It's that time of year where part of the joy of a forest walk is spotting an array of fungi, but these beauties are just a fruiting body to a whole other world of underground networks. Each fungi you see sends out hundreds of thread-like root systems called mycelium.
They not only find nutrients and water for the fungus, but link the roots of different plants, creating an underground communication system. These threads can connect to roots of a bush from one side of your garden to a tree on the other offering nutrients and better immunity for themselves as well as the connecting flora. There is evidence that plants can communicate through these channels, for example if a plant and a tree were connected by a harmful fungi, they could release a chemical warning to each other through the thread-like system. These intricate threads improve the soil and the strength of a plant by binding a good solid base around the root. Fungus is also a woodland litter collector as they decompose dead material and waste. It has recently been discovered that there is even a fungus that can break down plastic in a matter of weeks, rather than hundreds of years! Pretty cool huh?
So the beauty we get to see this time of year is the reproductive system of the fungus, which releases spores through its gills. What I have shared with you here just scratches the surface of the importance of fungi and hopefully gives some understanding to why unless you have a licence, there is now a blanket ban on mushroom picking in the New Forest. Like many beautiful things that make up our wonderful forest including grazing stock, wildflowers and rare species, please come and enjoy, but just look and please don't touch.