Tree Hugger – The Toughshank / Spindle-Shank

It’s early June and with the recent inclement weather (or great weather for mushroom hunters!) there are plenty of different species popping up here and there. But after a local visit to a local (mixed woodland) wood, I was quite disappointed with the results. But then again, summer is usually a good mix of grassland and woodland finds. You can’t win or find them all!

Collybia fusipesAfter seeing these chaps again, I felt it was time to feature this common woodland mushroom (which I always see this time of year). As usual, they’ll be hugging the base of an oak, beech or other deciduous tree or stump.

Yes, the Toughshank / Spindle-shank (Collybia fusipes (Gymnopus fusipes)) has always been a reliable show around summer all the way through to early winter time. It can also show it’s face during the late spring months too.

Collybia (or Gymnopus) species* have the common English name of ‘Toughshanks’ for the simple reason that they have very tough, flexible and fibrous stems. In addition to this (or subtraction!) they never have any ring or volva present (see mushroom identification page for more general info).

As mentioned, they often appear at the base of broadleaved trees (especially oak) and grow in dense tufts of a dozen or more. Sometimes they can appear to be growing out of the ground, but they are in fact attached to the nearby host tree via it’s underground roots. I have only seen this a few times and I really don’t know how common that is.

When young, the numerous caps appear button like (between 1 – 3 cm in diametre) and are red/brown in colour with lighter patches here and there. You’ll also notice much darker spots on the surface due to the odd nibble from a bug or minor surface imperfection. When more mature, the cap expands up to 7cm in diametre and fades slightly in colour (see pictures below) especially as it drys out. The texture is very smooth but gooey when moist, or soon after rain.

But the main identification feature of this mushroom (or should I say mushroom group) is that the stem, as we already know, is very fibrous and tough. Just break it apart and you’ll see. It is more ‘swollen’ in the centre where the colour deepens and grows darker brown towards the thinning, tapered base. These stems often fuse together as one. Indeed, this is a common trait in many of the Toughshanks.

The gills are free but may also be attached to the stem ‘decurrently’ only very slightly (see gill attachment details). They are whitish in colour then show a reddish tinge later on.

And just like most common mushrooms that you tend to see over and over again, you’ll find they are usually inedible. Curses! They’re just too tough and spindly for a good meal! Ah well…

Toughshank or Spindleshank mushroom

Note the younger/smaller examples (top right & bottom middle) and the paler/dryer mushroom group (top left/bottom middle). These were all found at the base of oak trees in mixed woodland.

*Note: To date, some members of the Collybia family have been moved to new genera due to DNA research and some may have different names. ‘Collybia fusipes’ still seems to be currently used here and there, but technically speaking it is ‘Gymnopus fusipes

QUICK ID TABLE: SPINDLESHANK / TOUGHSHANK Gymnopus fusipes (Collybia fusipes)

CAP / FLESH

2-7 cm in diametre. Dark red/brown. Dome shaped expanding with age. Paler when dry.

STEM

4-9cm x 0.7-1.5cm. Thicker in middle. Thin and darker at base. Often fused with others.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free or faintly attached. Whiteish – Reddish tinge
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In dense tufts at the base of deciduous trees, mainly oak and beech. Late spring to winter.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too tough and stringy.

The Genus GYMNOPUS (Toughshanks); COLLYBIA name often still used for some species: Characteristics to look out for:

• Tough, fibrous/flexible stems.
• No ring or volva present.
• Gills often crowded / never decurrent.

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