Fly Agaric Mushroom - 'Amanita muscaria'
The fly agaric is surely one of the most eye-catching British woodland fungi, with its iconic scarlet-red cap with white spots.
A favourite motif on Christmas cards and tree decorations around the world - its distinctive colours are reminiscent of the popular image of Father Christmas, with his red-and-white cloak. Reindeers are also known to eat fly agaric mushrooms - is Rudolph’s red nose a reference to that fly agaric he’s been munching?
A few hundred years ago, the fly agaric was considered a holy mushroom by shamans and priests living in Siberian and Arctic regions, who would give them as gifts during the winter solstice. Today it remains a popular cultural symbol of good luck.
The fly agaric is native to Britain, where it grows commonly under conifer and pine trees - does this explain our tradition of placing brightly-coloured presents under the Christmas tree?