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Things to look for in the woods

by Alan Brickstock

Early in the year look for carpets of the poisonous Dog's Mercury, the male plants with their thin sprays of tiny greenish flowers, the females with two or three round, petal-less flowers. A little later, before the trees come into leaf and cut out too much of the light, the white nodding flowers of Wood Anemones, shamrock-leaved Wood Sorrel, Sweet Violets and then the familiar Primroses and Bluebells bloom. During May you may be lucky enough to find a few Early Purple Orchids, and a bit later Common Spotted Orchids. Look and enjoy, but please do not pick wild flowers: too many have become rare and endangered through loss of habitat and over-picking. In any case, it is illegal to pick them. Hawthorn, Blackthorn and the similar Cherry Plum all produce masses of white flowers, followed by those of Wayfaring Tree, Guelder Rose and Spindle Tree.

Autumn is the time for the red Rose hips, Hawthorn and Guelder Rose berries, the carmine berries of Spindle and the green, red and black berries of the Wayfaring tree, all three colours in the same cluster.

Later, from September onwards, is, to my mind, the most exciting time in the woods, with the appearance of fungi, many of them exotic-looking. Most of these are harmless, but there are a few deadly poisonous ones, so treat them all with caution. Look out for the fairy-tale Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), red with white spots, pretty but dangerous, and sometimes the deadly poisonous Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) - even handling this species can be dangerous, and eating just a small piece is usually agonisingly fatal. The Stink Horn (Phallus impudicus) lives up to its name, often filling the woods with a powerful, unmistakable smell like rotting flesh.

Please do not wantonly kick them apart: look and enjoy and leave them for others to see. Fungi are an essential part of our natural environment, and we could not live as we do, if at all, without them.