M. C. Rayner, D.Sc.

24 Russell Square

First published in Mcmxlv (1945)
by Faber and Faber Limited
24 Russell Square London W. C. 1

Printed in Great Britain by
Western Printing Services Limited Bristol

All rights reserved


Introduction -- Journey to Forever
Table of Contents
1. Introductory
-- What are Toadstools?
-- The Ways of Life of Trees and Toadstools
2. The Fungi of Woodlands
3. The Fungus-roots of Trees
4. Problems and Partnerships

List of Illustrations

1. Birch tree with sporophores of parasitic fungus
2. Sporophores of Amanita muscaria, the Fly Agaric fungus, in a pine wood
3. Sporophores, of the Fly Agaric fungus showing external features
4. Young sporophores of Amanita phalloides, the Death's Angel fungus, beneath an oak tree
5. Sporophores of a species of Lactarius beneath birch and willow
6. Sporophores of the Honey Agaric, Armillaria mellea, at the base of a spruce tree killed by this fungus
7. Sporophores of the Honey Agaric
8. Rhizomorphs of the Honey Agaric exposed by removal of the bark from a tree of Scots pine killed by the fungus
9. Rhizomorphs of the Honey Agaric attacking tubers of an orchid, Gastrodia elata, and of a potato
10. Transverse section through a young fungus-root of pine
11. Fungus-roots of beech
12. Fungus-roots of Scots pine
13. Fungus-roots of Scots pine more highly magnified than in Plate 12
14. Fungus-roots of White pine formed in 'pure culture' with Lactarius deliciosus
15. Fungus-roots of Norway spruce
16. Seedlings of pine in sterilized soil inoculated with the fungus Rhizopogon luteolus
17. Seedlings of Corsican pine with and without fungus-roots
18. Seed-beds of Pinus longifolia, in a forest nursery in Northern Rhodesia [Zambia], with and without inoculation of the soil by an appropriate fungus


This book was planned with two ends in view. One, to draw attention to a regularly recurring phenomenon of our woods and pastures; the other, to reveal to the non-scientific reader something of the unseen forces at work.

Toadstools are not popular plants. To some, indeed, it may come as a surprise that they are plants at all! A common reaction is still one of distaste, echo of that voiced by Spenser more than three hundred years ago:

Where I was wont to seeke the honey bee,
The grieslie Tode-stoole growne there mought I se

The more observant are aware that some at least of the toadstools that appear on dead branches or tree stumps belong to parasites that have killed the trees on which they are borne. Fewer have had opportunity to see the corrugated plate-like 'toadstools' of the 'Dry-rot Fungus' that so rapidly pulverizes and destroys floors and other timber structures in damp and badly ventilated buildings. The devastation wrought by this fungus has indeed become recently a matter of major concern in war-blitzed urban areas where damaged houses have been closed and left without proper ventilation for long periods.

Concerning their more pleasant attributes, it is generally known, however little appreciated in practice, that many toadstools other than the common mushroom are welcome for their food value and some greatly prized for the delicate and appetizing flavours they impart. Even in wartime, this has not sufficed to popularize their use in this country, where the existence of a very few extremely poisonous species has served to cast a sinister shadow on all the others. Curiously enough, such fatal accidents as do occasionally happen from the eating of poisonous toadstools are due almost invariably to mistaking what should be easily recognizable species for the common mushroom -- a revealing indication of the casual manner in which the distinctive and distinguishing features of the latter, the one toadstool whose general use for food in Great Britain has been sanctified by custom, have been observed and noted.

The tapestry of changing colour provided by the sudden emergence of a spate of toadstools from the woodland floor in favourable autumn weather is not without aesthetic appeal to the discerning. Blending inconspicuously with their surroundings, or standing out in vivid contrast to their background of moss or leaves, these may rival in range and brilliance of colouration the flowers of our garden plants and show surprising delicacy and elegance of structure. Whatever emotion this natural spectacle may arouse, there are few indeed except trained naturalists who realize that any but a quite casual and superficial relation exists between these woodland toadstools and the trees under which they appear, or have carried their observations a stage further and noted the regular coincidence of certain kinds with particular tree species.

The association between the toadstool-producing fungi of woodlands and our common trees is only one of many unlikely ways in which plants belonging to widely different groups are interrelated with one another and with the mechanism of life as a whole. Because this is so, and because there is a widespread and somewhat surprising lack of curiosity about the jigsaw puzzle formed by the different kinds of life that surround us in nature; about the interplay and interdependence of their various vital activities and the pattern formed when these are fitted together; about the position we ourselves occupy in the completed picture, it has seemed worth while to write this little book.

My thanks are due to botanical and forestry colleagues for original photographs reproduced in certain of the illustrations. To Professor A. B. Hatch of the University of Idaho, U.S.A., for permission to use his photographs of 'pure culture' mycorrhizas in Plate 14, and to Dr. H. E. Young and the Department of Forestry, Brisbane, Australia, for that in Plate 16. The photograph in Plate 18 was taken by Mr. C. E. Duff, Conservator of Forests, Northern Rhodesia, who willingly gave permission to reproduce it. I am indebted to Professor F. T. Brooks for the original photograph of Armillaria mellea in Plate 7; to Mr. W. B. Day for that in Plate 6; and to Mr. K. St. G. Cartwright for that in Plate 8. To my husband, W. Neilson-Jones, I owe many thanks for unlimited help with the remaining illustrations and much useful criticism of the text.

-- M. C. R.

Next: Introduction

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