I love a fungal foray, and I am not alone, joining 35 fellow naturalists on a lovely sunny autumn day. There is something gregarious about a foray, and the friendly banter never stops all day, led by enthusiastic mycologist, Andy Woodall.

Fungi are ubiquitous and vital to all living things. They grow on us and in us, they occupy timber, dung, leaf litter and soil, to the extent that most plants form symbiotic relationships with fungi to enable them to draw up nutrients for growth. It has been found that trees can even communicate with each other through the hidden underground ‘root-like’ strands of fungi called mycelium, often referred to as the ‘wood wide web’. The mushrooms we are hunting for today are only the fruiting body, most of the bulk of the fungus remains hidden from view.

Over the space of the day, the basket gradually fills, each fungus with its own interesting story, but here is just one, to whet your appetite.

We have only just left the car park, when we stop to examine – Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria). Fly Agaric (see photo insert) is immediately recognisable with its bright red cap, and white wart-like spots. Commonly growing under birch with which it forms a mycorrhizal relationship.

The common name Fly Agaric is a reference to the tradition of using it as an insecticide. The fungus is crumbled and placed in a saucer of milk. The flies drink the milk, which contains ibotenic acid that not only attracts flies but also poisons them.

It is poisonous to us humans too and if eaten can cause hallucinations and psychotic reactions. It is thought that Lewis Carrol had experienced its hallucinatory effects and used it in ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Alice eats a piece of mushroom and grows smaller and then eats from the opposite side of the mushroom and grows taller on the other side of the looking glass, only to then find herself speaking to a sleepy Caterpillar smoking a hookah! Amazing to think this is a children’s book.

Another children’s author Beatrix Potter also uses Fly Agaric, but this time in paintings to illustrate her stories. Potter was an experienced mycologist, but like many Victorian women scientists was overlooked and had to have her scientific papers read at meetings by a man. She was also one of the first people to recognise lichens are not one species, but a combination of two, an alga, and a fungus in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship.