Edible mushrooms found in woods and mycorrhizal / symbiotic relationships with particular trees.

All that glitters… The Glistening Inkcap

These mushrooms love to be in a crowd! They are one of the first to see in the year, fruiting from mid to late spring all the way through to late autumn/early winter.

Coprinus micaceusThe Glistening Inkcap (Coprinellus micaceus) or should I say Inkcaps (plural) in this case, are extremely common; always found in small to large (sometimes very large) and tightly packed groups (caespitose) on or around broad leaf stumps/wood and buried wood. You really can’t miss them.

The best time to find them is when they are young and still with an ovate shaped cap and hopefully haven’t been blasted by wind or rain. You will see the fresh caps are covered in a fine white powder that appears glittery or glistening, hence the common name. This coating, more often than not, will eventually disappear with age and with the interaction of the elements etc.

Each small cap is around 1-4cm in size and generally ochre coloured with a darker cinnamon brown centre. Over time they will expand to produce a bell-like shape; their colour will fade or become dull, often with a greying (blackening) margin.  Also note that, as with many similar of the smaller inkcaps, there are very noticeable grooved markings on the surface, especially nearer to the margin.

The gills are free from the stem and are initially white, maturing to date-brown and eventually black as they turn into an inky liquid (deliquescing) – another common trait of the aptly named Inkcaps.

They are said to be edible, but they don’t seem to be much of a meal to me – or even appealing for that matter! So I haven’t tried to cook and eat any. Please leave a comment on this post if you have indulged – but I can’t imagine there are many recipes out there for them – or maybe there is!

Glistening Inkcap(Coprinellus micaceus)

Glistening Inkcap (Coprinellus micaceus) growing in large, densely packed groups feeing off old stumps and dead wood which is sometimes buried beneath the surface.

QUICK ID TABLE: GLISTENING INKCAP Coprinellus micaceus

CAP / FLESH

Ovate (becoming bell-shaped over time). Ochre coloured; darker brown at the centre. Becoming duller with age.

STEM

4-10cm x 0.2-0.5cm. White.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free from stem; initially white, maturing to date-brown, then to black (deliquescing)
Spore Print: Date brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On or around broad-leaved tree stumps, dead and/or buried wood. In large groups.
Late spring to early winter.

EDIBILITY

Edible.

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

• Most species gills dissolve into an inky black liquid as the black spores ripen.
• Grow on the ground, wood or dung.
• Often grow in groups (esp. smaller species)
• Smaller species have distinct radial grooved markings on the cap.

Fawny coloured Deer Shield

This common wood-rotting mushroom has a variable season. It is prolific in summer and autumn, but if conditions are mild enough, it can appear as early as April or early winter if the weather is favourable.

Pluteus cervinus The Deer Shield or Deer Mushroom (Pluteus cervinus) is one of the most common Shield mushrooms; and like nearly all of this genus, it is found on dead wood, stumps, logs and also wood chippings. It is a saprobe; getting nutrition from the dead wood and essentially breaking down the organism. It’s all part of life’s beautiful tapestry.

The cap of this particular Pluteus is smooth with variable colouring; mainly shades of brown (fawny like), but it can be paler and young specimens can be quite dark, as shown in the photo below. Subtle streaks can be seen radiating around the surface. Most often there is a slightly prominent central bump (umbo).

All mushrooms in this genus have a pink spore print and their gills are ‘free’ from the stem (See my other post on the Willow Shield mushroom here). They are initially white in colour, but over time they take on a pinkish hue as the spores mature. This is a good identification characteristic, albeit dependent on its age! Look around for older specimens if you can.

The stem is white and often becomes streaked with darker yellow-brown fibres as it ages. Also take a look at the base, where it usually is slightly swollen.

Edibility-wise there’s not much going for our lovely Deer Shield, but it still is edible (although it may not agree with some). The flesh is white, delicate and thin with a slight odour and taste similar to radish. I found a great blog tackling this culinary challenge, see here for a little advice on the subject: http://foragerchef.com/the-fawndeer-mushroom-pluteus-cervinus

Why the Deer name?

When I was first aware of the common name, I assumed that ‘Deer’ was simply in reference to the colour. But apparently this is not so. Under the microscope, small cells (known as cystidia) present on the edge of the gills, show long protusions  that are crowned with two tiny ‘horn’ shapes which resemble antlers – hence the ‘deer’ reference. Cervinus is also derived form cervus which is Latin for deer. You learn something new everyday!

I hope have luck finding these handsome mushrooms some time soon, as well as any others you may find along the way. Enjoy.

Deer Shield Mushroom

Pluteus cervinus – The Deer Shield. Top middle: a Younger convex/darker example. Bottom: Giils initially white, turning pink as the spores mature.

QUICK ID TABLE: DEER SHIELD Pluteus cervinus

CAP / FLESH

4-12cm across. Initially bell shaped/convex; flattening out with age, Often with a raised central bump (umbo). Flesh is white; smells and tastes faintly of radish.

STEM

7-10cm x 05-1.5cm. White; later becoming streaked with darker brownish fibres.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free. Initially white, turning pink.
Spore Print: Pink (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Dead wood, fallen hardwood trees and sometimes woodchip. Mainly autumn but sporadic throughout the year. Very common.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Not considered particularly good.

The Genus PLUTEUS (Shield): Characteristics to look out for:

• The majority grow on wood or woodland debris/wood chippings etc.
• Gills always free, slowly mature from white/pale to pink.
• Pink spore print.

The darker side – Dark Honey Fungus

Following on from my previous post covering the Honey Fungus, I felt the need to feature this common and equally destructive Armillaria species. Again, it’s cap is variable and looks very similar to the standard Honey Fungus, but with a few distinctive visible differences.

Dark Honey FungusThe Dark Honey Fungus (Armillaria ostoyae), like A.mellea, often grows in large, clustered groups on or around deciduous and coniferous tree stumps, logs or even shrubs. It can fruit early, in the summer months and continue to do so up until early winter. Sometimes it appears as if growing on soil or grass, but they are actually fruiting from dead roots underneath the soil.

At first glance, the Dark Honey Fungus looks pretty much the same as the Honey Fungus as it has similar cap colouring, ranging from yellow-brown to dark brown, although they are more often darker brown. As mentioned, shapes are a little variable, with some rounded and others wavy and/or with a central depression or shield shaped. This is dependent on age also. Caps can also grow slightly larger; up to 15cm across.

The scales (or fibrous flecks) on the cap surface are much more prolific at the centre, and are a much darker brown. A decisive key difference when compared to the A.mellea can be seen on the bottom/edge of the ring, high up on the stem. If you look closely, there are dark brown markings at the edge whereas they would be pale yellow on A.mellea. So take a close look as this will aid in identification.

Safe to eat?

Most consider this fungus edible but must be cooked well and only a little tried first as it can cause stomach upset for some people. Because of this, some experts believe it to be poisonous and not worth trying.

Strange but true!

And just before I sign off, here’s an interesting titbit for you; A new record holder for the title of the world’s largest known organism was recently discovered in 1998. It was actually a Dark Honey Fungus (Armillaria ostoyae) covering approximately 2,384 acres of soil in Oregon’s Blue Mountains, USA. Based on its current growth rate, the fungus is estimated to be 2,400 years old but could be as ancient as 8,650 years, which would earn it a place among the oldest living organisms as well. Fancy that!

Images of Armillaria ostoyae

Dark Honey Fungus – Armillaria ostoyae. Notice the dark brown flecks covering the cap (densely packed at the centre) and the dark markings on the edge of the whitish ring.

QUICK ID TABLE: DARK HONEY FUNGUS Armillaria ostoyae

CAP / FLESH

3-15cm across. Variable shaped; rounded to shield shaped. Covered in dark brown fibrous fibres/flecks.

STEM

6-15cm x 0.5-1.5cm. Whitish/Yellowish. Darker reddish towards base. Whitish ring with dark markings at edge.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Initially white, then yellowish, then pinkish/brown with darker spotted areas.

Spore Print: Pale cream (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In clusters on or around stumps and trunks of deciduous and coniferous trees & shrubs. Summer to early winter.

EDIBILITY

Debatable. May cause gastric upset in some. Must be cooked.

The Genus ARMILLARIA (Honey Fungus): Characteristics to look out for:

• Medium to large fruiting body in large tufted groups, fused together at the base.

• Yellow-brown, Orange Brown, Dark brown colours / Round, Shallow domed to wavy shapes.

• Dark flecks or small scales on cap head, especially at the centre.

Boot-laced Bad Guys! The Honey Fungus

Right now at the time of writing, these medium to large mushrooms are out there in force. Large, dense groups swarm around tree stumps or at the bases of living deciduous and coniferous trees.

Honey Fungus in large groupThe Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea) or Boot-lace Fungus (for reasons I’ll explain later) can appear early in the season, from summer onwards straight through to early winter. I usually find them on the cusp between summer and autumn – although this may be just coincidence.

It is a dangerous parasitic species of trees and plants (of which there is no cure). The exchange of nutrients between the fungus and tree is an extremely bias one, in favour of the fungus as it takes more from the tree than it gives back, causing white rot and eventually killing off the host tree. Much timber is lost every year due to Armillaria mellea and is a great danger, not to mention being a horticulturists worst nightmare!

However, they are impressive mushrooms to behold when in many numbers (which is often). Enormous groups can cover large parts of a tree, sometimes in clusters of up to (and over) a hundred at any one time. Very impressive indeed.

When young, the shallowly domed caps are honey coloured with tiny, darker coloured fibrils covering the surface, especially at the centre. As they grow and the cap expands and is variable in shape, ranging from broadly convex, depressed at the centre and often wavy and irregular at the margin. The colour is not so intense with age, they are more yellow/ochre almost always with a darker centre, retaining some of the fleck-like scales on the surface.

The long whitish-yellow stems are darker reddish-brown towards the base where several stems all fuse together. Whitish fibres can also bee seen vertically streaking along its length. The whitish ring, high up near the cap has a yellowish tinge and the white gills soon change to pale yellow, often becoming blemished with darker spots as it ages.

Fit to eat?

Just in case you’re wondering the ‘Honey’ reference defines the colour of the cap and not the taste. That may be obvious to many, but I just wanted to set the record straight! However, they are an edible species and MUST be cooked before consumption. They aren’t for everyone though, some people can suffer gastric upset, so if you intend on eating any always try a small portion first to see how you get on. If you do alright, try this great little recipe here: Spaghetti with Honey Fungus. Simple and tasty.

Honey Fungus and their Boot-laces!

Just like something out the ‘Day of the Triffids’, this fungus spreads to infect new trees by means of black cords called rhizomorphs, made up of parallel hyphae (the branching filamentous structure of a fungus). They resemble long black boot-laces (hence the use of the common name), creeping long distances to reach neighbouring trees. Rhizomorphs can be seen on roots or in the soil, but older boot-laces are often noticed under the bark of infected trees (see image below).

For the horticulturalist…

I’m no expert in the field of horticulture or anything similar, but I do know what a threat they can be for many trees and plants. If you’ve stumbled across this page looking for some answers in the removal or prevention of this fungus, here’s some good links to point you in the right direction:
Royal Horticultural Society – Honey Fungus – Facts, symptoms and control
Preventing garden pests and diseases – Honey Fungus (half way down the page)
Garden Forum – Horticulture – Honey Fungus (half way down the page)

Armillaria mellea

Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea) often grow in large clustered groups. Notice the difference between the younger (bottom right) and older examples.

