Small and delicate mushrooms, toadstools and other fungi.

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.

Fickle & Twisted – The Deceiver

With a common name such as this, it’s understandable to be  a little suspicious of this small brown mushroom. In actual fact, it is perfectly safe and edible (although not much to write home about) but can be eaten none the less and they’re a very common site from late summer right through to early winter.

Laccaria laccataThe Deceiver (Laccaria laccata) or Laccies as they’re know in the USA I believe, will often be found in large scattered troops in woodland and heathland. They’re small and well disguised but when you first discover them, the odds are you may have trampled several already. Stopping to observe the surrounding area; they will seem to magically appear around you in their dozens!

The common name ‘Deceiver’ derives from their tendency to have extremely variable cap shapes and colouring, but as I’ll explain, most characteristics remain uniform and after a time you become accustomed to their subtle traits.

So, cap first, this is the variable part. Size, shape and colour can differ dramatically but from an early age they are convex and a rich orange-brown. They eventually flatten out often becoming distorted and wavy, usually developing a central depression. They’re also hygrophanous, meaning their colour (and the straitions at the margin) are affected depending on how hydrated they are. With a loss of moisture the caps become much paler in varying degrees (see images below) and the striations are not so prominent. So as you can understand, the different colours and shapes can cause some confusion in identification.

But the consistent features are their thick and widely spaced gills, quite distinctive for this genus; pinkish in colour, dusted with white spores when mature. The stem is similar in colour to the cap; tough/fibrous and often twisted or compressed. Again, this is a very distinctive and reliable feature. If the stems don’t appear this way, simply look around for more examples – there will plenty about.

There are several other Laccaria species out there, but L.laccata is by far the most common. You may have also come across a close ‘purple’ relative of the Deceiver, namely the Amethyst Deceiver, an exceptionally attractive little mushroom. See my post on it here.

Keep a look out for them this autumn /early winter time and try to avoid stepping on them at the same time, which is not as easy as it sounds!

Deceiver Mushrooms

The Deceiver has variable cap shapes and changeable colouring depending on moisture levels. It will fade in colour when dry, but will be rich brick-red when hydrated. Also notice the thick and widely spaced gills (bottom right).

QUICK ID TABLE: DECEIVER Laccaria laccata

CAP / FLESH

1.5-6cm across. Initially convex / tawny or orange-brown when young. Flattening with age, often wavy edge and depressed centre. Hygrophanous; fading colour as it dries, striations more prominent when hydrated. Flesh is thin, orange-brown.

STEM

5-10cm x 0.5-1cm. Similar colour to cap. Tough, fibrous and often compressed or twisted.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Pinkish. Relatively thick and widely spaced. Mature specimens show a dusting of white spores on the surface.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In woodland and on heaths, in trooping/scattered groups. Summer to early winter.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Not really worth it.

The Genus LACCARIA (Deceivers): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small, variable cap colours and shapes (often slightly scurfy).
• Relatively thick and widely spaced gills.
• Tough/pliable stems often covered with down.

Winter white tips of the Candlesnuff Fungus

Those winter walks through the countryside and woodlands as we know, can be very enjoyable and enjoyable. Cold and crisp yet invigorating and refreshing…

Candlesnuff FungusAnd at this time of year, several fungi will become more conspicuous. You should especially look out for the lovely and edible Oyster Mushrooms, Velvet Shanks and Wood Blewits. But there are many still out there with a mention, even if they are not destined for the cooking pot…

The Candle snuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) is one of these common and intriguing specimens. This member of the ‘flask’ fungi goes by several other common names, such as Stag’s Horn Fungus and Candlestick Fungus. I tend to avoid using the ‘Stag’s Horn’ name as it can cause confusion with the Common Yellow Staghorn, which is a completely different genus.

Widespread throughout the year and covering most of the UK, mainland Europe and North America, it often appears in clustered groups on dead/decaying wood such as deciduous stumps and branches (sometimes pine) and also causing root rot in hawthorn and gooseberry plants. It tends to follow on from other ‘wood rotter’ species that were previous residents of the substrate, such as the larger Honey Fungus and Sulphur Tuft mushrooms.

In late autumn and the winter months it is particularly more noticeable due to their white powdered tips. The young grey-white fruiting body initially appears as a small prong or spike growing out of the wood, standing between 2-5cm tall (up to 0.8cm in diametre). Over time it becomes flattened and twisted, developing several ‘antler like’ appendages. The base is black and finely downy.

Eventually in spring, the whole fungus becomes black as the inner sexual spore-bearing cells mature. I don’t want to get too scientific about it, but it’s just to let you know when and what changes occur throughout its life.

Glow in the dark

The mysterious ‘Candlesnuff’ name may be due to the fact that this is actually a bioluminescent fungus. The phosphorus contained in the mycelium reacts with oxygen and other chemicals in the fungus to produce a continual glow – just like the glow from a candle wick once extinguished maybe? Well that’s my theory anyway! But alas, this reaction is very weak and can only be seen in complete darkness with zero light pollution and a long photo exposure or using specialist imaging equipment. Never mind!

Keep an eye for them over the winter months – they are often in massed in glorious photogenic groups. It would be rude not to take a picture!

Candlesnuff Fungus images

The powdery white tips of the Candlesnuff Fungus are most prominent in late autumn and winter. This coating disappears to leave the antlers black as it matures in spring (bottom left image).

QUICK ID TABLE: CANDLESNUFF Xylaria hypoxylon

FRUITING BODY

Initially short and prong like, growing into antler like formations covered in fine white powder.

BASE

Black and finely felty.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

n/a

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead/decaying stumps and branches. All year. Mature & black in spring.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Tough, too small.

