September heralds the start of Autumn. Colourful leaves, crisp frosty mornings and the beginning of an important few weeks for psychonauts. Mushroom Season. Recently I went to my usual spot near a crumbling abbey in west Staffordshire. The abbey’s surrounding fields are a lush green, fertilised plentifully with grazing cattle throughout the year, a stomping ground for the prolific liberty cap. Despite nearing the end of September, my mushroom harvest so far is at net zero. Why? We have messed with our seasons and now they are affecting magic mushroom harvests.
The ideal conditions for magic mushrooms
Mushrooms grow in abundance across the globe. The most common psychedelic species in the UK are Liberty Caps (Psilocybe semilanceata). A small, dainty wild mushroom, widely used to broaden the mind.
In terms of aesthetics, the cap of Psilocybe semilanceata varies in size, shape and colour, but most commonly has a pronounced ‘nipple’ on the top and often has a dark bottom with tucked under edges. The gills are black with a stem that is long with a bluish base and very thin flesh. They are quite small, reaching a maximum of 5cm and can be found in abundance in green pastures, commonly after a wet spell, often in livestock grazing areas.
As a species, Psilocybe Semilanceata prefers lower land, and the tendency seems to be that once you find one you find 1000. They are typically quite easy to find when you have the know-how and know-where, but this year, harvests have depleted drastically as a result of a shift in seasonality.
The UK drought and seasonal disruption
In 2022, the UK experienced an extremely hot summer with highs of 40.3 °C in some places in England. The heat was constant, and 2022 was not only the UK’s warmest year on record. The country also experienced it’s driest summer since 1976, entering an official drought during August, resulting in dry, brown landscapes and water shortages in specific regions such as Kent. Water shortages were merely the beginning, and the indirect effects of the drought are starting to come into play as Autumn is now in full swing.
Fruit harvests cropped up weeks earlier than usual and blackberry bushes are now rife with rotten fruit, gone off as it ripened too early for the birds to enjoy at the correct time of need. The seasons have got mixed up – but what impact does this have on our psychedelic little friends?
What does this mean for magic mushrooms?
Libert caps grow on rotting grass roots, so naturally, the ideal conditions for this process to occur are moist, moderate climates. The ‘fruiting date’ of Liberty Caps, the time in which they rear their pointy heads, is usually September – December. Entirely dependent on the weather conditions, at present, it would seem we must await the first frost of Autumn to harvest the first decent yields of the season.
In 2021 study it was recognised that high moisture and moderate temperatures are the ideal settings for mushroom growth, suggesting that droughts dry the soil, meaning that less plants and fungi have an opportunity to survive. Water transportation is pivotal to mycelium growth, and it is widely accepted that an increase in drought affects interactions between plants and fungi. Hence, it seems until our land moistens – there will be a distinct lack of liberty caps.
What can you do to help?
Whilst you may be waiting a bit longer than usual for your annual harvest, there are a few things you can do to help yield future yields.
Leave a little not a lot. It is important for regenerative purposes that the landscape is left with some mushrooms to work with for regrowth next year. Leave a small quantity rather than taking the entire lot and you can return year on year without a whisper.
Flicking a mushroom before picking spreads the spores across the ground before you take it away. It is small practices such as this that can help us all increase yields for next year.
Don’t know? Don’t pick.
There are a large number of ‘lookalikes’ for liberty caps across the UK. Mottle Gills (Genus Panaeolus) looks quite similar but lacks that iconic ‘nipple’. Grassland Bonnets also resemble Psilocybe Semilanceata but they are much paler in colour without the black gills. (Mycena sp.).
A good way of fact-checking your find is, of course, the internet. There are many articles out there but I found this one particularly good from Naturalist.org.
Another way of checking you are safe is by posting on Foraging for Wild Plants and Mushrooms, a Facebook group of over 225,000 mushroom fanatics, most of which have picked some shrooms at some point in their life.
Finally, an ID app can give you a general idea of what you might be dealing with. Remember if magic mushrooms are suffering this Autumn, so will other varieties so if you don’t know, don’t pick.
What are the best weather conditions for UK magic mushrooms?
The one thing that mushrooms are particularly susceptible to is the weather. Liberty caps like moist environments, so timing is a crucial part of maximising your yield. Take a look at the weather in advance and go picking on a day after a few days of rain and you should have a better chance of mushroom success.
The overall future of magic mushroom harvests in the UK is under threat. With a shift in seasonality in the country it is clear that plants and fungi alike are struggling to adapt to the dramatic changes in climate. The best for fungi at present is to sit tight, and hope for the harvests to come. Consume responsibly, pick with nature in mind, and address climate change the best you can because above all, the heat is the problem, not the mushroom.