The New Forest is a stronghold for Bearded Tooth (Hericium erinaceus), a very special and rare fungus as it is a legally protected species.
It is one of three species of this spectacular looking genus and all of them can be found in the New Forest. Hericiums are confined to only a few other sites in the south of England.
Beech trees, both living and dead, are its favoured host and these are widespread in the New Forest. The tree can be standing upright with the Hericium on the trunk, or sometimes quite high up in the branches or on a fallen decaying trunk. If the fallen trunk happens to be hollow, the fruiting might even appear inside the hollow.
Although it may look fragile, it is surprisingly robust, but may slowly lose its pristine white colour and become rather brown and dirty looking. However the entire fungus will remain intact for several weeks during the autumn, or until the night frosts begin.
It comprises a large rounded clump of compact, long, hanging, pointed tipped spines, soft and elastic in texture and all initially bright white. It is usually solitary, although they may form a small group, and will often appear in exactly the same position every year.
Over the years it seems to have acquired a number of different names – such as Monkey Head, Pom Pom, or Lion’s Mane to name but a few!
The New Forest is a very important site for this fungus in Britain, and it is the subject of many ongoing scientific surveys and research.