Grouped Honey Fungi and old Rhizomorphs

Top: Picture courtesy of Mariano Lampugnani. Location: Oxford
Bottom: Old Rhizomorphs (‘Boot-laces’) under the bark of a fallen tree

QUICK ID TABLE: HONEY FUNGUS Armillaria mellea

CAP / FLESH

3-14cm across. Initially rounded/domed. Expanding into variable shapes including shallowly domed, depressed centre and/or wavy margin.

STEM

6-15cm x 0.5-1.5cm. Often tapered at the very base. Fine white fibre streaks. Whitish-yellow. Reddish-brown towards base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White, then pale yellow. Spotted dark brown with age.

Spore Print: Pale cream (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Growing on stumps or trunks of deciduous or coniferous trees – or growing from the roots underground. From Summer to early winter.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Must be cooked. Some people may suffer gastric upset.

The Genus ARMILLARIA (Honey Fungus): Characteristics to look out for:

• Medium to large fruiting body in large tufted groups, fused together at the base.

• Yellow-brown, Orange Brown, Dark brown colours / Round, Shallow domed to wavy shapes.

• Dark flecks or small scales on cap head, especially at the centre.

Armillaria-mellea-sketch-illustration

With a brown bump! – The Common Bonnet

Happy new year to you all. It’s a typically dull and cold(ish) January and apart from the lovely edible Wood Blewit, Velvet Shank and Oyster Mushrooms around at this time, there are other groups of mushrooms to be seen, although not as palatable.

Common Bonnet MushroomThe Common Bonnet (Mycena galericulata) is one of these mushrooms. Very common and present all year round, it is one of the larger Bonnets, growing up to 6cm across at maturity with a broad central umbo. It is often found in small or large clusters on broad-leaved stumps, branches and logs. It can be confused with the Clustered Bonnet (Mycena inclinata) which is very similar looking but only fruits from late summer to autumn, and is a much darker brown, growing exclusively on oak stumps.

It has mild brown colouring, sometimes grey-brown with a slightly darker centre, and the margin is noticeably striated. It has white adnate gills which feature a tiny decurrent tooth. With age, the gills eventually turn pale pink as the spores mature. If you hold the cap up to the light you will also notice the gills are linked with many tiny veins (cross-veins), this is typical of several Mycena species.

The stem shares the same colour as the cap but is clearly much lighter towards the apex where it meets the cap and gills and darker towards the base where it covered in fine white fibres.

Although edible, I have heard this mushroom is unfortunately bland and not really worth it. The smell is sometimes rancid but the flavour can be mild. The problem is, they’re too delicate and not very substantial. Probably in a survival situation you could turn to them. Hey ho!

Notice the wide central umbo and the conical appearance of the younger specimen. Bottom right: cross veining on the gills.

Notice the wide central umbo and the conical appearance of the younger specimen. Bottom right: cross veining on the gills.

Why the Bonnet name?

Mycena or ‘Bonnets’ get their name from their appearance, which is similar to the bonnets worn by the Mycenae in ancient Greece.

QUICK ID TABLE: COMMON BONNET Mycena galericulata

CAP / FLESH

2-6cm across. Brown to grey-brown. Initially conical, expanding to a broad bell shape with noticeable umbo. Paler at margin, striated. Flesh is white.

STEM

2-10cm x 0.3×0.9cm. Base similar colour to cap. Paler at the apex. Tough and hollow. Base covered in white fibres.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate (decurrent tooth). Initially white, turning pinkish.
Spore Print: Cream (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Stumps, logs and fallen branches of broad leaved trees. All year. Very common.

EDIBILITY

Edible but not really worth it.

The Genus MYCENA (Bonnets): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small conical or bell-shaped caps (sometimes flattening out). Often with a slight central bump (or umbo).
• Often cap edge has striations.
• Long and delicate stem (some exude fluid when broken).
• Also look for dark edges on the gills (not all Mycenas have this).
• Some species found on rotting wood. Others on leaf litter and woodland debris.

Sulphur Surprise – Chicken of the Woods

It was one of those rare times when I ventured out looking for something in particular and actually found it! Summer isn’t a great season for mushroom hunting but it does have some interesting and choice variety (albeit small) of edible fungi.

Laetiporus sulphureusAt the edge of a long woodland path in a Leicestershire wood, fortune was on my side when I came across Chicken of the Woods or Sulphur Polypore (Laetiporus sulphureus). One of those bracket fungi that are instantly recognisable and a joy to behold.

What I found was a very modestly sized tier of Sulphur Polypore (a common name I seem to prefer). The upper (older) bracket, although still featuring lemon yellow pores on the underside was unfortunately losing it’s full potential of colour on the top side.

The younger sprouting shelves though were more succulent and rich in colour, soft and malleable to the touch.

Chicken of the Woods quite often grows in high layered formations around a metre or more high, with fanned brackets reaching up to 30-40cm or so in width. But like many fungi and mushrooms, finding it in the prime of it’s life is paramount, not only for identification reasons but (as in this case) for edibility.

Instantly recognisable features of this bracket fungus are the bright yellow and orange colours. The very small pores on the underside are a striking lemon yellow and the upper side (depending on age) is more orange yellow (often ridged and wrinkled in shape).

With age, the upper surface will lose it’s colour along with the rest of the fungus. Finding it young is a must. The flesh of the younger folds are often quite thick and succulent, ideal for your cooking pot. But even though it looks beautiful and enchanting this fungus is actually a parasite often found on dying oak trees and also on other trees such as sweet chestnut, poplar, willow and yew. But in this case – a cherry tree.

Edibility-wise this fungus doesn’t tick all the boxes for all people. Only the young , fresh parts are worth eating. It does have a strong taste which sometimes can be quite acidic and bitter. But it’s all in how you cook it and I’m not a notable chef (unless it’s in a curry of course) so I can offer no advise. It’s very much trial and error with this fungus. It’s up to you to see how you can make it a ‘chicken substitute’, and being a very ‘tofu-like’ flesh, it has great potential in the kitchen. You can save some for later too because it stores well in the freezer for a while.

Finally (and as always), be careful trying any mushroom/fungus (you understand is edible) for the first time, as their may be an unwelcome reaction. Only try a small portion at a time and give yourself a generous few hours to see how you go. I would recommend that Chicken of the Woods found on Yew trees to be avoided altogether. It has been known to cause severe gastric upset, dizziness and general nausea. That’s not what you want!

But apart from that warning – Happy hunting…

Chicken of the Woods fungus - Laetiporus sulphureus

The typical Orange/Yellow colours of the Sulphur Polypore (Chicken of the Woods). The thick white flesh of the younger brackets are best for cooking.

Sulphur Polypore

Another example of the fungus; layered in the usual way but more fleshy and rounded.

QUICK ID TABLE: CHICKEN OF THE WOODS / SULPHUR POLYPORE Laetiporus sulphureus

FRUITING BODY

10 – 40cm accross. Fan shaped / Semi-circular. Irregular margin. In large tierd groups. Yellow/Orange. Thick and fleshy. Turns straw/white coloured with age. Uneven upper surface – usually lumpy-like.

PORES / TUBES / SPORE PRINT

Very tiny pores (circular or ovate). Sulphur yellow in colour.

Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On deciduous trees. Common on Oak, Cherry, Poplar and Willow. Thoes found on Yew known to be poisonous. Late spring to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible when young and fresh. Best cooking tips from Germany & North America.

The Genus POLYPORUS (Polypores): Characteristics to look out for:

• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills underside.

• Usually tough or hard and woody. Some softer and edible.

• Many are perennial or annual.

Of Cups and Morels…

Sometimes some species of fungi grow nearby others. For example, Ceps (Boletus edulis) have an association with the Miller mushroom (Clitopilus prunulus), and it’s always good to know while you’re out and about as it will help you find more of what you want.

Disciotis venosa PicturesIn this case I’m talking about two types of Cup fungus found on a recent foray, namely the Bleach Cup (Disciotis venosa) and the Vinegar Cup (Helvella acetabulum) both of which occasionally can be seen during spring time on soil in sheltered woodland areas (in this case beech woodland) and sometimes even on lawns too if it’s the Bleach Cup.

I would avoid both of these cup fungi for my pot as there are mixed reports from several sources claiming they are edible, while others refer to it as inedible or poisonous. Plus there’s the added confusion with other ‘unknown’ edible but similar looking species. Best avoided then, eh!?

But one thing they are, and that’s interesting looking. I love finding cup fungi. They’re a bit weird but always interesting. The Bleach Cup’s English common name comes from the smell of a fresh specimen (It is also commonly known as the Veiny Cup Fungus or Cup Morel (in North America) Morchellaceae family). Have a good sniff and you’ll instantly recognise the chemical like odour of bleach. It’s like it’s just been cleaned! The Vinegar Cup is very ‘goblet-like’ in shape with distinctive veiny ribs coming up around the tan coloured cup itself. This has been described as cabbage-like, hence the usage of another common name ‘Cabbage Leaf Helvella’. ‘Brown Ribbed Elfin Cup’ is another term used but you could go on forever with this. Sometimes it’s best to stick with the latin names.

The main point I’m trying to make about these interesting fungi is that they share common fruiting ground (and season) with Morels, in this case the Semifree Morel (Morchella semilibera). After all, they are in the same order of fungi. I’m not sure of other Morels association with cup fungi or all the science involved in why. I just know they do.

My luck was in when I stumbled across both these cup fungi. Literally a minute or two later I found Morels close by. The system works! And the Semifree Morel found was actually one of the largest I have ever seen, with a very long cap. It was hiding in masses of leaf litter and was almost missed. Perhaps I stepped on a few others too without realising. Shame!

To find out further identification/edibility details on the Semifree Morel and other Morels on this website, see the related item links after the ID tables below. Happy hunting…

Cup fungus close up pictures

The distinctive smelling Bleach Cup Fungus (Disciotis venosa). Examples shown here were approximately 6cm in diametre but they can grow up to 15cm across.

Helvella acetabulum

The Vinegar Cup (Helvella acetabulum) was also found near more Morels in Beech and Ash woodland. Many beech leaves tend to hide the Morels from view so take a good look around.

Morchella semilibera

Found a Bleach Cup? There’s a good chance there will be Morels growing nearby.

QUICK ID TABLE: BLEACH CUP Disciotis venosa

FRUITING BODY

3-15cm across. Saucer shaped. Inner surface dark brown. Outer surface is whitish with darker scurfy scales.

STEM

Short, thick stork often buried in soil.

HABITAT / SEASON

In soil in woodland and on lawns. Occasional. Spring.

EDIBILITY

Poisonous but not deadly.

QUICK ID TABLE: VINEGAR CUP Helvella acetabulum

FRUITING BODY

4-6cm across. Deep cup shape. Inner surface darker brown. Outer surface pale with fine downy texture.

STEM

1-4cm x 2-4cm. Whitish. Continues up the base of the cup. Strongly ribbed.

HABITAT / SEASON

In soil amongst leaf litter in woods. Spring to summer.

EDIBILITY

Poisonous unless cooked well.

Shelling out – The Oyster mushroom

It’s good to know some mushrooms can appear all year round, especially when they’re edible and good. It’s nearly always the right time to look out for these beauties…

UK Oyster MushroomIn this case it’s the common and most welcome Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus). Usually growing in medium to large clusters on fallen logs, stumps or standing trunks, it’s one mushroom I always look out for during the ‘out of season‘ months. I mainly choose deciduous woods to visit (some can grow on coniferous wood) where they are most commonly found, especially on beech.

