Winter’s bounty – Velvet Shank

velvet-shank-identification

It’s been cold this Winter – Damn cold! And there are few pickings out there for the mushroom hunter during any winter. But hold the phone, do not despair. There’s always some foraging delights to be had.

Velvet Shank MushroomThe Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) is quite a common mushroom who’s fruiting season is mainly from September to March. It can resist the winter frosts and low temperatures, even continuing to survive after being frozen solid. Quite a trooper!

These beauties are usually found in medium to large ‘tufted’ clusters on dead or decaying wood, favouring elm and oak. Their caps are a striking orange-brown colour (much lighter at the edges) and is quite shiny with a distinctly sticky/tacky surface texture.

Normally I wouldn’t touch any mushroom or toadstool that falls into the ‘small brown mushroom’ category! Even though Velevet Shank isn’t exactly small (3 – 10cm cap diametre) my instincts at any other time of the year would tell me to avoid as some small brown species are quite nasty! But in this case, and at this time of the year (January to be specific) there is no fear of mistaking it with much else.

The defining factor in identification of this mushroom lies in the examination of the stem. As the common name suggests, it’s ‘shank’ or stem has a smooth (and strangely satisfying) velvety feel, and the colour is a very dark brown/black – lighter at the top (closer to the cap) and darker at the base. Other identification factors regarding the tough stem is the lack of any ring, and when cut in half horizontally, it will show different coloured, thick layers with a small central hollow (see the picture below). If you’re still not sure, take a spore print. It will show up white.

After collecting a few of these, I’ve decided to dry them out and then make a powder from them for later use (or maybe slow cook them to add to a Chinese dish). I’ve heard that this is what they are best used for. You can cook them but they lack any real flavour. The caps are best chopped into strips and added to soups. The Japanese can’t get enough of them and cultivate a form of the Velvet Shank in high quantities, commercially known as Enoki-take.

Velvet Shank - Cap and Stem

Notice the dark coloured ‘velvety’ stem, sticky cap, gills and cut stem pattern

Identification table for Velvet Shank

  1. waxy

    I love this site – how informative and fascinating :) I was delighted to find some small velvet shanks myself last week. Not that I could identify them on sight but the beautiful sheen to the stem and the time of year apparently deems them unmistakeable! :)

    January 11th, 2011 // Reply
  2. J C Harris

    Glad you like the site and hope you find lots more Velvet Shank. The stem texture is unmistakable. Keep your eyes open for new additions to the site. It’s a part time project and hope I have more time soon to make it grow bigger and better.

    Thanks
    John

    January 13th, 2011 // Reply
    • ginny

      Yesterday 30th Jan I found some fungi took photos and brought some home too, didn’t know what they were as I am new to this (1yr). Read up on here with some good photos from John to help and found they are Velvet Shanks, loads of them on a fallen log, read up on here, and have left over night to do spore test next, so thanks again John for all the info and written help.

      Last week I found loads of Morels again with your help on identifying and have dried them for later use, and now looking forward to the Dryads Saddle later on, very tasty too.

      Forgot to mention when I found the Velvet Shank I also found Pixi caps, small orange red on small twigs loads of them, just coming through, all this within 5 mins walk from my house, how lucky is that?
      thanks
      ginny

      January 31st, 2014 // Reply
      • J C Harris

        Hi Ginny. It’s good to find so many things especially when it’s on your doorstep (so to speak). Velvet Shank should be out in force at the moment. I’m surprised you’ve found some Morels recently as they usually appear in April/May. But the weather has been mild and I recently found a Spring time species last week. Crazy weather!?

        February 1st, 2014 // Reply
  3. Tree Head

    Hi there,
    I’m new to this site,and am still very busy reading up on mushrooms.I used to love mushrooming as a child!(field mushrooms). I found a nice bunch of Velvet shanks the other day….I saw them from a distance growing about 6ft up a big dead ash tree..”wow.. Is that Honey Fungus?” I asked myself.They seemed colourfull in the dull wood. They looked sweet,though slippery and sticky…… Yes I was very pleased to have found somthing! I took one specimen home,,got about 7 books out and after 3 days of flicking to and fro,,,I was doubtless that I had found the velvet shank! My first slightly difficult identification! I must say The Dark velvet stem sticky cap and white spore print eventually put me at rest-so to speak!!

    October 18th, 2011 // Reply
  4. J C Harris

    Glad to hear you’re getting back into mushrooming. It’s great you had a positive ID for the Velvet Shank. If I find some more from now and over winter I’m going to try a few in a stew, although I’ll remove those tough stems! Caps only I think…

    October 18th, 2011 // Reply
  5. Tree Head

    Thanks for the follow up. Yes Its a massive space thats been missing from my knowledge of wild food that I needed to catch up on. Otherwise I’d be missing out greatly.

