THE redness glowed like an ember from deep under the roots of a fallen pine tree in an Ochils woodland.

Curiosity overcame me, so I hunkered down and crawled into the earthy cleft at the base of the tumbled trunk.

It was a cluster of fly agaric toadstools, their white-flecked scarlet caps arranged in a tier on an incline, and which reminded me of a vibrant scene from some fairy tale book.

Fly agarics are, of course, highly poisonous. Indeed, in northern Europe there is the custom of using the caps, crumbled in milk, to kill flies, hence the name.

It is also the toadstool so widely depicted in children's fairy tales, including Alice in Wonderland.

It felt wonderful to be down at eye level on the woodland floor.

It was like entering a different world, with a rich, heady aroma of leaf mould enveloping my senses, almost as if the very essence of the earth was filling my lungs.

It seems to be a good autumn for fungi and earlier in the week in woodland near Tillicoultry I had discovered a cluster of small stagshorn fungus.

This was a true yellow gem, with its small and intricate branched form that was a million miles away from the traditional shape of a toadstool.

These finds underlined the immense variety of fungi in our environment, ranging from familiar types such as toadstools to others that are club or bracket shaped, or form encrusting moulds on decaying wood.

Such diversity in shape and form is matched by the dazzling array of colours featured by different species.

The toadstools we see at this time of year are their fruiting bodies designed to produce and distribute spores and are only fleeting ghosts in the wind that appear for a very short time.

While many types of fungi are largely unseen for much of the rest of the year, they are still there, working their quiet magic whether it be in the soil or in decaying wood, or even in the air that we breathe.

Fungi are everywhere, and without them our world would lack heart, for they aid growth of trees through mutually beneficial relationships, drive organic decomposition, recycle nutrients back into the soil, and touch our lives in so many other diverse ways, including the yeasts that give us our daily bread, and for crucial medicines such as penicillin.

Fungi are also essential in the production of drinks such as beer and wine, and when next imbibing, I for one, will happily raise my glass in celebration to their wonderful diversity and environmental importance.