And thankfully they are also one of the most recognisable species out there. The distinctive ‘shell’ shapes and lateral (often minimal or missing) stems with white decurrent gills are all typical characteristics. The caps are convex shaped when young but will flatten out as they grow, often becoming wavy or split at the margin. And just to note: very rarely will you see a ’rounded’ shaped cap, but it does happen.

There is one thing though that the Oyster mushroom is not reliable with – and that is it’s colour (just like my spellchecker telling me I’ve spelt color wrong!). The shades are quite variable, but tend to be in subtle shaded hues of grey/whitish-brown, blue-grey, violet-grey etc. As you can see in these photos, I have stumbled across the grey-brown kind. A variant of the Oyster mushroom named Pleurotus columbinus is more or less the same mushroom but with a striking and beautiful violet cap. I haven’t seen any of those though. Shame.

As most of us all know, Oyster mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms to eat on the planet. There are many different species of course, successfully cultivated and sold throughout the world. But here in the UK, you’re best and most reliable bet is our common Pleurotus ostreatus. Cook ’em up in a stir fry one night and enjoy – Happy hunting.

Oyster mushrooms

Two separate encounters of the wild ‘shell shaped’ Oyster mushroom. Top: A group of young examples growing on a fallen log. Bottom: Very large and older examples (approx 14-15cm across) growing from a standing trunk.

QUICK ID TABLE: OYSTER MUSHROOM Pleurotus ostreatus

CAP / FLESH

6 – 20cm across. Shell shaped. Convex when young, flattening out. Often split or wavy margin. Subtle variable hues of grey-brown, whitish-brown, blue-grey, violet-grey. Flesh is born or blue-grey.

STEM

2-3cm x 10-20cm. Excentric to lateral or abscent. White with a woolly base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Decurrent. Initially white fading yellowish later.
Spore Print: Pale lilac (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In medium to large clusters on stumps, fallen logs or standing trunks. Mostly deciduous trees such as birch. Sometimes on coniferous wood. All year round.

EDIBILITY

Edible and good.

The Genus PLEUROTUS (Oyster): Characteristics to look out for:

• Shell shaped fruting body with little or no visible stem.
• Growing on wood in clumps/dense groups
• Very decurrent gills.
• Spore print ranges from white to pale lilac.

The Oaks friend – Oakbug Milkcap

I’m catching up on reporting my mushroom foraging finds, especially from autumn last year, when the abundance of fungi is at it’s peak. I felt the next mushroom was definitely worth a mention. I had run in to so many of these brown beauties more than ever before – but only around oak trees, naturally.

Lactarius quietusThe Oakbug Milkcap (Lactarius quietus) as you’ve probably guessed, is exclusive to Oak woodland. They’re pretty easy to miss (or be stepped on) because of their smallish size and colour, which subtly blends in amongst the fallen leaves and surrounding soil. But when you find one, you suddenly notice more and more pop up in to your field of vision, scattered around the woodland floor.

This particular Milkcap has two distinctive identification characteristics you can look out for:

1. The Smell: From whence it got it’s name. According to many (in the past at least) is that of Bed Bugs (which is like rotting raspberries apparently), and like you maybe, I don’t know what that smell is like either! But other comparisons are those of wet laundry and oil. To me, it’s more like light engine (or general purpose) oil. You’ll know when you give it a good sniff, and;

2. The Cap: The reddish/brown cap grows up to around 8cm maximum but is often smaller, around 5 – 6cm. When younger the cap is rounded but it soon matures into a flatter shape with a distinctive (often shallow) depressed centre, inline with stem. But it’s main feature is that the surface is marked with concentric bands and/or spots. This is often apparent but can be subtle. Another interesting point is that it stays matt dry, even in moist conditions. So no sticky slimy characters there on a rainy day!

Other points: The stem (often hollow) can be up to 6cm high and shares the similar colour with the cap but often darker, sturdy and compact. The gills are adnate / slightly decurrent. The milk is white and very plentiful and has a mild to slightly bitter taste (Note: Only taste a mushroom if you’re sure of it’s identity).

I haven’t indulged in consuming one of these guys yet, but next year I hope to give them a try. They don’t sound like anything special, but you never know until you try…

Oakbug Milkcap images

The Oakbug Milkcap (Lactarius quietus). Notice the concentric banding and spotted marks on the sturdy cap. The cap is not greasy or slippery when wet.

QUICK ID TABLE: OAKBUG MILKCAP Lactarius quietus

CAP / FLESH

3 – 8cm. Dry. Initially convex, later flat with depressed centre. Red/brown with concentric bands and/or spots.

STEM

4 – 9cm x 1 – 1.5cm. Cylindrical. Colour like cap, often darker. Hollow.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate/Decurrent. White/brownish, later reddish brown. Milk is white. Mild or slightly bitter. Smells oily.
Spore Print: Clay – cream (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Very common, on the ground near Oak tress. Autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible.

The Genus LACTARIUS (Milkcaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Gills and flesh exude milk when broken or damaged.
• Look out for different coloured milks and any changes after a while when exposed to the air.
• Granular/fragile flesh similar to Russulas (Brittlegills), breaking easily.

Sticky Suillus – Slippery Jack

It’s always good to venture further afield when hunting for new mushrooms, especially when you get a break or are on a holiday. I had the chance to escape way down south to Poole in Dorset at a holiday park set within mixed woodland which was brilliantly rich in fungi…

Suillus luteusIt was here I discovered Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus) and I don’t see many of them at all around the midlands. It is such gooey splendour to behold when you first find one. I’m guessing some people might dislike the slippery surface, but I just loved it, especially when it’s a key identification feature too.

Found exclusively in conifer woodland, especially with Scots pine you will be pretty sure what you have stumbled across. It is a medium to large mushroom and closely related to boletes, featuring pores instead of gills, but feature glutinous caps (to some degree or another) many of which have rings on the stem and grow along side conifers.

There were only a few I found with (I think) Larch Boletes which are very similar but lighter in colour, growing with larch – naturally. I didn’t check all trees around which I’m kicking myself about! But that’s a post for another time.

The chestnut/sepia brown sticky cap is unmistakeable. Slide your finger across, hold it for a second, then slowly pull your finger away. Nice brown glutin goo will want to come along with you. Great stuff. The small round yellow – straw yellow pores can become flushed a deeper brown colour.

And, as mentioned before, with most Suillus species, there is a ring on the stem. Depending on what age you find your Slippery Jack it can differ somewhat. Initially it is large and white/cream in colour. It will turn a deeper reddish-brown over time and maybe even fall off leaving only a memory of it’s presence! But key features to note are that ‘above’ the ring the stem is the same/similar colour to the pores underneath the cap, but below the ring is white, at least underneath sepia brown granulations and darker markings – so let’s just say darker!

There is no real distinctive smell or anything like that to make you want to pick and eat it, but it is edible and definitely worth a try. After peeling away the glooping covering they must be cooked and may shrink a little as they are very ‘watery’. OK, so you don’t have much left, but try it sliced in some omelettes or add as a pizza topping. And thanks to a recent comment (see below) it’s most common use is to dry slices of the cap (after peeling and cooking I presume) and then process into powder which is good to add to soups, casseroles and such. All good stuff.

Suillus luteus pictures

QUICK ID TABLE: SLIPPERY JACK Suillus luteus

FRUITING BODY

5 – 12cm in diametre, Chestnut or sepia colour. More rusty colour when older. Brown slimy & sticky gluten on surface. Shiny when dry. Flesh is white.

STEM

5-10cm x 2-3cm. Ring on stem. Pale straw colour above ring at apex. White but discoloured darker brown with age. Ring initially large white/cream darkening to deep brown/sepia.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

Small and round. Lemon yellow / straw colour.
Spore Print: Clay – ochre(see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

With conifers, usually Scotts pine in autumn. Common.

EDIBILITY

Edible but watery. Must peel slime off and cook before eating. Or dry and process into a powder for soups and casseroles.

The Genus SUILLUS (related to BOLETUS – the Boletes): Characteristics to look out for:

• Like Boletes, Suillus has pores on the underside instead of gills.
• Most have glutinous/slimy caps, especially when wet.
• Growing in association with conifers.

Deliciosus! – The Saffron Milkcap

The mushroom season is well under way in the UK. Since September there have been many species popping up here and there, but there’s still more to come. October and November often produce the goods in abundance…

Saffron Milkcap MushroomOne of my latest and tastiest finds has been the Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus) – one the most sought after Milkcaps, especially in Europe which grows exclusively with pines from summer to autumn. They aren’t overly common but relatively frequent, and to add to the fun, they are quite regular in showing up in the same place every year – but this is only in my experience, perhaps it’s not always so. I’d just thought I’d mention it (leave comments if you agree or not).

This lovely edible mushroom, like most tasty finds (it seems) does have naughty lookalikes, but fear not as they are non-poisonous threats coming in the form of the aptly named False Saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deterrimus) thought only to grow with spruce and Lactarius semisanguifluus which also occur with pine. The differences are annoyingly subtle which I will explain further. Firstly, let’s take a look at the main character itself…

The Saffron Milkcap’s cap can grow up to 12cm in diametre and is slightly funnel shaped with a margin that is noticeably curved inwards when younger. The fleshy, carrot orange cap often shows stronger concentric bands around the surface (in this case very subtle) which can be tinged here and there with olive-green patches. Caps on the lookalike mushrooms tend to develop a wider covering of green, sometimes covering the cap completely.

The milk colour is a key ID feature with this Milkcap, when compared to the others. It has bright carrot orange coloured milk (coming from the gills once damaged or handled). The lookalikes share a similar colour but are noticeably more reddish, turning deeper red/purpleish over 10 – 30 minutes minutes once exposed to the air.

Moving on to the stem you’ll see the gills are only mildy decurrent and the pale whitish/orange to salmon/orange stem often has a collection of darker, circular pits, as shown in the pictures here. The False Saffron Milkcap can have these marks but are less frequent and Lactarius semisanguiluus doesn’t have any – it’s stem can clearly be seen to turn green over time and upon handling.

With experience these finer differences will become more apparent but even now I sometimes don’t trust my own judgement. Luckily a colleague confirmed the finding. Always a good idea to get a second opinion. And if you’re unsure of the difference between Pine and Spruce (as I was) then this is a good link to help in identification.

And while we’re on the subject of good links, take a look at this great Saffron Milkcap recipe. Enjoy.

Lactarius deliciosus - edible milkcap

The Saffron Milkcap. Notice the darker pitting on the stem (top right) and the bright ‘carrot orange’ milk from the gills (bottom right).

QUICK ID TABLE: SAFFRON MILKCAP Lactarius deliciosus

CAP / FLESH

3 – 15cm diametre. Varying carrot/orange colour / sometimes greenish in places. Darker markings showing concentric bands. Convex with central depression. Initially inrolled at margin. Firm, brittle consistency.

STEM

Slightly decurrent. Narrow spacing. Pale pink/apricot to saffron. Eventually carrot coloured. Olive-green markings when bruised.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

3 – 7cm x 1.5 – 2cm. Whiteish/pale orange – salmon coloured. Often with darker circular depressions. Green in places over time.
Spore Print: Pale ochre (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In grass with pine trees. Summer/autumn. Frequent.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Very Good. Popular in Europe.

The Genus LACTARIUS (Milkcaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Gills and flesh exude milk when broken or damaged.
• Look out for different coloured milks and any changes after a while when exposed to the air.
• Granular/fragile flesh similar to Russulas (Brittlegills), breaking easily.

