the wild mushroom hunter
wayne thomas uses his expert eye to forage for edible fungi in the woodlands of the wye Valley “The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants -At Evening, it is not -At Morning, in a Truffled Hut It stop upon a Spot” emily Dickinson, ‘The Mushroom is the Elf of Plants’
t he PALe Autumn sun casts its dappled shadows across the leaf-covered floor of a Welsh wood. Suddenly, the stillness is broken by a rushed movement, the rustle of leaf matter, the crackle of snapping branches and a flash of saddle brown. With a Y-shaped stick in one hand, a wicker basket in the other, mushroom forager Wayne Thomas has spotted a suitable specimen. The forest floor of this mixed woodland in the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Monmouthshire, is still damp from recent rains. Conditions are perfect for gathering edible fungi. “Fungi are everywhere,” says Wayne, sweeping his stick in an indicative arc around him. “Take a cubic metre of woodland soil and there could more than 300 different types. Some are microscopic. It’s only when they fruit and form mushrooms that we can see them.” He kneels and points among the decaying leaves at his feet. There, wiggling skyward in golden yellow and orange clusters, are the unmistakable gilled caps of peppery-tasting winter chanterelles. “Mushroom hunting is about getting your eye in. When you know what you’re looking for, it’s like entering a whole new magical world,” he says. Carefully, he picks a handful of the fungi and places them in his basket. The open weave allows his finds to air and spread their spores as he continues along his way. Wayne points to the leaf litter no more than a few feet away. “Those are amethyst deceivers,” he says, referring to a delicate set with fluted caps and irregular gills. “At their prime, they’re vivid purple, but over time they lose their colour and turn creamy. They’re edible, but fibre rich, so not one to over-indulge in.”
Wayne’s basket soon starts to fill with creamy-coloured finds from the forest floor.
The tough stems of amethyst deceivers, Laccaria amethystina, can be bent and their caps wavy edged.