Where they live


Fungi have colonised all the major areas of the world: marine to freshwater, lowland to montane, water-logged to desert soils, woodland to grassland.

Scotland’s woodlands, grasslands, and other habitats

The larger fungi are generally confined to woodland and grassland communities ranging from lowlands to uplands, including the dwarf willow communities both of coastal dune-slacks and mountains. The white stalk puffball Tulostoma niveumis a very rare fungus which is listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. In Britain, it is known only from two Scottish mountains where it grows among mosses on exposed boulders. The only other British stalked puffball Tulostoma brumale, is also found in exposed areas but, in contrast, in sand dunes along the east coast of Scotland.

Moss beds support specialised communities of fungi. The moss protects the fungus from desiccation and provides insulation which probably encourages fungal growth. Research is now beginning to shed light on the nature of the link between mosses and the larger fungi - especially the elf-cups. Rather than fungi and mosses simply liking to grow together, given the large number of species of both mosses and fungi, there may be very precise links between the different species. Penetration of the host cells of the moss by a fungus may prove to be a common phenomenon. Sphagnum-moss bogs also have their own specialised inhabitants.

Moorland, although generally poor in species numbers, is a promising habitat, especially the higher Scottish heathlands, where a mixture of arctic-alpine fungi may be found. The snowbed amanita, Amanita nivalisis associated with dwarf willow, Salix herbacea and was described as new to science from the Cairngorms in 1823. It is now known throughout the northern hemisphere, often growing in very exposed sites which are free of heavy snow deposits. It is characteristic of many of Scotland’s high mountains.

Old grasslands, which have not been treated with mineral fertiliser or slurry, especially those on base-rich soils, support a rich fungal community. Under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, the brightly coloured waxcap mushrooms (Hygrocybe species) and associated fungi found particularly in old pastures have been surveyed. Scotland has been found to be very rich in these pastures.

Unimproved grasslands are characterised not only by waxcaps, but also by a group of mushrooms with pink spores (including Leptonia species), several fairy-club fungi and the similar but unrelated earth or snake-tongues. They are often found in large intermixed troops, some growing around the edge of a circle - known as ‘fairy rings’.

Long-established lawns and golf courses, which have received little in the way of artificial fertilisers, may support the pink meadow-cap or pink ballerina (Hygrocybe calyptriformis) - a waxcap listed as deserving special attention under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

But woodlands are perhaps the most rewarding places to look for fungi as they provide such varied places for them to live. Each species has its own particular niche, be it on old wood, tree roots or simply gaining nutrition from the humus. The more species of trees and other flowering plants present, the more species of fungi are likely to be found. Some fungi are found only on certain parts of that host. For instance some grow only on the leaves, fruit or woody debris of a particular species, while others may be confined to large boughs or the finer twigs.

While plantations of exotic conifers may support a diverse assemblage of fungi, the native, well-established woods of Scotland provide one of the richest fungal habitats in the whole of the British Isles. Several species of the stalked tooth fungi, so called because their spores are borne on tooth-like pegs suspended below the cap, are ancient members of the old wood of Caledon, one of the richest fungal habitats in the British Isles. Under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan many more woodlands have been surveyed for this group of fungi than ever before. This has shown the various stalked tooth fungi (species within the genera Hydnellum, Phellodon, Sarcodon and Bankera)to be more widely distributed in Scotland than was first thought. In their long-known ‘home’ territories of Deeside and Speyside most species appear to be doing well. In addition it has been shown that some are able to colonise older Scots pine plantations. Fungal surveys under the Biodiversity Action Plan have brought additional rewards, such as the recent finding of the rare polypore Boletopsis leucomelaena. It had been thought that this fungus may have been extinct in Britain; last seen in Speyside in 1963, it was not found again until 2001 on Deeside. Also fungi new to Scotland are still being recorded; including Phellodon atratus, a species hitherto known only from North America.

The oak-hazel woodlands of Scotland’s Atlantic seaboard also support rare and interesting fungi. These include hazel gloves, a bright orangey-yellow fungus listed under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and glue fungus. Hazel gloves, as its scientific name Hypocreopsis rhododendriimplies, was first described growing on rhododendron, but this was in North America on a species of Rhododendron not found in Britain. It is not known to occur on the invasive Rhododendron ponticum, introduced from Iberia, but now widespread in Scotland. The glue fungus, Hymenochaete corrugata, is so called because it glues dead hazel twigs to living branches in the canopy, thus preventing them from falling to the ground where they would be available to other fungi to decompose.

Golf courses and parks offer a half-way house between open countryside and towns and cities. Many vulnerable species can be found in these semi-protected areas. Even a city-centre garden has its own fungi which may include species accidentally introduced from garden centres. Little may be known about such species, in some cases even their country of origin. With the fashion for spreading wood-chips as a mulch, several fungi have been found in gardens which would otherwise be restricted to conifer woods. With this change in husbandry, species such as lorels and morels now fruit in gardens in and around Edinburgh.

Paurocotylis pila, a relative of the truffles and a native of New Zealand has been spotted in gardens from the Lothians to Orkney, but how it came to be here is a mystery.

One of our most familiar and frequent mushrooms, larch slippery-Jack, Suillus grevillei is not native. It was accidentally introduced to the British Isles with larch in the late nineteenth century.