Shy Amanita? The Blusher

There is quite a few of these babies popping up around now. It can be a confusing species to identify because of the similarities with the Panther Cap and Grey Spotted Amanita.

Aminita RubescensThe Blusher (Amanita rubescens) is one of the more common Amanita mushrooms. Summer to autumn is the best time to find them, usually solitary, in coniferous and deciduous woodland.

It was hard to choose a category to place it in my blog, because it is a poisonous mushroom but very edible once properly cooked (with cooking water discarded). So if you intend to eat it, making sure you have the right Amanita is naturally top priority. Same goes for any other mushroom you want to consume really.

Blushers have a varied cap colour range. They are often reddish-brown with red tinted or dull grey/white spots (veil remnants), or can be paler with flesh/pinkish tones. Fortunately I have two examples in this post to show in pictures. The paler one was found in Leicestershire and the darker red-brown example was found much further north in Scotland. I don’t know if geographical location bears any relation in this difference. Interesting though.

The Blusher gets it’s common name from the way damaged or insect nibbled parts of the mushroom (including the gills) turn pink or reddish-pink. If you handle the mushroom you will notice these changes as the ‘blushing colour’ slowly appears.

Another distinctive characteristic is that the large floppy ring on the stem has grooved (striate) markings on the top side. Armed with this information you can be sure of not confusing the Blusher with the very poisonous Panther Cap (Amanita pantherina). To mention key points, the Panther Cap has ‘pure’ white scales on it’s cap and does not have striate markings on the ring at all.

Another similar looking mushroom is the Grey Spotted Amanita (Amanita excelsa) which also fruits in summer and autumn. It has a brown (sometimes greyish) cap with dull whitish scales which eventually wash off to leave a smooth surface. It also has a grooved ring but does not ‘blush’ when handled or damaged. It is said to be edible, but I think it would be best to be avoided altogether.

I haven’t cooked and eaten a Blusher, but I have read that they are very tasty indeed. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have experienced the taste (along with a good recipe if you have one)! Thanks.

Aminita mushroom

Notice the pinkish tinge on the cap and scales in this red/brown coloured Blusher.

Blusher Toadstool

A pink/flesh-coloured Blusher. Note the ‘grooved’ markings on the upper side of the ring and the reddish-pink damaged areas. Bottom-left: A young blusher

QUICK ID TABLE: THE BLUSHER Amanita rubescens

CAP / FLESH

5-15cm width. Pinkish or flesh coloured to reddish-brown. Off white/grey scales sometimes with reddish patches. Nibbled areas are flushed with pinkish-red colour.

STEM

6-14cm x 1-2.5cm. White with pinkish/reddish tints. Bulbous base. Large ring, grooved (striated) on upper side.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free & white. Spotted red where damaged.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In coniferous and deciduous woodland. Summer & autumn. Very common.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Must be boiled before cooking. Discard water.

The Genus AMANITA (Amanitas): Characteristics to look out for:

• All have some sort of Volva – a cup-like/sack-like structure at the base of the stem which is the remnant of the universal veil.
• When very young, while still in the universal veil they can look egg-like.
• Most species are often covered with ‘spotted’ veil remnants. These sometimes ‘wash off’.
• Most species have white/whitish gills.
• Be extra careful in identification (examining volva and stem ring if present) as this genus contain some deadly species.

Branching Out – The Branched Oyster Mushroom

Luck was on my side this Saturday as I walked in one of my favourite woods. Stepping aside to give a couple some more room on the path, I just caught a glimpse of something white hiding beneath the undergrowth. Was it litter or was it a mushroom? You’ve always got to take a look…

Pleurotus cornucopiaeOn a fallen branch of a deciduous tree (I’m not sure which to be honest – I was too excited to notice!) was a small stout and proud group of Branching Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus cornucopiae). A couple were damaged but there were some great specimens with younger ones just poking below the senior ones. They were cute!

I don’t come across many Oyster mushrooms at all. Maybe that’s just Leicestershire, who knows? But this find was new to me, albeit being a moderately common mushroom. It had had it’s day during the period of Dutch Elm disease in the UK but nowadays is declining but still widespread.

I knew I was dealing with an Oyster mushroom of some sort. Looking at all the immediate visual features I was pretty sure what it was.

Unlike the typical Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) which has many colour variations, it is actually never white. So that ruled that out. But as the Branched Oyster matures further it does turn more towards ochre brown. Something to be aware of I think.

The other main feature was of course the stem which is very apparent. Many typical Oyster mushrooms have little or no stem to show, but in this case it was an interesting identification feature. It also has an ‘off-centre’ position in relation to the cap. The cap sinks into this stem in a similar way to a typical ‘Funnel Cap’ mushroom with very decurrent gills. In fact, if the stem was central and this mushroom grew from the ground you would think you were looking at a Funnel mushroom! Anyway, I digress, you get the picture…

To elaborate on the colour (mentioned above) this mushroom is initially white/cream, covered in a whiteish bloom, and in time will have an ochre tint, eventually becoming completely ochre-brown. Other features include the cap itself becoming wavy and often split a the margin, as shown here in the various pictures.

And if you do (or even have) found any of these beauties you may see them growing sideways out from the wood and the stem curve so the cap is level with the floor. In this case, I think they were lucky to be facing skywards due to the fallen branch. The stems usually ‘fuse’ together at the base. Again, in this case, only a few were fused together when I found them, and the larger ones were on their own. Different finds sometimes show slightly different results. Good points to take note of.

White Oyster Mushroom

QUICK ID TABLE: BRANCHING OYSTER Pleurotus cornucopiae

CAP / FLESH

5-12 cm accross. Initially convex/rounded then funnel-shaped. Margin often splits. Cream coloured with white bloom turning ochre brown with age. Smell is of flour or slight ammonia.

STEM

2-5 x 1-2.5cm, off-centre. usually fused with others at the base. Whiteish. Ochre tinge with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Very decurrent. White and/or pale pink in colour.
Spore Print: Pale lilac (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In grouped clusters on stumps or dead wood of deciduous trees (esp. elm or oak). Spring to autumn. Occassional.

EDIBILITY

Edible. OK.

The Genus PLEUROTUS (Oyster): Characteristics to look out for:

• Shell shaped fruting body, often with little or no visible stem.
• Growing on wood in clumps/dense groups
• Very decurrent gills.
• Spore print ranges from white to pale lilac.

Spring Madness – Blewits in May!?

After a recent enquiry to the website asking the same question I was asking myself, I was spurred on to feature this post and it’s very ‘out-of-season’ theme!

Lepista nuda - out of seasonThe Wood Blewit (Clitocybe nuda / Lepista nuda) was in good supply during it’s normal season in late autumn/winter. Scattered in Woods, gardens and hedgerows, there was always a chance to spy a few and take them home for your tea.

But during April and this early May time, the weather has been very wet and weird, and at times unseasonably cold.

I’m not sure, but this could be one factor in explaining why myself and others have been finding delicious Wood Blewits out of season. My first discovery was in April – 3 weeks ago and just recently this weekend in May.

It’s all very strange and I’m not sure if I should be happy or alarmed! And I don’t especially want to get into that global warming argument either. But mushrooms are often unpredictable and can waver in and out of season now and again – but I have to be honest, these critters are extraordinarily pushing the limits!

I did notice with my recent discoveries that they were both extremely close to rotting wood. They do feed on dead organic matter (saprotroph) but this is usually hidden underground. The picture (shown above) were of two Blewits actually on the edge a decaying stump, but the substrate they were in was a fine mixture of rotten wood and rich soil. The others were found in a similar scenario, hugging a fallen tree trunk, again in a very ‘peaty’ like soil. I can only guess again that this could be a contributing factor. The soil must have been very rich in nutrients ideal for our little Lepista!

Anyway, keep your eyes peeled, you might see some yourself this May. Who knows?

PS. For further information on Wood Blewits in my posts and further identification notes, see my other two posts here: ‘Blue Legs for Winter – The Wood Blewit’ and ‘Snow patrol – Wood Blewit’.

Wood Blewits

Late in the season – Wood Blewits found in April and May.

More Morels! The Semifree Morel

As you may know or not I recently got lucky finding some Black Morels this April 2012, and as luck would have it I actually stumbled across another species of Morel a couple of days afterwards! Marvellous…

Semifree Morel Picture

I had a foray at Cloud wood (NW Leicestershire. Note: Cloud Wood is access by permit only and no digging up or removal of fungi is allowed) in which I found a reasonably good bunch of wild fungi, some even first timers for me. The most distinctive discovery though was the Semifree Morel (Morchella semilibera / Mitrophora semilibera). You can read more of my lucky find of the tasty Black Morel here featuring useful information very similar to this Semifree species…

The distinctive vertical ridges and pits on the cap are almost the same as our lovely Black Morel, but when compared, the main difference is the smaller pointy cap and longer stem. The bottom part of the cap is free from the stem and attaches higher up, hence the English name ‘Semifree’.

Although it’s a great looking species of Morel, found in it’s native habitat in damp woodland (luckily there was rain a day or so before), it is unfortunately not as worthy as it’s tastier cousins. It is said to be edible (after cooking) but apparently not worth the effort. It has been known to cause stomach upset in some people. Well, you can’t win ’em all!

Hope you all get some luck finding some of the tastier Morels out there real soon…

Morchella semilibera

The Semifree Morel with it’s smaller pointy cap. The lower part of the cap is free from the stem, hence the English name. Not worth cooking though!

And to finish:

The first morel the shepherds did see
In the springtime beneath a dying elm tree:
Morel, morel,
Morel, morel!
Where we find them we never will tell,
Morel!

All together now…

Wonders in the Woodchip! The Black Morel

They always say ‘ keep your favourite edible mushroom sites a big secret’, but it’s even better to prize this information out of other people! Hoo ha ha! (my best evil laugh)

Picture of Black Morel (Morchella elata)A Gardener/ landscaper, while in the area, overheard my mushroom ravings while at my local watering hole. He wanted me to identify a mushroom found in one of his new clients’ gardens. After a quick glance on his iPhone I immediately knew it was a Black Morel (Morchella elata).

After badgering the poor chap and discovering the exact location of these beauties (literally up the road!) I went onwards to then bother the owner of the said garden. Luckily he was very accommodating and allowed me to take pictures and take them all if I wanted. I only took a few and left the rest to do their thing.

This is the season for Morels, which is early spring (april/may) and they were in abundance amongst the woodchip of this side street front garden. They were a little past their prime and were very large specimens (up to 15cm). Most of the older and blacker ones had split open at the top, but a few were salvageable and I took these home.

The Black Morel is similar to the more common Yellow Morel (Morchella esculenta) but it is darker reddish brown (getting blacker as it ages). The cap is more conical in shape with almost parallel ridges and pits flowing vertically upwards. And like the Yellow Morel it is also completely hollow inside both the cap and stem. Take a closer look at the stem which is whitish/brown – you’ll also see mini granules on it’s surface which have a mildly rough texture.

A totally natural environment for the Black Morel is on Chalky soil within coniferous woodland (esp. Scotland), but in recent years these fungi have appeared more often in urban environments such as roadsides or wasteland, and especially in gardens amongst the woodchip. The mycelium itself remains in the wood throughout transport and when scattered on a soil it likes it tends to fruit in numbers.

As a much sought after, excellent edible mushroom it’s best to grab these when they are younger, and also remember they are not out for long as they have a short fruiting season.

