Halloween Special 2 – Dead Man’s Fingers

It’s Halloween today, so to make this post especially spooky I’ve had to put this freaky fungus in. And what a fantastic name it has too.

Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha) grows on dead wood (usually beech & sycamore) throughout the year, and is very common. The fruiting body is black and irregularly club shaped, often in small groups. It’s of a small(ish) size, reaching up to 8cm in height and up to 3cm in diametre. It’s hard outer shell protects the white flesh within where the spores are produced.

As you can guess this fungus is quite inedible and I don’t think anyone would fancy a nibble anyway! But the best thing about it is it’s strange general appearance. As you can see in the picture below there’s a small group of them growing on dead wood. If you look at the two on the far left, you can see where they get their common name from. Spooky!

Dead Mans Fingers

Dead Mans Fingers – reaching out from the grave?

 

Dead Man's Fingers Pictures

A large collection of Xylaria polymorpha on the moss of dead wood (left). A Dead Man’s Finger cut in half showing the white spore mass inside.

Halloween Special – The Witch’s Egg

In the spirit of Halloween which is closing in, I thought I’d add an entry about this intriguing and somewhat phallic fungus. At it’s peak (excuse the pun!) this time of year and in full bloom you can smell this beauty from quite a way off. The ‘pong’ is quite unpleasant but not altogether offensive. But you certainly do notice it, even when you can’t see it!

Smelly FungusThe Witch’s Egg (or more commonly known as) Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) initially shows itself as an ‘egg shape’ form in the ground from summer to late autumn, found in most woods and is very common. The egg sack pokes out of the ground and is half buried in the soil. It literally looks like a freshly shelled hard boiled egg planted right in the soil!

The egg sack is quite soft and has a gelatinous feel about it (which would be the jelly like layer beneath). This young stage of the fungus is said to be edible but not highly rated, and I haven’t bothered yet. It’s also said to be a good aphrodisiac – but that’s surely some mad guy making it up because it looks like a ‘you-know-what’ (when fully grown of course)!

It’s probably the same guy who had the enormous fun of scientifically naming this species – ‘Phallus impudicus’! Which, as you can probably guess, translates to something like ‘shameless’ and ‘penis like’. It’s the rudest of all the fungi out there to be sure! But the phallic shape is only shown in its true glory when fully mature.

The egg soon breaks apart, showing the gloopy goo inside. That’s when you start getting the smell ‘eeking’ its way out. After time, as it grows, the adult specimen shows its familiar shape which can grow up to 25cm high. But on average you’re looking at around 14cm. And now the smell is quite obvious. There are many ways to describe it, but I’d say it’s almost ‘chemical like’, nicely mixed in with raw sewage! But fear not – it’s not too potent but potent enough, if you know what I mean.

The tip (or head) has a distinctive ‘bell shape’ (no filthy jokes please) that exudes spores from the tip! The head of the fungus is initially dark olive/black with the stinking spores. These are soon devoured and spread by insects in only a few days, leaving an unmistakable white honey comb pattern with raised ribs.

As you can see in the pictures below, it’s last days are quite dramatic. Like from some kind of horror movie, it gracefully (and wierdly) dissolves back into the earth from whence it came. It is a truly a fantastic fungus worthy of a halloween highlight. Look out (a smell out) for them this autumn.

Stinkhorn egg sack and mature stinkhoorn fungus

Left: A Stinkhorn egg breaking open and a fully mature Stinkhorn. Right: The head of the fungus is initially dark olive/black with sticky, stinking goo (see picture at the beginning of this post). This goo attracts flies, who in turn spread the spores to another place. Eventually it will be stripped of all this slime and leave a white ‘honeycomb’ tip, as seen here.

Dying Stinkhorn

End of days. A dying Stinkhorn as it dissolves back into the earth

Common crumbler – The Common Yellow Russula / Ochre Brittlegill

Recently from late summer to round about now (mid-autumn) this is the most (extremely) common mushroom I find on my trips out. Well, this and the Sulphur Tuft, which is as common as muck but a lot prettier!

The Common Yellow Russula or Ochre Brittlegill (Russula ochroleuca) is simply everywhere. Sometimes in small groups scattered across the woodland floor (all types of woodland) and sometimes simply on their own. What a popular fellow (no tree pun intended).

Young Common Yellow BrittlegillThe Russula family of fungi is simply huge, consisting of more than two hundred species. Their commonly used name is the Brittlegills. If you run your finger across it’s white, widely spaced gills with light pressure they will buckle and break very easily. In fact the whole mushroom structure is brittle, or for want of a better word ‘crumbly’. This genetic characteristic is a useful identification tip in recognising all Russulas (Please note that the Charcoal Burner is the exception to the rule with it’s gills being quite flexible and resistant).