    October 20th, 2011 // Reply
  6. Tree Head

    I have found no end of velvet shank this winter. I eat it almost every day,(I always leave a 1/3 for the mice and invertibrae, and it’s nice to let them keep sporing)
    I took lots of pics,,as it can be very beautiful.. I think it is a very nutritious fungi and have felt great since first eating it. I find it quite nice slightly dehydrated and fried in lamb fat!…slowly.
    Tree Head.

    January 24th, 2012 // Reply
  7. J C Harris

    You’ve had better luck than me Tree Head. Thanks for the cooking tip. I’ll try that when I find some Velvet Shank next…

    January 24th, 2012 // Reply
  8. Mark Horsell

    Think i’ve found some too, just double checking with John. I’m still nervous about mushrooms so i think its worth noting that Sulphur Tuffs and Funeral Bells are vaguely similar i.e brown and cream!! The most obvious difference i think is the Velvety stem.

    October 30th, 2012 // Reply
    • J C Harris

      Hi Mark. Thanks for your email and I understand about your identification concerns.

      It’s hard to tell from the pictures received but they were growing on the right substrate (decaying/stump of deciduous tree) and the right time of year, but they were featured in a (what I thought was) a lumber yard. In direct sunlight instead of a shady wood, as would be the normal scenario, the caps have dried quickly and the margin (edge) have become more warped and wavy than usual and I have seen this before in other species.

      The stem is usually the best characteristic with it’s velvety texture and very tough consistency. But it’s always good to treble check.

      Also mistaken for the Velvet Shank is the Sheathed Woodtuft which grows in many numbers too through to early winter. This is quite edible but also can be confused with the potentially deadly Funeral Bell (Galerina marginata) which is usually a little smaller – but mistakes have been made!

      See my post on the Sheathed Woodtuft here, along with extra information on the Funeral Bell:
      http://www.mushroomdiary.co.uk/2011/09/sheathed-woodtuft

      Hope that helps

      All the best
      John

      October 30th, 2012 // Reply
  9. Eddie Mc Donnell

    I have lust discovered a large collection of Mushrooms in my garden -which look like Velvet Shank -they are growing in clumps -small pyramids and I have found roots of trees underneath. Do I have to dig out the old roots of the tree to get rid of the mushrooms or is there a simpler way? I am concerned with children playing in the garden.There was a small number of them last year – however this year they have multiplied and are spreading.

    October 7th, 2013 // Reply
    • J C Harris

      Hi Eddie
      I wish there was an easy sure fire way to remove the mycelium (the organism that fruits the mushroom). And each species sometimes requires different removal methods, but it is a very very hard process with varying results. In this case, the Velvet Shank grows only on dead wood (logs and stumps) but not on living trees. To remove the roots would be a good starting point but there is never a 100% guarantee and the mycelium may have spread to other parts of ‘broken away’ decaying wood that may be hard to locate. Try consulting with a professional landscaper who may have better experience with such things. That would a good bet. And fortunately Velvet Shank is non-poisonous and pretty innocent, so no real harm with contact or ingestion would be a real problem. I’m sorry I can’t offer a simple solution, but hopefully an experienced gardener can. Good luck.
      All the best
      John

      October 7th, 2013 // Reply
      • Eddie Mc Donnell

        John,
        Many thanks for response. It seems that a fair bit of root digging is the next step if I want to get rid of them .
        Great to hear that they are not harmful
        Tx
        Eddie

        October 7th, 2013 // Reply
    • J C Harris

      I forgot to mention there are a lot of ‘Armillaria ostoyae’ (a member of the Honey Fungus family) about. They also feed on the dead wood and grow in large clusters too. Look up online using this scientific name to check if they may also be the culprit. They are non-poisonous too, in fact edible once cooked (although can disagree with some people). But I realise you’re not interested in eating them.

      October 7th, 2013 // Reply
      • Eddie Mc Donnell

        …just cut open the stem of one and did not find a hollow part in middle of stem as indicated in some references – I am therefore assuming that they are Armillarea Ostoyae. However it seems that the only way to get rid of them is to try and eliminate the dead roots from trees which i find are underneath the mushrooms. I cut down an old Sycamore Tree over 10 years ago and its roots must be the attraction..

        October 7th, 2013 // Reply
        • J C Harris

          Hi Eddie. The hollow part isn’t always that apparent. But the stem itself is incredibly tough unlike ‘Armillaria ostoyae’. Also the Honey Fungus has a yellowy-white ring on the stem and small scaly flecks on it’s cap whereas Velvet Shank has no ring and a smooth cap which is slimy, more so in wet conditions. Either/Or though, those dead tree roots are most likely the cause.

          October 7th, 2013 // Reply

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