There are magical moments to be had in the forest at this time of the year. Blackberries bud bright black on reddening thorned vines, apples thud to the ground ready for pies and crumbles, mists shroud our woodlands in mystery – and fungi, sometimes easily passed-over, begin to emerge in all their incredible variation.

Fungi are a huge and fascinating kingdom with over 15,000 species in the UK, and play a vital role in our ecosystems. Studded jewel-like across our woodland floors in purples, reds and whites, in circles or clinging to fallen rotten branches, the fruit bodies – the parts you can see – begin to emerge. Hidden below, there’s a vast network of root-like mycelium that breaks down organic matter like decaying wood and dung, releasing essential nutrients. It also helps form a ‘wood wide web’, linking trees and, we think, allowing them to communicate with each other.

Here are five varieties you might spot at this time of year:

Pink wax cap

Great British Life: Pink waxcapPink waxcap

When: September – November

Where: unimproved grasslands, including churchyards and sheep-grazed pastures

The pink waxcap is one of our most beautiful waxcaps. They are also known as ballerina waxcaps or pink ballerinas, as the soft pink cap looks like a frilly tutu as it opens out.

Pink waxcaps can grow in small, scattered clusters but more often grow alone. They are not a common species in the UK, but can be even harder to find throughout the rest of their range in mainland Europe.

Velvet shank

Great British Life: Velvet Shank fungi growing on an old tree stump. YWTVelvet Shank fungi growing on an old tree stump. YWT

When: November – February

Where: woodland

With its glossy, golden-orange caps, the velvet shank is quite commonly seen growing in clusters on stumps of decaying hard wood. It is also known as the 'Winter Mushroom' as it is one of the few mushrooms that can be seen throughout the winter months, right into early spring. The Latin name, Flammulina, refers to the bright orange, flame-like colour of the cap.

Candlesnuff fungus

Great British Life: Candlesnuff. (c) Chris LawrenceCandlesnuff. (c) Chris Lawrence

When: January – December

Where: woodland

The candlesnuff fungus has an erect, simple or forked fruiting body with a downy stalk. It is black and hairy at the base of the stem and powdery white at the tip. The stem can become flattened and branched in a fork like an antler, which gives it it’s other name of 'Stag's Horn'. It grows in groups on dead and rotting wood, and can be found on stumps and branches of all sorts of trees.

Amethyst deceiver

Great British Life: Amethyst deceiver. (c) Carol HallAmethyst deceiver. (c) Carol Hall

When: August – November

Where: broadleaved and coniferous woodlands

This small, purple toadstool has lilac flesh and the gills are attached to the stem, widely spaced and are deep purple. The stem is covered in tiny, white hairs. It is edible, but is similar in appearance to the poisonous Lilac fibrecap – so look but never touch, unless you are with a fungi expert. Look out for a splash of deep purple amongst the leaf litter.

Tawny grisette

Great British Life: Tawny Grisette. YWTTawny Grisette. YWT

When: June – November

Where: woodlands, especially those with birch, and in heathlands alongside heather and bracken.

The orange-brown cap of the tawny grisette is smooth and dry, with a strongly striated margin. Initially the fungus is egg-shaped, but as the stem grows, the cap expands to become flat with a raised centre. The gills are free of the stem, white and crowded. The tall, slender, tapering stem arises from a conspicuous cup-like 'sack' and is paler than the cap.

Fungi have perhaps the most fantastical and descriptive catalogue of names of any plant or animal found in Yorkshire. Names like ‘candlesnuff fungus’, ‘witch’s butter’ and ‘old man of the woods’ evoke a whimsically folkloric world where brushes with the supernatural were commonplace.

Fairy rings – now known to be caused by the remnants of a historic tree and the mycelium that remains - got their name from an ancient belief that the rings were created by pixies and witches. Most cultures considered them dangerous places for humans, warning that anyone entering a fairy ring was likely to die young and would either become invisible, become trapped inside the ring, or be transported to the fairy world – a rather grim fate!

The ‘scarlet elf cup’, otherwise known as fairies’ baths, was believed to be the goblet of choice for a passing elf, and the ‘common birds nest’ could have been laid by the world’s tiniest and most delicate passing sparrow.

Other fungi have more sensible or historical names. ‘Ink caps’ got their name from their uses for signing important documents – the ink itself comes from the way the fungus dissolves into a puddle of black liquid when mature. ‘King Alfred’s Cake’ is aptly named for the story where King Alfred of Anglo-Saxon England is said to have been asked to keep an eye on some cooking cakes when hiding out and managed to burn them beyond recognition – and I feel the ‘common stinkhorn’ needs very little explanation!

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