In modern times, red and white have become universal symbols of Father Christmas and the festive season. There is even a widespread belief that an advertising campaign from a ubiquitous soft drinks company was the defining point where Christmas became red-and-white in the hearts and minds of millions around the world.
However, nature came up with the red-white combination a much longer time ago – and it may also have been the origin of tales of flying reindeer as Dr Andy Taylor, molecular fungal ecologist at the James Hutton Institute, explains.
“Mushrooms are fascinating things. They are not part of the animal, plant or bacterial kingdoms, but they have a kingdom of their own – the Fungi,” he said.
“Although it is usually only seen in woodlands until late November, the Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) a white-spotted, red-capped fungus, features prominently on Christmas and postcards, in fairy tales and even video games. It is commonly listed as poisonous due to its psychotropic properties and it has reportedly been used in shamanistic rituals in different parts of the world.