The Winter Mushroom – Velvet Shank
Well we are having quite the proper winter season this year! With consistently low temperatures, beautiful crisp days and a good few fabulous falls of snow. It makes me think about how the plants and wildlife must have to strive to survive at this time of year. Did you know there is one mushroom in particular that these cold temperatures are actually essential for its survival. Look out this week for the stunning Velvet Shank also known as The Winter Mushroom!
The Velvet Shank’s scientific name is Flammulina velutipes, which reflects its bright orange ‘flame’ like cap and ‘velvet’ stem. It has been used throughout history for researching medicine and for cooking. It’s a good one to look out for just now as it fruits from Autumn through winter into Spring. It needs the cold temperatures to stimulate it fruiting. It is a pretty incredible fungi as it can withstand ice and snow and survive being frozen completely solid! The cold is an essential triggering element in the continuation of it’s life cycle!
The Velvet Shank is a Saprophytic fungi meaning its role is breaking down and recycling the dead organic matter the it lives on. Which is the same as the Jelly Ear fungi Gill looked at last week. You are likely to see it on dead or decaying broadleaf tree’s like Elm, Ash, Beech or Oak. Look out for it on tree stumps, or standing or lying down deadwood trees.
You can check out our earlier blog to find out all about the huge importance of deadwood trees in a woodland too here.
Velvet Shank particularly favours Elms and as we have quite a few of these on one of our forest school sites I went down to have a look there and sure enough here is the beautiful blaze of flaming golden colour I was greeted with. Make sure to look all around the tree/stump as there may be more fungi to see for example here I found some way up high in the tree too!
Using your detective skills look for the identification traits below to find it.
Firstly the scientific name helps us to identify it.
· Flammulina ‘little flame’ in reference to it’s orange/brown cap which is shiny and becomes slimy after rain.
· And Velutipes meaning ‘ with velvet legs’! It's most striking identification trait is this, its shank or stem is smooth and velvety to the touch!
· The stem is a rich reddish brown colour – darkest at the base.
· It’s gills are widely spaced, and are white turning creamy yellow when mature.
· It’s seen in packed tiered clusters on decaying wood of broadleaf trees especially Elm.
· There is no ring on the stem unlike it’s lookalikes.
Check out our video introduction to the Velvet Shank & Winter habitats here:
This fungi is safe for most of us to touch, but has lookalikies which are not so friendly. Thankfully they are not likely to be around in the winter, but due to this I am always very respectful of fungi. Remembering to wash my hands well when I get home after touching them. (We are experts at this anyway these days!). I don’t damage or have any need to remove the fungi, especially as it has such an important decomposing job to do in the woodland.
Other winter habitats are all around us!
If you are out having a look for fungi this week be sure to have a good look all around where you are for other signs of life too as there will be plenty to see. There are only 3 native mammals that truly hibernate in the United Kingdom, Hedgehogs, Bats and Dormice. So everything else is still around, and striving to survive in this cold wintery weather.
It’s amazing what can be discovered if you get a chance to look. From tiny micro-habitats like fungi/lichen/invertebrates on twigs like this Witches Butter Fungus or Yellow Brain!
Also try looking out for wildlife feeding signs. This week I found dozens of snails shells discarded after something had had a grand meal of them! (photo below).
We also found wonderful habitat holes in moss and on the ground perhaps made by mice or voles. You might spot bigger burrows of larger mammals or might even be lucky enough to catch a fleeting glimpse of a deer or fox!
If we do get frost or snow it’s a great opportunity to look out for animal tracks. We saw these very clear bird foot prints in snow last week. Also mud is great to look at for animal tracks too and of course for making your own prints in!
I love starting to build up the story of the life going on in a woodland, local park or this could even be in your garden. It’s wonderful to take the opportunity to get to know your local greenspace!
Take care all! We’ll look forward to hearing all about what you’ve seen this week.