I’m no top chef but I do know you shouldn’t eat these raw, they must be cooked well before consumption. Their hollow body acts as a natural dish when cut in half. Filling them with a savoury stuffing to put in the oven is a great idea. They also go well with in sauces accompanying meat dishes due to their strong robust flavour.

For now I’m going to dry my specimens as this is the best method for storage, and I’ll come back to them later when I have a few recipe ideas. A good tip is to make sure you clean them thoroughly before storing as insects can tend be missed when hidden in the hidey holes!

Hope you all find some soon. Enjoy.

Black mushroom with honeycomb pattern

The Black Morel (Morchella elata). Note the granular surface on the stem and hollow body when cut in half.

And to end, I’d like to finish with this popular carol:

The first morel the shepherds did see
In the springtime beneath a dying elm tree:
Morel, morel,
Morel, morel!
Where we find them we never will tell,
Morel!

All together now…

I can’t believe it’s not Butter! The Butter Cap

Sorry for the awful title, but it had to be done! I can’t believe I haven’t made a post on this mushroom before either. Next to the Brown Roll Rim, this has had to have been the most common mushroom I’ve found in great number during autumn/early winter last year (2011).

Collybia butyraceaOften found in woodland in large scattered groups or even as solitary souls, the Butter Cap (Collybia butyracea / Rhodocollybia butyracea*) is a very common edible mushroom (hence being categorised in my ‘Woodland Treats’ blog category) but does not have a particularly pleasurable texture or amazing taste (so I’ve put it in ‘Tales of Toadstools / The Inedibles’ category too).

The texture of the cap, as the common English name suggests, is very smooth, slippery and greasy – not unlike the sensation when you run your finger on some butter… As you do!

To my now ‘trained eye’ they are instantly recognisable. But as you’ll find with experience, the appearance, specifically the cap, can be a very unreliable visual marker for identification due to colour variations. These variations can also be exaggerated due to moisture level and age etc…

The unreliable cap colour can range from dark red/brown, ocherous/buff brown to pale bone-white or ivory (usually with a much darker centre) when older and dryer. Also adding to the confusion is that this species has a common ‘lighter’ variation (Collybia butyracea var. asema) which (I think) is currently under debate. It is generally lighter all round in colour, and I’m making an educated guess that the centre picture below is a good example of this variant.

The shape of the cap and the gills are fortunately more reliable, usually with a shallow dome shape and distinctive raised bump at the centre (or umbo). Sizes in width can differ from small to medium-large (3 – 8cm) and the margin (edge) is lighter than the rest of the cap, sometimes becoming irregular and even ‘wavy’, often showing a faint striated edge (see Mushroom Identifaction Page for more info on Margin/Edge ID features). The gills are crowded, free from the stem and remain white(ish).

But for best identification I always examine the stem. It shares the same brown shade shown on the cap and typically has a slightly thicker base compared to the thin tapering at the apex where it joins the cap. It becomes hollow towards the base which is darker, often covered in fine white down. A little test to confirm identification is to break apart the stem. It is very tough and stringy and you will see also where it is hollow at the base.

You can take a quick ‘smell’ test, but again, I wouldn’t fully rely on this for a good ID tip. It can be very mildly mushroomy or even slighty rancid. So there you go!

Note: As I mentioned earlier, this species is abundant in mixed Woodland throughout autumn to early winter, but while out on a recent foray that they can appear in grassland near woodland, but it doesn’t happen often. The small group I found in November 2011 were of the lighter variety, large and creakily shaped. Obviously they were going mad trying to get themselves back to the woods. Maybe!

*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 butyracea’ still seems to be currently used here and there, but technically speaking it is ‘Rhodocollybia butyracea’.

Collybia butyracea - var.asema

Butter Caps (Collybia butyracea var.asema) abundant in leaf litter in autumn through to early winter. Note the ‘broken apart’ stem base which is covered in fine white down (bottom-left). It is stringy, tough and hollow.

QUICK ID TABLE: BUTTER CAP Collybia butyracea / Rhodocollybia butyracea

CAP / FLESH

3-7cm accross. Initially convex; flattening out, developing distinctive central bump (umbo). pale ochre – reddish brown (dependent on what variety). Drying to reveal patches of ivory white. White flesh with mushroom smell. Greasy (buttery) to touch.

STEM

2.5-5cm x 0.5-1cm. Tough. Slightly bulbous at base. Similar colouring to cap. Becoming hollow. Base when broken is stringy and fibrous.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free, crowded and whitish.
Spore Print: White or very pale pink (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Leaf litter in deciduous or coniferous woods. Autumn – early winter.

EDIBILITY

Edible but not great.

The Genus COLLYBIA (Toughshanks); RHODOCOLLYBIA taxonomy for this species: Characteristics to look out for:

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

ExCEPtional! – The Penny Bun, Cep or Porcini mushroom

The Bolete genus (and those closely related) are some of the largest and most exciting mushrooms to be found out there. From a culinary point of view there are several that are more than worth the their place in the kitchen, but there is one in particular that stands out as ‘best of the rest’.

Boletus edulisSo let’s get it’s name sorted out. Most people will definitely recognise common/local names, a couple of which are not English in origin. Our common tongue has described this as the ‘Penny Bun’ for obvious reasons (although probably not to todays generation), many also know it as the Cep (French) but then most cooks and chefs will often know it from it’s Italian translation as the ‘Porcini mushroom’. But at the end of the day, science has kept things in order, strictly labeling it as Boletus edulis – the latin name ‘edulis’ simply meaning ‘edible’. Very apt, as usual.

Excluding Truffles, the Cep (as I’ll call it from now on) is one of the most highly prized edible finds, especially in mainland Europe. Some foragers only have this one mushroom on their list, such is their passion for it.

It is a very distinctive looking mushroom with it’s stout, chunky stem and small ‘out of proportion’ cap (common to younger examples – shown opposite). They can sometimes pop up in abundance or smaller groups, but are often solitary near/under broad-leaved and coniferous trees.

The picking season can be as early as June or July, but often show up from August to September. With this year’s season being mostly dry, only November has been reliable in dishing out the goods – for me this year anyway!

Young specimens are usually favoured over older specimens (often maggot-ridden) and will be cooked or pickled whole, or even dried for later consumption. They freeze extremely well too.

The pores in older ‘middle-aged’ specimens change from white to a dull yellow-green colour (as the spores are olive green/brown). The tubes are usually removed and the cap is thinly sliced along with the stem (peeled first) to add to the pan. Overall, it’s good to know there are many ways to store, cook and eat this mushroom. I’m no top chef , but there’s lots of ideas out there. A great selection of recipes with the cep mushroom can be found on the BBC website here.

There are a couple of edible ‘look-a-likes’ often confused with the Cep, such as the The Dark Cep (Boletus aereus) and maybe the Bay Bolete (Boletus badius). But beware the Bitter Bolete (Tylopilus felleus) with a dark network on its stem. Although not posionous, it’s a recipe for disaster when served up at dinner time. As the name suggests it has a very bitter, unpleasant taste.

So a useful feature to note in identifying the Cep is looking for the raised ‘white’ network/pattern on the stem (reticulation) as shown in the picture below. None of those mentioned above share this feature.

Good hunting…

The Cep

What a difference! A large middle aged/mature specimen next to a younger example. Notice the ‘white’ raised network on the stem and how the pores age ‘yellow/green’ compared to the paler white colour of younger ones.

Boletus edulis Mushroom UK

A young, perfectly from Cep mushroom discovered in Leicestershire UK – open grassland near woodland.

QUICK ID TABLE: CEP Boletus edulis

CAP / FLESH

8-25cm across. Brown. White line at margin of cap. Smooth and dry becoming greasy. Viscid in wet weather. Flesh is white (flushed dingy yellow or vinaceous in the cap).

STEM

3-23cm x 3-8cm. Often swollen at base. Pale with white network covering the stem.

PORES / TUBES / SPORE PRINT

Pores are small and round, initially white; ageing yellow, then greenish-yellow. Tubes are white, becoming grey-yellow.
Spore Print: Olivaceous walnut-brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In coniferous, broadleaved or mixed woods. Summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Excellent.

The Genus BOLETUS (the Boletes): Characteristics to look out for:

• Have pores (open ends of tubes) on the underside instead of gills. Easily separated from the cap.
• Most have dry caps (viscid when wet – but not glutinous like Suillus genus).
• Most have reticulation on the stem; a fine network covering parts or all of the stem. Make note of the colour.
• When cut or bruised take note of any changes in colour to the flesh or pores.

Tree slippers – The Giant Polypore

Walking along a woodland path, the adjacent foliage was heavily overgrown. But something still caught the corner of my eye at the base of a large oak tree. At first, I thought people had left some rubbish, considering the size, but as I removed the overgrowth (receiving many lovely nettle stings!) the picture became clearer.

Meripilus giganteusThis was indeed a Giant Polypore (Meripilus giganteus or Polyporus giganteus) occupying a good half of the tree’s circumference. Older parts on one side and younger ‘new’ born’ specimens emerging on the other.

A common mistake would be to confuse this bracket fungus with Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa) but on comparing notes, you’ll realise that these things are just too damn big! And the ones featured here will grow bigger still.

The fruiting bodies of this Polypore branch out in clumps. Each clump shares the same short and chunky stem, at the end of which are numerous fan-shaped caps ranging in size from 40 – 90cm in diametre, but are relatively thin compared to this width. They’re quite tough (but flexible) to prize away from the central stem, so a good sharp knife is in order!

Apart from their large size, the caps have reliable and distinctive markings. Their light brown ‘overall’ colour (which darkens with age) display several concentric, light/dark zones. On closer inspection you’ll see a layer of very fine brown scales. The edges are fanned or rosette-like and slightly grooved.

The Giant Polypore might not be as tasty as Chicken of the Woods but it is edible. It does smell quite nice but can taste quite bitter. But just like the Beefsteak Fungus, there maybe be a cooking preparation method to make this taste alot better. I haven’t tried myself, but it’s worth a go I think.

Keep a look out for these beauties this autumn. They can be found at the base of (mainly) beech or oak trees (or nearby, emerging from the underground roots) and sometimes on stumps. If you do take some samples you’ll notice after time the pores on the underside turn blackish where touched or bruised. Although unsightly, I don’t believe this affects the final taste, if prepared like the Fistulina hepatica for example.

Polyporus giganteus. Giant Polypore

The Giant Polypore – Older specimens appear darker brown (top) while younger ones are a lighter shade (bottom). Note the pure white pores underneath (middle) showing a much younger specimen on the right.

QUICK ID TABLE: GIANT POLYPORE Meripilus giganteus / Polyporus giganteus

FRUITING BODY

50-80cm across. Made up of rosette formations with short stems fusing at a common base. Each of the fan shaped caps range from 10-30cm across / 1-2cm thick. Upper surface concentrically zoned light and darker brown. Covered in fine brown scales; radially grooved. Flesh is white, soft and fibrous.

STEM

See above.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

Late in forming; 3-4mm, sub circular shape. White(ish) bruising blackish.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

At the base of deciduous trees or stumps; mainly beech or oak. Can grow from roots of tree away from trunk appearing indepent of tree.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Can be bitter.

The Genus POLYPORUS & Related (Polypores etc): Characteristics to look out for:

• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills underside.
• Usually tough or hard and woody. Some are softer and edible.
• Many are perennial or annual
.

Two Toned Treat – The Sheathed Woodtuft

Here we have a fairly common and sought after tasty mushroom for this time of the year. It likes to grow in dense clusters on stray stumps and logs of broad-leaved trees – Just like many other brown toadstools too! Hmm!?

