I saw my very first Oudemansiella mucida, the Porcelain Fungus, last Friday, during a wander around Cardiff’s Heath Park and knew at once what it was. Such immediacy of identification does not happen often in the world of the fungi fanciers so this was a rare and much-valued moment. But this is one fungus that is easy to recognise.
Firstly, it lives exclusively on beech, and I have been keeping a close watch on a huge old beech tree that came down in a big storm last winter, which, much to their credit, was sawn into huge chunks and left at the woodland edge by Cardiff Council staff. The beech is now providing a home to many small creatures, not just to fungi. Secondly, it is a clean, almost translucent white, like my granny’s tea cups used to be, and its caps are frequently covered in a thin layer of slime (hence the second part of their scientific name: mucida refers to this transparent mucus). That’s not as revolting as it sounds – the shiny surface makes these little beauties shimmer in the sunshine.
Interestingly, this fungus produces chemicals called strobilurins, which have anti-fungal properties. The Porcelain Fungus uses them to inhibit and even attack opposition fungi in order to protect its territory but scientists have refined these same chemicals to produce anti-fungal agents that can protect crops from fungal attacks. Like so many fungi, the Porcelain fungus is beautiful and utile.