found in a tiered formation on tree stumps, particularly beech. Its shell-shaped cap varies in hue from cream to grey-blue, beneath which is a white underpart and short, stubby stem.

Edible or poisonous? Edible, with a delicate taste.

Chicken of the Woods
Chicken of the Woods
Laetiporus sulphurous ©Getty

Often, but not only, found growing on oak trees, this bracket fungus is made of fan-shaped layers with wavy edges. The young surface is soft and creamy in colour, with an acid-yellow underside.

Edible or poisonous? Edible, especially when young, but may cause an allergic reaction.

Giant puffball
Giant puffball
Calvatia gigantea ©Getty

This colossal fungi, found in meadows and on sports pitches, is often mistaken for a football. Young puffballs have soft clean white skin and firm flesh when cut. Aged puffballs split to release spores.

Edible or poisonous? Edible, best eaten when young.

Penny bun/porcini 
Porcini
Boletus edulis ©Getty

Also called Penny Bun because of its brown, bread-like top when young, porcini has a short, pale-brown stem with a clear veiny network at the top. Found under oak and conifers.

Edible or poisonous? Edible, used in cooking around the world. Can be dried and eaten.

Chanterelle
Chanterelle
Cantharellus cibarius ©Getty

Found in woods, particularly beech and oak. This rich-yellow fungi, shaped like a funnel, develops a wavy, turned-under edge with age. Beneath, gills form deep ridges down the stem. Accompanied by a delicate apricot scent.

Edible or poisonous? Edible, among the most commonly consumed of all mushrooms. Versatile.

Shaggy inkcap
Shaggy inkcap
Coprinus comets ©Getty

A fragile mushroom with an elongated, narrow dome cap, found on grassy verges. Gills turn from white to pink and finally black, before emitting an inky liquid as the mushroom deliquesces. 

Edible or poisonous? Edible, worth eating when young.

Jelly ear 
Jelly Ear
Auricularia auricula-judae ©Getty

Found on dead and decaying branches, particularly elder. The small fungi – gelatinous with a rubbery texture – often becomes  ear-shaped with age.

Edible or poisonous? Edible, with an indistinct and gelatinous taste.

Fly agaric 
Fly Agaric
Amanita mascara ©Getty

Usually seen on the edges of mixed woodland. Its vivid red/orange cap is sometimes flecked white spots – although these can be removed by rainwater. Has white gills and a slim stem.

Edible or poisonous? Poisonous and hallucinogenic. Do not consume.

Razorstrop fungus 
Razorstrop
Piptoporus botulinus ©Getty

A bracket fungi, rubbery in texture, often seen on the trunk of birch trees, either living or dead. White and smooth when young, it turns grey/brown and increases in size as it ages.

Edible or poisonous? Edible, with a strong mushroomy smell and bitter taste.

Field mushroom
field mushroom
Agarics campestris ©Getty

Smooth, slender stem, tapering downwards. Deep, pink gills, then dark brown. A white cap than can be discoloured brown. Was once very common, now harder to find due to agricultural chemicals and habitat lost. As implied by its name, grows in fields and meadows, as well as broad-leaved mixed woodland.

Edible or poisonous? Edible, pleasant but mildly acidic taste.

Main image©Getty

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