Velvet ToughshankThe Sheathed Woodtuft (Kuehneromyces mutabilis) has also adopted other common names, such as Velvet Toughshank, Brown Stew Fungus and Two-toned Pholiota, even though it is not strictly a Pholiota species. But I have seen it named as ‘Pholiota mutabilis’ somewhere else. It just goes to show that scientific names change from time to time as the scientific knowledge of fungi continually advances.

And talking of scientific names ‘mutabilis’ literally means ‘changeable’ in latin. A good choice of name I think, because the caps of this mushroom which are ‘shiny and brown’ (even orange-brown – see last pictures below) when moist can change to paler ochre from the centre outwards as it dries. This gives them the characteristic two-toned appearance.

On discovering any type of brown mushrooms on dead wood, most people become instantly suspicious. I don’t blame them at all. Unless you are familiar with other brown woodland species, identification can be a challenge. It has been known to be confused with Honey Fungus, Velvet Shank and Sulphur Tuft all of which grow in similar numbers on dead wood and share certain visual characteristics.

The main identification concern here though is the deadly Funeral Bell (Galerina marginata). Nature has thrown this one into the mix just to annoy and terrify the average mushroom hunter. I don’t currently have any images to show, but if you look elsewhere you’ll see what I mean. The cap can look frighteningly similar in size and shape and also dries lighter brown at the centre (again, depending on moisture level). Fortunately, one reliable comparison is that it has a ‘smooth and silvery’ stem, whereas the Sheathed Woodtuft’s brown scales (beneath the ring) are unmistakable.

Other features such as location, time of year, gills and spore print are not effectively reliable for comparison. So it goes without saying that if you intend to eat them, take extra care in the identification process. If you’re 100% happy just try a small portion first, leave it 24 hours to see how you go, just like you should with all mushrooms you eat for the first time. There’s always a small possibility of an allergic reaction, but fear not, for if it is the Sheathed Woodtuft, it won’t kill you!

I have to admit, the general appearance of this mushroom hasn’t inspired me to eat it, but apparently it is known to be very good with a pleasant nutty taste. But I’m willing to give it a go soon. I think!

Keuehneromyces mutabilis

In groups on logs and stumps in woodland the Sheathed Woodtuft (Keuehneromyces mutabilis). Notice the scales beneath the ring on the stem. This feature is NOT on the similar and deadly Funeral Bell (Galerina marginata)

A slightly younger and fresher group of Sheathed Woodtufts, much more Orange/Ochre in colour.

QUICK ID TABLE: SHEATHED WOODTUFT / BROWN STEW FUNGUS Kuehneromyces mutabilis

CAP / FLESH

3-7cm across. Initially convex shape then flattenned out; often umbonate (with a small bump). Orange-brown to brown. Becomes lighter in the centre as it dries, giving a two-toned colour effect.

STEM

3-8cm x 0.5-1cm. Whitish at the apex, darker towards the base. Smooth above the ring, finely scaly below.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnexed. initially pale then later cinnamon-brown.
Spore Print: Deep yellow-brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In dense clusters on stumps and standing/fallen trunks of deciduous trees. In many numbers. Spring to early winter

EDIBILITY

Edible and good. Take care not to confuse with Galerina marginata (The Funeral Bell) a deadly lookalike; focus on the stem differences.

It’s Miller time!

There’s a small stretch of coniferous woodland close to where I live, and over the years I have never seen such a variation of mushrooms, toadstools and fungi in such a relatively small place. Great stuff!

Clitopilus prunulusAnd today was no disappointment either. Poking out of above the leaves in a small clearing were the caps of a small group of Miller mushrooms (Clitopilus prunulus).

This was the first time I’d seen them here and I needed to check all characteristics of this wonderfully edible mushroom (as I always do) but especially this time as they were very close to the woodland/grassland border. The poisonous Fool’s Funnel (Clitocybe rivulosa) – a grassland species – is a sinister looking double for our tasty Miller mushroom.

The Miller has a pink spore print, so I also needed to be aware of confusion with other poisonous species with the same feature. For example, the Livid Pinkgill (Entoloma sinuatum), although not looking too similar, is quite an unpleasant toadstool.

The main identification markers were all there (see ID table below) – the size, the wavy irregular shape, the soft leathery (kid glove) texture, decurrent gills (that came away easily from the stem and cap), and of course the strong floury (mealy), raw pastry odour were all unmistakable.

The gills of this mushroom are initially white, then change to a mild pink colour as they mature (hence the pink spore print mentioned earlier). But to be on the safe side, I would always recommend you take a spore print (see how to make a spore print), just as I did, to doubly make sure.

Unfortunately these beauties were being systematically killed off inside from larvae infestation. They started at the base, munched up the stem and into the cap. I’m not sure if this killed off the spores developing properly or all spores had been shed (which I’m not convinced about), but not even a single spore had dropped to make any kind of print. Needless to say, I didn’t eat them, but then I couldn’t anyway – maggot munchies anyone!?

There should be more elsewhere or on the way soon. They can be found in small groups, and interestingly have some biological link with Ceps (Boletus edulis), so take a look around to see if there are any nearby. Good luck…

Miller mushroom - Clitopilus prunulus

The Miller (Clitopilus prunulus). Notice the wavy, irregular shape of the cap.

QUICK ID TABLE: THE MILLER Clitopilus prunulus

CAP / FLESH

3-10cm across. Convex then irregular and wavy. Soft leather feel. Inrolled margin. White to cream in colour.

STEM

1.5cm x 0.4-1.2cm. Same colour as cap. Usually off-centre attachment to cap.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Decurrent. White then pink. Easily removed.
Spore Print: Pink (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Grass in open woodland. Summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible and good.

Bay watch! The Bay Bolete

The summer days so far have been a concoction of showery spells, the odd storm and quite a few blazing hot stretches. So even though it has been drier out there in the woods I still venture out. And today I was happy to find a great Bolete specimen.

Boletus badiusThe Bay Bolete (Imleria badia, previously Boletus badius) is one of the more common Boletes and fortunately one of the more tasty ones too. It can be found in all kinds of mixed woodland and has a season from July to November. So I was extra to happy to find one relatively early in the season.

Confusion with Cep or Penny Bun (Boletus edulus) and even the Suede Bolete (Boletus subtomentosus) is understandable, but the Cep’s pores do not turn blue/green on handling. The Suede Bolete does have blueing, but the velvety feel of the cap differs to the smoothness of the Bay Bolete.

Appearances (especially in size) can differ greatly from one Bay Bolete to another – Where they grow is one factor to consider. At first glance they look uncannily like Ceps when growing amongst pine needles on the woodland floor. When found growing in tall grass, they tend to have thinner and/or longer stems (and sometimes a slightly viscid cap) – just like this one here…

The cap can range in size from 4 – 14cm in width, the specimen shown here was roughly 11cm and was a lovely ochre brown colour, smooth to the touch but slightly sticky when wet. It’s stem which is streaked with the same colour as the cap, is cylindrical and smooth. It can grow up to 12.5cm and the thickness can range from 0.8 – 4cm.

Don’t miss out on the chance to grab a few as they’re great mushrooms to eat. It has a pleasant mushroom-like taste (smells mildly mushroomy too), and are especially more palatable when younger as the flesh is firmer. They are also good for drying too.

I’m sure more and more will pop up as the mushroom season starts to kick in. Enjoy…

Boletus badius - Imleria badia

The Bay Bolete – Notice the blue brusing on the pores when handled, and the slight blueing in flesh just above the tubes when cut in half.

Bay Bolete ID

The Genus BOLETUS (the Boletes): Characteristics to look out for:

• Have pores (open ends of tubes) on the underside instead of gills. Easily separated from the cap.
• Most have dry caps (viscid when wet – but not glutinous like Suillus genus).
• Most have reticulation on the stem; a fine network covering parts or all of the stem. Make note of the colour.
• When cut or bruised take note of any changes in colour to the flesh or pores.

Boletus badius

This Bay Bolete is growing in the middle of the woods. Notice the shorter/thicker stem.

Dry Saddle for the nymph! Dryads Saddle

Well – it’s been the driest spring we’ve had since records began! That probably explains why I haven’t had much luck in finding some good edible spring mushrooms up for offer! But I did stumble across some large edible beauties today – unfortunately I found them too late. They were past their prime and had dried out quite a bit due to old age and the dry weather. Curses!

Large Polypore mushroomEven in this condition, they were still good examples of Dryads Saddle (Cerioporus squamosus / Polyporus squamosus) – a polypore mushroom which can grow quite large indeed as you can see from the photos. All polypores (bracket fungus growing on trees) have ‘pores’ instead of gills where the spores disperse from.

This species is a parasite (and/or Saprotroph which feeds off decaying matter) on deciduous trees such as elm, beech and sycamore causing severe ‘white rot’. They burst into life in late spring/early summer and can be found on stumps as well as living trees growing in clusters or singularly. Although edible, only young specimens are worth taking and don’t really taste that great anyway. Which is a shame because of their ample size even when younger.

Apart from it’s large dimensions (cap up to 60cm accross and stem up to 7cm) other identifiable characteristics are the brown scales which are spread in a semicircular pattern accross the ochre-yellow cap, the flesh of which is relatively thin. As shown in these pictures, once past it’s prime, the mushroom soon deteriorates, becoming very dry (especially helped along by this hot weather!) and infested with insects. Urgh! But nevertheless they are a great site to behold when in a large group.

There are many old folklore stories behind mushrooms describing how they acquired their common names (sometimes several stories from several countries), and this one does not disappoint in originality. The ‘Saddle’ element derives from the shape of the cap which can sometimes resemble a horses saddle. The word Dryad means ‘Tree nymph’ in Greek mythology. I find myself imagining what the Dryads horse looks like!

Cerioporus squamosus

Drying up! Once past their prime, These polypores soon dry up and waste away. How the mighty have fallen!

In contrast to these older specimens, take a look at this very young specimen I found only a few weeks later. This little beauty is only 2 inches long. I left it to grow and I’m guessing it won’t grow that large anyway due to the fact there were older, dying fruit bodies near by – around 4-6 inches in size.

Dryads Saddle - Young

A young Dryads Saddle.

See the extra ID notes below in helping identify this fine mushroom, notably how the stem is blackish towards the base. Hope you find some too soon, this is the season…

ID Notes - Dryads Saddle (Polyporus squamosus)

The Genus POLYPORUS & Related: Characteristics to look out for:

• Nearly all are bracket fungi, but a few are with typical cap and stem but with pores instead of gills underside.
• Usually tough or hard and woody. Some are softer and edible.
• Many are perennial or annual
.

Winter’s bounty – Velvet Shank

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 Velvet 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

Snow patrol – Wood Blewit

The last week or two has produced some amazing seasonal snow. The media has confirmed this is the earliest heavy snowfall since the dawn of time or some other scare-mongering weird world event! It’s Winter, it’s snow, it happens (no chips on my shoulder)! But fortunately being in the centre of the country we don’t really get the worst of it.

Wood BlewitAnyway, after some of the heavier snow had subsided and made the roads a little safer, I ventured out to Martinshaw Woods near Ratby in Leicestershire. I’ve heard from other people and from my own experience that Wood Blewits (Clitocybe nuda / Lepista nuda) are quite common there, and being persistent even during heavy frost I thought I’d take my chances.

I was pushing my luck in the snow but I did find some mushrooms clinging on to life in the clearer areas of the woods. Eventually I found this solitary Wood Blewit, nearly missing it with its white snowy hat against a white snowy background disguise!