With so many Russula mushrooms lying about, all with their own distinctive colourings, there are (you’ve guessed it) more yellow chappies out there to add to the confusion. Mushrooms don’t ever make thing easy do they!? The most common twin is the Yellow Swamp Brittlegill (Russula Claroflava) which is definitely more tasty than our common friend here. It has a brighter yellow coloured cap and is found only in moist, damp birch woodland. The spores are ochre coloured as opposed to the white/cream spore print of the common species.

As mentioned above, the Yellow Swamp Brittlegill is a better edible find but I have no good photos of it yet to show you – that’ll be for another day in the diary I think. But none the less, I did try our common friend here – and although not highly rated – I didn’t think it was that bad. It is a little bitter, but it can be nice and fleshy and would be quite good if added to a multi-mushroom dish with good seasoning. Give it a try.

One last tip before you take these mushrooms home is take a good smell test. Just in case you have a Geraneum Scented Brittlegill (Russula felea) on your case. It is very much unpleasant and bitter to eat. So, just as you wouldn’t geraniums – don’t eat mushrooms smelling of them. Good rule!

Common Yellow Brittlegill

Not often will you find a prisitine specimen. Russulas are fragile things, and most loved to be nibbled and munched!

QUICK ID TABLE: COMMON YELLOW BRITTLEGILL / OCHRE BRITTLEGILL Russula ochroleuca

CAP / FLESH

4-10cm across. Initially convex, then flatenning out, often with a depression. Ochre, yellow or sometimes greenish-yellow. Two-thirds peeling. Flesh tastes mild to moderately hot.

STEM

4-7cm x 1.5-2.5cm. White. Turns grey-white with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnexed. Creamy white.
Spore Print: Whitish / pale cream (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

With broad-leaved trees and conifers. Late summer to late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible. OK.

The Genus RUSSULA (Brittlegills): Characteristics to look out for:

• Simple stems with no ring or volva.
• Many have bright colours in shades of red, yellow, greenish and purple (or mixtures of). A few are pallid.
• Whole fruting body is ‘brittle’ (granular and fragile) and will easily crumble, break on handling.
• All have straight (precise geometric look) gills. These crumble (on all but one species) when touched/handled; hence brittlegill.
• Note how much the cap cuticle/skin ‘peels’ from the margin upwards (.ie. 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 or none etc).
• Note smells and tastes of hot, bitter or mild from nibbling & spitting (be sure you’re dealing with Russulas!).

Field Mushrooms again… Keep ‘em coming

I know the Field mushroom is common, I know there are more exotic mushroom finds out there and I know also that you can never have enough of the great Field Mushroom. I love it so…

The Field Mushroom (Agaricus campestris) is often found in small groups or even rings (though not always, as in this case) but is found commonly in older pasture land and grassland in general, but nowhere near trees of any kind (at least 20 metres from the tree line anyway).

I just wanted to point out and exaggerate the identification tips of this beautifully edible UK mushroom. As well as the typical large white ‘mushroom look’, I’ve shown in the pictures the distinctive pink gills of the younger mushroom (these mature to dark brown), and the ring zone two thirds up the stem, which is very small, sometimes indistinct! So this helps in identification, as the Yellow Stainer mushroom; a sinister (but not deadly) looalike has a much larger, floppy ring zone. See my post on the Yellow Stainer mushroom.

Field Mushroom - Common UK Mushroom

Younger and older examples of the Field Mushroom. Notice the slightly scaly white cap.

Plenty of purple – The Amethyst Deceiver

The family of Deceivers are a funny lot. It may take a while before you get used to them. But that’s another story for another post. The very common appearance of this lilac purple beauty is the focus of this post alone…

Amethyst DeceiverThis is the Amethyst Deceiver (Laccaria amethystina) can be found in troops on the ground with conifers and broad leafed trees, in fact all types of woodland. Their colour strength changes depending on the weather conditions. For example, when wet or damp, it’s quite possible you may walk past many of them as their violet colour deepens and merges into the undergrowth background. I must have walked by quite a few as they’re extremely common in autumn. As they age, the colour fades to a pale buff.

They are a very pretty, small mushroom and people who notice them always take a second glance. I’m not surprised as it has such a distinctive and beautiful appearance, even though on the small side!

Their stems are tough and sometimes bent or twisted and the cap can be variable in appearance – sometimes perfectly convex and often wavy edged and irregular (see the pictures). The gills are widely spaced and if you take a spore print – it will be white. (see how to make a spore print).

