Near my house is a grove of oak trees which is simply glorious at this time of year. I love gathering fallen twigs of crimson and greeny gold to decorate my kitchen and scuffing through drifts of toasty brown leaves as I make my way to the lake. Cockatoos and ducks meet and mingle in patches of sunlight in this shaded space. The sky pokes through a mesh of almost bare branches and fairy spotted toadstools sprout magically from the damp earth.
You have to be quick to catch them at their most beautiful…as I discovered when I went back a day later to photograph a stunning large specimen (as flawless as Big Ears the Brownie’s house in the Noddy books) only to find it had flattened and paled from deep magenta to dark orange overnight. These toadstools like the oak leaves around them remind us that life is fragile and ephemeral.
There are a myriad of these mushrooms at every stage of the life cycle. Sturdy pixie stools in pillar box red sprinkled with snowy freckles, brand new babies poking their cherry bright heads cheekily out of a carpet of Autumn leaves, sad flat cracked roofs aging into faded apricot and the decaying tumble of black fungus slowly disintegrating into the soil.
The sight of these mushrooms catches at a childish part of my heart. That splendid startling red speckled in white, the smooth shiny caps, the feathered gills, the way they huddle together or stand proudly apart, the perfect size and shape of them for mini foot stools, tiny tea parties, and dinky little cottages…their enchanting sudden presence under the oak trees. …
Where have they come from?
Research tells me that they are Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita, one of many in the genus Amanita. My scientific husband explains that their prolific appearance is probably due to a recent spot of heavy rain.
I read about their properties. I check out images of them on the internet. None of this changes the feeling of child like glee that overwhelms me at the sight of them. They might be Amanita muscaria but a part of me knows that red and white polka dots are what fairies love best …
© Anita Patel, 2016