This mushroom is quite unmistakable in appearance although there are a some Webcaps sharing similar features. Look out for web-like fibres on the stem that were initially connected to the cap edge when young. If unsure, take a spore print. The Webcaps have a dark rusty brown spore print as opposed to the pale pink of the Blewits. In fact, I had an issue with this spore print business. Although pale, the print really looked more very light brown than pink. Take a look from last years post on Wood Blewits.

The Wood Blewit is commonly called Blue Hat or Blue Cap, but some people still call it a Blue-leg (the Field Blewit)! Well, that’s understandable I guess. The Wood Blewit, when younger, has a more blue-violet tint about it’s cap (Blue-Hat), but this fades over time to a paler brown colour. The gills share this trait – they remain lilac-blue for a while until fading to buff. The fibrous stem retains it’s unmistakable blue-violet streaks, hence people choosing to call it a Blue-leg.

So Field Blewits and Wood Blewits are very similar indeed and to get them mixed up, apart from their environment they’re in, is understandable. The Field Blewits cap is always pallid to dirty brown. It’s actually tastier than our Wood dwelling friend but unfortunately less frequent. It can be found in pasture land, and most recently for me, in someones grassy garden!

One thing to remember with Blewits is that some people can have an allergic reaction to them. People recommend Par boiling them first or generally cooking them ‘thoroughly’, as I do. Fortunately I’m OK with them. They are nice to eat and they do need a longer cooking time I think because they are a little tough. I like the texture to be half way between solid and soft! But because of their texture they’re good for pickling. I haven’t tried that yet but I’ll let you know when I do.

Wood Blewit mushroom in Winter

Wood Blewit alone in the snow

Wood Blewit

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!).

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. (How to make a mushroom spore print).

Amethyst Deceiver - Lilac/purple gillsI’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.

Flaming colour – The Charcoal Burner

This is a fine and sturdy mushroom of the woods and one of my favourites, both aesthetically and palatably. Although very common indeed from summer through to autumn, I haven’t seen as many as I would have liked so far. But it’s still early autumn and I do get impatient!

The usual haunting ground for the Charcoal Burner (Russula cyanoxantha) is in broad leaved woods, mainly with beech. It is part of the very large family of Russulas (there are 200+ in Britain alone) with the majority of well known ones having yellow, blue and green variations in colour.

The Charcoal BurnerThe Charcoal Burner gets it’s common name from the range of colours visible on it’s sturdy, fleshy cap – like the colours of a charcoal flame. Sometimes it can be one colour but often it can be variable. There’s often a mixture of blue and yellow, and in this case, with strong hues of violet and a pinch of blue/grey (you can also get browns and greens going on. This mushroom likes to show off!). The latin name cyanoxantha defines the blue and yellow colours.

This Russula is from a group known as the Brittlegills, and as the name suggests, their gills are very brittle and tend to crumble and break when you touch them. But identification-wise, mushrooms always like to move the goal posts! Because in this case the white gills are not brittle, but in fact quite flexible. What can I say? It’s a rebel Russula and likes to break the rules!

Although quite large, with the cap growing up to 12cm and it’s stem a up to 8cm and 3cm thick, it’s still easy to pass by. Depending on what angle you are coming from you can easily waltz by it. The cap colour is very good camouflage against the woodland floor. So keep a sharp eye out. I always tend to find these beauties growing nearby the Common Yellow Russula (or the Common Yellow Brittlegill (Russula ochroleuca)) They are of a similar size and have an ochre yellow cap, and not as tasty as our Charcoal Burner.

One thing I have to say about Brittlegills, or more so – about slugs, is that the latter do really enjoy a nibble, and I mean a nibble. I think the slugs prefer the yellow and green species because it’s not often I find one in pristine condition. They are, at some stage or another, left mutilated by those hungry slime bugs! Still, it’s as much their find as it is mine! They do have a head start by living there though – and that’s just not fair!

Charcoal Burner

Purple/blue/yellow cap – thick white stem and white gills which are sometimes forked.

Charcoal Burner. Russula Identification.

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!).

Rare, Medium or Well Done? – Beef Steak Fungus

It’s a comical sight and nice surprise when you first come across an oak tree sticking it’s pinky red tongue out at you! It’s happened to me a few times and I seem to be getting use to it.

This is the common Beef Steak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica) found during late summer and autumn. It’s a parasitic species usually found at the base of oak trees and sometimes horse chestnut. It definitely looks freaky when younger, it’s fleshy protrusion almost exactly mimicking the tongue of an Ox!

The colour initially is pinkish then getting redder and finally brown with age. You must get touchy-feely with a younger specimen because it has a spooky ‘flesh’ like feel, maybe even a little rubbery. The surface even has the warty tongue taste buds on! The pale yellow pores on the underside which age red-brown sometimes leak a blood-red juice. This also adds to the overall wierdness of this critter. Marvellous stuff.

The common ‘Beef Steak’ definition naturally refers to the flesh which resembles raw steak. And I know what your asking, and the answer is no! It doesn’t taste like beef steak. It is edible though but can be quite bitter (younger ones more so). You can simmer it or soak it in milk for a day to help reduce this bitterness. I intend to try it very soon and will hopefully mention in a later post. There is no worry in identification. There’s nothing out there that even gets close to resembling our ‘beefy’!

Beef Steak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)

A young example of a Beef Steak Fungus resembling a pink-red tongue!

One last snippet of trivia for you – this fungus can cause ‘brown rot’ in the infected tree, which in turn makes for a very sought after kind of timber. In the furniture industry it is named ‘brown oak’ and is in much demand. It is richer brown in colour to normal uninfected oak. Sometimes only slightly infected trees can create a ‘striped’ pattern in the wood – a mixture of light and dark.

The photos shown above are of a young individual. All the other shots I have of previous encounters have been munched to pieces by the local, and very hungry insect mobs. The older the fungus gets, the tougher the consistency. Colour also changes from an orange-red through to a purple-brown.

Older Beef Steak Fungus

As the Red flesh of the Beef Steak Fungus grows older it will be deeper red in colour and may lose some of it’s surface texture due to weather and insect/animal interference.

White balls in the Wood! – Common Puffball

A few days earlier I had found the lovely Meadow Puffball, and now after a visit to the woods I find a nice collective group of Common Puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum).

They’re mainly found in groups growing on the ground in open woodland among leaf litter, and sometimes in pastures. These particular puffballs were found at the edge of the car park growing in the soil. It was a pleasant surprise and added bonus as I made my way back to my car. If you take time to look around further you may also see some earthballs hanging around too – although they’re not really good eats at all!

Common PuffballIf you find these young beauties before they open up and release their spores, gently prize one out of the ground. Laying it down you will see that it has an ‘up-side-down pear’ shape. The main upper fruit body is rounded and the narrower lower part tapers off slightly. Some specimens can grow quite large up from the ground and some appear smaller with the thinner, lower body (stem, if you like) obscured from view, showing just a ‘ball’ shape.

The texture is very distinctive for identifying this fungus. There are many small nodules covering the surface with larger conical/pointed spikes spread uniformly across it’s surface.

The young specimen will be white with these light-brown spikes. Inside will be nice and white too. They’re quite nice to eat, usually sliced and fried up with an omelette or whatever you fancy. Problem is though, the skin can be a little tough so you must have the patience in peeling!

As it grows older the colour changes to a dull brown and a hole at the top opens up to release it’s spores. Raindrops, wind or movement from a passing animal cause the open sack to ‘puff’ out its contents in a fine cloud of brown powder. If you ever see one lying around in this state (and it isn’t yet empty), give it a little tap with your finger. Pooof! Great fun – even if a little short lived.

One little note I think I ought to make. Small white ball or ‘egg-shaped’ fungi can also be other poisonous toadstools in early development. For example the Death Cap starts life in a small white egg sack. I know it’s a little different to our young Common Puffball, but it’s just something to bear in mind. Be safe out there kids!

P.S. Also see – The Spiny Puffball and the Meadow Puffball.

Common Puffball

Young, white Common Puffballs growing amongst leaf litter in and around Woodland

Large white Puffballs

Larger examples of the Common Puffball – growing up to 9cm high

The PUFFBALLS/EARTHBALLS & ALLIES (Stomach fungi): Characteristics to look out for:

• Main fruting body is ball shaped, irregular or pedicel shaped. Broken or split at maturity to release spores
• Interior of fruiting body full of gleba (spores); solid when young, as a powder at maturity.
• Often small or no visible stem.

A Royal Treat – The Prince Mushroom

Many mushrooms littering the floor in woodlands this autumn can be easily camouflaged, and hence, easily passed by. But in this case it’s very hard to miss this marvellous and very tasty woodland (mostly with conifers) mushroom.

The Prince (Agaricus augustus) earned it’s name (both common and latin) from the Roman emperor. This was his favourite mushroom, and I can’t blame him really.

Prince Mushroom - youngInitially I had confused this mushroom with a typical brown wood mushroom which is understandable. They’re very similar in looks but it’s the sheer size that gives it away. The Prince mushroom mainly can have a cap diametre of up to 20cm. The brown wood mushroom only grows to about 9cm. The largest of the specimens I’d found were in excess of 12cm or more – the maximum size was around the 15cm mark.

They’re quite pretty to look at too. The cap is covered with small chestnut-brown fibrous scales and the top remains as a more solid nutty brown colour. Again, this can add confusion in identification, as it’s been known to be mistaken for a Parasol mushroom, but it doesn’t grow as tall and the gills are white coloured.

The picture above shows a small group of particularly young Prince’s. From very young, they are quite ovoid or elliptical (or should I just say egg-shaped!) but as they grow they expand to form a large convex cap.

Other tips to identifying this grand mushroom is it’s smell. It dishes out a pleasant odour of almonds – pleasant that is if you like the smell of almonds! The ring on the stem is white an is (or can be) large and pendulous (depending on the age at which you find it). Unfortunately my find had been bashed and maimed at the side of the coniferous woodland path, so vital body parts had been damaged and bashed away!

I was going to eat my find, but suddenly had second thoughts as they grew near the edge of the path. A path which I know frequents incontinent dogs and their careless owners. No chips on my shoulder eh!?

The Prince - Edible Woodland Mushroom

A young unopened cap and the ‘knocked off!’ caps of the large fully grown mushroom

The Prince Mushroom

Another young unopened prince mushroom

The Genus AGARICUS (Wood Mushrooms/Mushrooms): Characteristics to look out for:

• Many discolour yellowish, reddish or pinkish when cut or bruised.
• Those that discolour bright/chrome yellow should be avoided for consumption.
• Gills in young specimens are often pink (white in a few) – maturing darker brown.
• Make note of any smells, such as aniseed or a typical strong ‘supermarket’ mushroom smell.

Late Summer brings out the Parasol mushrooms

It’s a great time of year to start going out foraging more often. It’s late summer with a good portion of rain to get things going. And Autumn is not too far away just round the corner. Many different species start to pop out and show their faces. The problem is though I do tend to get covered in insect bites that itch like crazy!

Besides these problems, I was fortunate enough to find two different Parasols not too far away from each other in and around my local park. The Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) and the Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes – formerly Macrolepiota rhacodes). When I first published this post, the Parasols were both from the genus Lepiota, representing the larger specimens in this group. The name ‘Dappering’ is also used to label the majority of this species, but now the Shaggy Parasol has been chosen to stay in the Chlorophyllum genus.

