An unnaturally late first frost across the UK means magic mushroom hunters could be in line for a remarkable natural high this year.
Psychedelic mushrooms may still be in bloom on New Year’s Day, as the subzero temperatures that would normally have appeared by this time of year are yet to arrive.
Owing to the warming climate, the first autumn frost arrives up to a fortnight later across the south-west of England and south Wales than it did 50 years ago, considerably extending the mushroom season – but 2018’s cycle could be unprecedented.
“Climate change has had a dramatic effect on the fruiting season,” says Prof Lynne Boddy, a fungal ecologist. “Every year the start and end of the season is dependent on the weather, and we can see that up until the late 1970s it was largely consistent.
“However, on average, the first fruiting date now comes much earlier in the year than previously, while the last fruiting comes later.”
She says there used to be about 33 days of autumn fruiting, but now there are more than 70, giving the thousands of people who hunt for magic mushrooms and other fungi across the UK every autumn more time to forage.
With this year’s first sustained frost unseasonably late, psychedelic fungi is still being picked from Dartmoor, across the Brecon Beacons and into Yorkshire by amazed mycology enthusiasts.
“Magic mushrooms usually begin to sprout in September, but it was so warm this year that they didn’t get going until October,” says an experienced forager. “The first heavy frost spells the season’s end, which usually happens in late November, but this year in Devon the way the forecast looks I’ll still be picking on New Year’s Day.”
Dr Patrick Harding, author of the Collins Gem guide Mushrooms, says 2018 has been a very unusual year for fungi thanks to the long dry summer. “Forty years ago, when I first came to Sheffield, snow and frost curtailed the season before the end of November and the happy local band of magic mushroom gatherers would have started hibernating before advent,” he says.
“I’ll wait to see if we can still find any to help with the new year celebrations – the long range forecast even for Sheffield has very little talk of frost or snow before 2019.”
At different temperatures, fungi grow at different paces. Liberty caps, one of the most prevalent species containing the psychoactive ingredient psilocybin, produce their mushrooms at below 15C in the day and 10C at night – often next to manure – with the first freezing temperatures heralding the end of the season.
Magic mushroom use was popularised during the 70s when it emerged as a legal alternative to LSD, but they were banned in 2005. However, more than 200,000 people in the UK used them in 2017-18, an increase of a third on the previous year. According to the 2017 Global Drug Survey, they are the safest “recreational” drug.
Recent studies have suggested magic mushrooms have therapeutic benefits and can help treat depression. Despite this, it is a class A drug and picking psychedelic mushrooms is an offence punishable with up to seven years’ imprisonment. Nonetheless, it is not an offence to have them growing on your land.