Colourful decay

Seen on a silver birch stump, in the bright light of a midwinter day, a lovely golden orange-brown clump.

Closer up I could see that the fungus, itself evidence of decay, was ageing and heading towards its own decay.  It was wrinkled and dry looking, with broken bits and spider web strands. 

Fungi are a very important part of the cycles of death and life - releasing the nutrients from dead plants so they are available for new life.  Many fungi can be eaten with great pleasure.  But also with care - many are very toxic to us humans.

This one could be an aged Flammulina velutipes, but I certainly wouldn't bet on it.  Cultivated forms of Flammulina velutipes are called enokitake in Japan, or "golden needle mushroom" in East Asian cookery. Grown in cold dark conditions, the resulting clusters of mushrooms are very pale and delicate looking with elongated stems and small caps.  So who would guess they were the same species as these clusters of rather squat weathered orange-brown mushrooms?  Wild Flammulina velutipes mushrooms apparently don't taste as good as the delicate cultivated ones.  Given how many poisonous fungi there are, I'll stick with the properly identified ones!