Amethyst Deceiver - Lilac/purple gills

I’ve always found the spore deposit result of great interest because I have seen pictures of a very similar toadstool – The Lilac Fibrecap. The Fibrecaps (Inocybe genus) are a nasty bunch of buggers and most of them are poisonous, and one at least being deadly. But in this case our only concern is the similar Lilac Fibrecap. It isn’t deadly but it’s one to avoid anyway. This is where the spore print can really help. The Lilac Fibrecap has a ‘snuff’ brown spore print and our lovely Amethyst Deceiver has a white spore print. Thank the Heavens for spore prints.

So, as you’ve guessed, the Amethyst Deceiver is indeed edible but seriously lacks in flavour. It can be added with a load of other species of tasty fungal treats you might have, but on it’s own it’s not worth it. I believe it’s very good for adding colour to extravagant salads. Hmm! worth a go I suppose.

One more thing before I sign off – Another similar species is the Lilac Bell Cap or Lilac Bonnet (Mycena Pura) and contains the poison ‘muscarine’ although it’s not deadly in this specimen, in fact I have read one specialist book claiming that this mushroom/toadstool is edible! It does has a white spore print, but don’t despair too much. In comparison, it is a little larger, the gills more crowded and the cap more bell shaped. The colour varies from lighter shades of lilac and pink, although younger specimens may appear darker in this colour. The ‘key’ giveaway is that the cap edge is much more grooved (striate at the margin as they say) – so take care in checking.

Amethyst Deceiver

The Amethyst Deceiver can have an irregular shaped or perfectly shaped concave cap. It can dry to a pale violet colour as seen in the right hand image.

Autumn ink – The Shaggy Ink Cap (or Lawyers Wig)

Well, this weekend autumn has certainly stamped its inital authority on the land. Some leaves have already fallen in areas around the urban edges of my town. But I am a die-hard lover of fresh autumn mornings. There is still the summer warmth clinging on, but that zingy freshness of autumn is making itself known.

A call from one of my friends (literally working up the road at a school) was my waking alarm clock this morning – “We’ve got lots of white mushrooms going on here, a lot of them eliptoid shaped! Come and have a look if you can”. Well, it doesn’t take much to get me interested in a free meal, and I always love it when my friends let me know of any mushroom discoveries going on. Bless them. And as I work for myself, I wasn’t going to upset the boss by being late for work.

So, at just gone 9am, on a lovely misty autumn morn, I’d arrived at his school. Lots of grass around and lots of Shaggy Ink Caps around too (they also appear abundantly in summer). After a weekend of constant drizzle it had obviously encouraged these beauties to sprout forth. Excellent.

Shaggy Ink CapThe Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus) – (comatus meaning ‘long haired’), is (naturally) a member of the ink cap family. As they get older, the cap opens (though not out flat) and eventually goes through a stage of dissolving and releasing an inky black fluid. It’s very similar cousin – the Common Ink Cap is similar in size and shape but has a smooth surface. It can be poisonous depending if you’ve some alcohol or not! See the Common Ink Cap (Coprinus atramentarius) post – read all the details here.

The common name alone gives a clue in identification to this edible and lovely mushroom over it’s sinister (though not deadly) cousin. Its shaggy appearance is caused by the white or pale-brown scales on its long, rugby ball shaped, cap. There is a drastic change in appearance depending on at what stage you find it. Young specimens don’t show much stem at all, in fact it can be hidden, depending on the height of the grass it’s in – and the brilliant white cap is unblemished, though sometimes showing light brown colouring at it’s tip (which persists). But as it grows older, the cap opens up and then shrinks, as it slowly dissolves into inky black oblivion! I know that sounded a bit dramatic but I thought I’d get the point across. A lot of people, on first encounters, see the younger specimen and older specimen as a different mushroom. And I really can’t blame them, they appear so different.

A spore print for identification is not needed I think though. This mushroom speaks out loud for itself, and if you find it later in life, its obviously going to have a ‘black’ feel about it! It has a good salty flavour and is definitely worth a taste, I love it. Try it out, it’s a wonderful mushroom*. Look out for it this October, not only in grassland but on roadsides and disturbed ground even at woodland edges/woodland vegetation…

Young to old - Shaggy Ink Cap

The Shaggy Ink Cap from very young to old (as black ink starts to be produced)

Always try a little sample if you’re trying an edible mushroom for the first time, just to see if it agrees with you. The first time I tried this lovely mushroom I had a mild reaction of little red bumps in my mouth and what felt to be a slight hot flush! There was no unpleasantness involved and wasn’t at all serious. It soon passed. It’s just good to check your body is OK introducing it to the new food. It’s just like eating abroad really!

ID notes - Shaggy Inkcap

The Genus COPRINUS & Related (Inkcaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Most species gills dissolve into an inky black liquid as the black spores ripen.
• Growing on the ground, wood or dung.
• Many young species have woolly veil. Felty scales are often left on the mature specimen.
• Smaller species have distinct radial markings on the cap.