From ‘alien’ fungi and zombie bees to frightening-looking foods, the Royal Horticultural Society is highlighting of some more unusual finds you may come across if you’re foraging this autumn
Sweetcorn will have a rude awakening if smut invades. Smuts are fungal diseases that can affect leaves, stems and flowers. In the case of sweetcorn, affected plants are often stunted and distorted and feature grey and swollen kernels that burst to release huge numbers of black spores. Although considered a delicacy in some countries, in most cases affected plants should be destroyed and the soil rested. Kicking up leaves this autumn? You might find these strange flower-like fungi which grow on dead organic matter, and are often found in the leaf litter beneath conifers and deciduous trees. These fascinating fruiting bodies emerge during autumn when their bulbous outer casing folds out like the petals of a flower, creating a star effect. When rain or wind disturbs the earthstar, spores are released through an opening at the top. A pupa is the stage between the larva and adult of many insects. Some species of moth pupae are often found in soil when tidying up the garden. These brown cylinders, from 1cm to over 2cm in length, pointed at one end and ribbed, can wriggle when touched. They will emerge as adult moths come spring. Either return them to the soil or place them in soil in a jar to observe the moths. While the caterpillars can cause some damage to plants, moths are important pollinators and caterpillars are food for birds and other wildlife. Some pretty strange-shaped root veg come out of the ground at this time of year. Carrots can appear to have fangs, be split, curled, intertwined or – best of all – opened out and flattened like a kipper. Much damage, especially kippering, is down to a virus infection, but other distortion is due to damage to the tender tip of the young root because of contact with stones, damage from hoeing or weeding, or by microscopic worms. Weird carrots, although unsightly to some, can of course still be eaten.