The Parasol mushroom (M.procera) is fairly common and I found this one on the edge of parkland in thick grass (shared with nettles that added to my stings). It’s a mushroom you can’t really miss – standing their tall and proud shouting out it’s presence to the world. It was a solitary soul but sometimes you can find small and large groups of them together.

Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera)

Note the Parasol mushroom’s distinctive central brown ‘bump’ and snake scale pattern on the stem

As the common name suggests, the open cap mimics the familiar shape of a parasol. When young, the cap is egg shaped and flattens out when it expands. The cap is a pale buff to white/creamy/brown colour with darker brown shaggy scales. Notably, it has a prominent bump on the top in the centre (umbo).

It’s long slender stem (slightly thicker near the base) has scaly snakeskin markings with a large (double) ring which can be moved up and down. Great fun. This scaly snakeskin appearance on the stem that helps in identifying it from a Shaggy Parasol which does not share this characteristic. Also note the smell, which is very distinctive (like ‘warm-milk as I’ve seen it written somewhere). The Shaggy Parasol on the other hand has no real strong smell at all.

This is an excellent mushroom to eat. Generally good as a fry up but I’ve heard they’re great deep-fried with dipping sauce on the side. Yum!

A few days before I had found myself a Shaggy Parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacodes) located on a patch of grass in the conifer wood close to the park (can also be found in grass gardens and shrubberies). It was kindly but indirectly pointed out to me by a passing little boy, shouting ‘MUSHROOM!’ to his mother who was very uninterested and replied ‘Don’t touch!’ Very wise words indeed – just leave it there – leave it for me (heh heh)!

Shaggy Parasol (Macrolepiota rhacodes)

Shaggy Parasol: Distinctive brown scales curling away from the white cap & thick bulbous base of stem. Notice the small compact shape of a younger specimen. (Locations: Front grass garden and conifer wood).

The rounded white cap (expanding to almost flat with age) has brown scales on top that curve upwards and out giving it a shaggy, torn appearance. The stem at the base is thick and rounded unlike the Shaggy Parasol which isn’t as bulbous.

This shaggy mushroom can be easily mistaken for the Parasol which is understandable. Good tips on how to identify this mushroom over the Parasol are the thicker, stockier appearance, no ‘snake-skin’ pattern on the stem and last but not least it’s colouring when bruised. If fresh, the stem and gills will bruise reddish-brown. Older specimens will have these reddish-brown tints appear naturally.

Edibilty-wise, this can be a very nice treat indeed – for some that is! It must be cooked, but it can disagree with some people and cause digestive upset or even a skin rash. It’s always best to try a little first and see how you go.

One last word of warning though – Never pick smaller sized parasols, or what appear to be parasols. You may by mistake obtain one of the smaller species of Lepiota (Dapperlings) which look like smaller versions of Parasols (around 7cm or less in diametre). Some of these are very poisonous and will cause you some serious grief. So, as a good rule with Parasol mushrooms only pick ones that are at least 12cm in diameter.

Update: North American poisonous lookalike:
As mentioned in the comments below (Nov 7, 2017), I thought it wise to mention the Green Spored Parasol (or False Parasol); Chlorophyllum molybdites, which is predominately most common in North America and causes gastrointestinal poisoning; such as diarrhea and/or vomiting a few hours after consumption. As of 2009 there has only been one record in the UK and I believe it may be still quite rare here. It looks very similar to edible Parasols (especially the Shaggy Parasol), but lacks the snakeskin pattern on the stem and has coarser cap scales. Fortunately a simple spore print test will reveal green spores. The gills, initially white often turn darker/greener with age.

Jelly and Ice (no cream) – Jelly Ear or Jews Ear

I’m still out there in the freezing cold, treading on the ice crusted mud and woodland grass in search of any of those winter treats still hanging around on the old dead wood. And I also need a change from mince pies, turkey, wine etc… and pretend I’m losing a few pounds in the process.

I was oJelley Ear Fungus on the side of a treeut in one of the National Forest woods, closest to where I live. It had to be close as I was on the motorbike and had to make the journey short. After all, it was ‘zero’ degrees celcius!

Initially I was looking for any signs of Oyster mushrooms. I know they’re around pretty much all year, but I need to find out more of where that is!

Instead I stumbled across (nearly literally) a modest collection of Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) or Jew’s Ear. They are genuinely funky in appearance, and absolutely great to touch, almost like a mixture between silk and rubber! However, it was so cold that some had completely frozen solid with some only half frozen. I quickly took some snaps to show the ice and ear together.

They’re around most of the year and grow on living and dead wood, mainly elder but also with beech and sycamore.

They are edible but not full of flavour. I didn’t pick any of them at this time, but I’m interested to know if anyone has any interesting recipes to use with them. I believe they are used extensively in Chinese cooking – broths and soups etc. generally to add substance rather than for added taste.

Update Feb 2014:
Since I received a recent comment from a blog follower mentioning the health benefits of this particular fungus, I had to check it out. It’s fascinating to see how many vitamins and minerals it possesses. It really is a super food! To see the health benefits of the Jelly Ear, click here.

Jelly Ear Fungas

Jelly Ear feeling the ice cold of January

Blue Hats for Winter – The Wood Blewit

This post was inspired by overhearing a conversation at my local pub where they raved on about a local guy who knew where the ‘Blue Legs’ were at! He had bags of them for sale! I naturally assumed they meant ‘Blewits’. Only later I have realised ‘Blue Legs’ are a common name given to ‘Field Blewits’ which are much less common than our Wood Blewits in question, which has the common name of ‘Blue Cap’. Often I have seen people get them mixed up, so this makes you appreciate the relevance of scientific ‘latin’ names. The scientific names make sense overall (even though they tend to change and move around as scientific understanding evolves).

Winter was making itself felt as it’s cold arm stretched across the land. But one lazy Sunday afternoon at the end of November, I dragged myself over to the local mushroom hangouts. Being south side of a major city you’re a little stuck for local woodland. Blaby on the other hand (South Leicester) comes up with the goods. We have a collection of mini public woodland and country byways. They’re all great because at one point or another they eventually end up at the local pub! Or is that my doing?

Anyway. For a casual stroll, I was surprised to come across quite a few lovely specimens. Three of them I’m still not sure about and still checking. But today I came across a solitary ‘Wood Blewit’ (Clitocybe/Lepista nuda). You’ll maybe notice I have filed this post both under ‘Identity Crisis’ AND ‘Woodland Treats’ categories. All the identification characteristics were there: The colour, the presence of a wavy margin and also it being a stand alone species, living on dead organic matter (saprotrophs). When picking them you’ll notice the the woodland floor wants to come with them too! Another tell tale ID sign. As looks can be deceiving, be aware of mistaking it for one of the ‘Webcaps’. A spore print (see how here) can help solve this issue.

See the pics below. I know they’re not of the best quality as I was bloody cold and didn’t have time to get the best results!

Wood Blewit, Blue Leg or Blue Hat

The blue (purple/violet) colours of the Wood Blewit mushroom

In fact, the first time I had taken a spore print of the Blewit, I was very unconvinced about the pale pink (or pale lilac) colour that was to be expected. It seemed to look like a very light brown!

But after some extra professional advice I was comforted in the fact that this was an understandable concern and that Webcaps have a very distinct ‘rust brown colour’ – which is good to know…

(Note: See my other ‘snow covered’ post on the Wood Blewit).

Clouded judgement – The Clouded Agaric

This post is placed in two categories; setting it in ‘Tales of Toadstools’ and ‘Woodland Treats’ due to its mixed acceptance in edibility, so it may not be much of a ‘woodland treat’ for everyone out there.

Clouded Agaric (Clitocybe nebularis)It’s one of those ‘they’re everywhere’ mushrooms in autumn, definitely around Leicestershire anyway. Their appearance can be really quite dull, but depending on their age, the Clouded Agaric (Clitocybe nebularis) can vary in medium to very large in size (up to 20cm) and often grow in huge rings or groups in deciduous or conifer woodland. They’ve always have a place in my heart because they were my first mushroom hunting discovery and ID case. Just shows how ‘common as muck’ they are! Very common that is, from late summer to late autumn.

The common name comes from the appearnce of the cloudy white/grey coloured cap (sometimes with a hint of light brown) which is always darker at the centre. The shape of the cap is initially domed, then flattened and later with a depressed centre. The margin can be smooth and round or even wavy and irregular. The whitish stem is often quite tall with a thick bulbous base, covered in fine white mycelium where woodland floor debris likes to cling to.

Being one of the Clitocybe genus (Funnels) the crowded whitish gills are always decurrent, that is, running down the stem, sometimes only slightly so.

Edibility-wise, they are recommended to be avoided, which I’m having a problem with. It seems such a waste. They’re large, juicy looking with loads of them about. The main reason being is that they can ‘disagree’ with some people and cause some bad stomach upset. Somebody must have tried to eat them, and what do they taste like? Was it worth it?

After a little net surfing I came across a great blog article covering this very subject. ‘Risky Eating’ was the title by the author Becky. She decided to take a chance and sample a small amount. Having no reaction after 24hours, she cooked up a lot of fungus and found it to be ‘really really tasty’ with a ‘strong flavour’. (See the full article here)

So, come Autumn again this year, I think I’ll have a taster and see if I’m OK with it. Because if I am, then wow, I’ll be spoilt for pickings. Here’s hoping!

Clouded Agaric Toadstool

The cloudy whiet/grey agaric often grows in rings or large groups in woodland. They are often quite large (15 – 20 cm diametre cap). Note the decurrent gills (left).

QUICK ID TABLE: CLOUDED AGARIC / CLOUDED FUNNEL Clitocybe nebularis

CAP / FLESH

8 – 20cm White/Grey sometimes with light brown hue. Initially convex, matures to flat and dip in centre. Inrolled margin. Margin sometimes wavy & irregular. Flesh is thick & white with strong sweetish smell.

STEM

5 – 12cm x 2 – 3 cm. Paler than cap. Swollen, thicker base. Woodland floor debris sticks to white mycellium at base. Becomes hollow and breaks easily.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White, crowded & decurrent. When older the colour has a yellowish hue.
Spore Print: Cream (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In deciduous and coniferous woodland on the floor amongst leaf and needle litter. In large groups or rings. Late summer – late autumn. Very common.

EDIBILITY

Edible. OK. May cause gastric upset. Cook a little first and test.

The Genus CLITOCYBE (Funnels): Characteristics to look out for:

• Caps are often ‘funnel’ shaped; sometimes with a central bump (umbo).
• Gills are decurrent; sometimes very deep down the stem.
• Possess strong; often distinctive smells such meal (fresh flour/grain or slightly cucumber-like) or aniseed.

Update (September 2010): Autumn came around again pretty sharpish and I harvested a few of these beauties. After I fried and tasted a small sample, I waited a good 12 – 24 hours and I was fine. No gastric upset (as this is all this mushroom can do at it’s worst!). My God, what a lovely flavour. I consider this to be the ‘poor mans’ Field Mushroom’ – it’s not as splendid in overall flavour and consistency, but by golly, it’s damn close. I tucked into a few with my usual Saturday morning fry-up. They are really nice. I shouldn’t be telling you this because you may get out there and harvest my crop!

But seriously – well worth a go, and if you find a good patch in a wood in a ring – you will be spoilt senseless. Just cut open the stem to check for any maggot infestation – unfortunately they love it also!

See my latest pictures below. Some are younger and perfectly formed. As they grow older they get a ‘wavy’ margin (edge of cap).

Clouded Agaric pictures