Tiny Trooper – The Collared Parachute

A trip to a relatively close wood nearby produced some interesting finds for me. Many of which were quite small – but always fascinating. And what with the recent hot weather and the odd overnight downpour, my path through the woodland was swarming with hundreds of mosquitos. I took quite a few bites home with me that day!

Collared ParachuteHowever, it was worth it eventually to find a small trooping group of Collared Parachutes (Marasmius rotula) just off the beaten path enjoying the conditions on some decaying wood.

Even when grouped together, they’re not that easy to spot as the cap only reaches up to 1.5cm across, but are usually slightly smaller. Once discovered though, you’ll notice their appearance is very unique. This Marasmius species is a prime example of displaying the ‘parachute-like’ shape of the cap.

Initially, the bright white cap is strongly convex and flattens out and often becomes duller with age. The distinctive ribbed surface however, keeps its shape. Mirrored underneath these ribs and grooves are the widely spaced white gills which are attached to a small central collar that is free from the stem – another distinctive feature of this species.

The stem is very thin and fragile but can be very long in relation to the size of the cap. At about 1mm thick, it can stand up to 7cm tall from the mixed substrate of dead wood, twigs and roots on the ground. This group were taking up residence at the base of a rotting log. The stem is paler at the apex where it meets the cap but much darker further down towards the brown/black base.

Keep an eye out for them this summer (and all the way through to early winter). Also, if the conditions are warm, take some mosquito spray, or if you have a smart phone there’s actually an App that repels mosquitos. Weird!
Marasmius rotula image collection

The Collared Parachute – Notice the ‘parachute-like’ appearance of the cap and the widely spaced gills attached to a central collar which is free from the stem.

QUICK ID TABLE: COLLARED PARACHUTE Marasmius rotula

CAP / FLESH

0.3 – 1.5cm across. Convex/rounded. Central depression. Flatens out. Parachute shape, white (Becoming brownish with age).

STEM

2-6.5cm x 0.1cm. Whitish at top. Darker brown/black down towards the base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White or Pinkish. Very distant. Connected to a central collar free from the stem.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Grows on dead wood (preferably deciduous). Also twigs, roots and sometimes leaves. Summer – winter.

EDIBILITY

Not edible. Too small and insubstantial.

The Genus MARASMIUS (Parachutes): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small or tiny caps with tall, thin stems.

• Convex ‘umbrella’ or ‘parachute’ shaped caps.

Lost in the Moss – The Collared Mosscap

I often have a little scout around the garden if I’m moping about, just to see if there are any interesting little mushrooms popping up in the short grass. I was actually going to mow the lawn. Honest.

Rickenella swartzii‘Small’ is the key word here. In fact ‘very small’ would be a better phrase. I had to bend down, take a real close look, and there it was – a Collared Mosscap (Rickenella swartzii), along with several others scattered about the place, was poking its cap out above the grass languishing in the moist moss that now makes up a lot of my lawn! Good thing too. These tiny mushrooms are very attractive and interesting – and dare I say it? Quite cute.

The usual season for this mushroom is spring to early winter, but I tend to notice them more in late spring, perhaps because of the conditions and shortness of the grass with its mossy undergrowth.

The caps are barely 1cm across at best, and are usually slightly smaller. They are a subtle pale-ochre (or slightly darker ochre-brown) colour, faintly straited with a dark brown centre. At first, the cap is convex, but soon develops a central depression while still maintaining the curved shape.

Pale gills on the underside are widely spaced and extend slightly down the stem (decurrent). It’s at this point (the apex of the stem) that gives this mushroom its common English name. Its ‘collar’, so to speak, is violet (or dark brown with a violet hue) and noticeably much darker than the rest of the pallid ochre stem. This feature is a reliable and distinctive characteristic.

Although labelled as inedible due to their tiny size, they are not known to be poisonous but may actually contain very small amounts of psilocybin (a naturally occurring psychedelic compound), so best not to have a taste if you felt the need. Why not take a look around in short grassland and damp mossy areas to see if you can spot any. And I mean have a really good look, because as you can believe, they are very often overlooked.
Collared Mosscap mushroom photographs

The Collared Mosscap mushroom: Notice the darker violet hue at the apex of the stem and dark brown centred cap.

QUICK ID TABLE: COLLARED MOSSCAP Rickenella swartzii

CAP / FLESH

0.5-1cm across. Ochre-cream or light brown with dark brown centre. Initially slightly rounded then flat with central depression.

STEM

2-4cm x 0.1-0.2cm. pale yellowish, violet coloured at apex.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Decurrent. White or creamy coloured.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In moss on grassland in damp places, such as gardens or marshes etc. Late Spring to early Winter.

EDIBILITY

Too small to be worth eating.

Rickenella swartzii drawing

A scattering of Yellow Fieldcaps

A walk though the park today I was pleasantly surprised to find many small yellow and slightly larger pale mushrooms peppered around in the short grass. And as I suspected, these were actually all the same mushroom species, just in different stages of growth.

Bolbitius titubans - youngThe Yellow Fieldcap (Bolbitius titubans) is a very widespread and common little mushroom, fruiting during summer to autumn, but I often see them in mid-late spring time too, as in this case. It mainly frequents well manured grassland but is also found on rotting straw, manure, dung and wood chippings.

When very young, its small cap is distinctly rounded, elliptical or sometimes ball-like and is a striking bright yellow colour. It also has a slimy surface texture which sticks to your finger after a gentle prod of the cap! As is grows, the cap opens into a bell shape and eventually spreads to almost flat. During this process, the viscosity fades as well as the chrome yellow colouring until it is nothing more than a pallid straw colour or greyish-white. Some yellow however does remain (for a while) at the very apex of the cap, and the margin becomes noticeably striated and very thin.

The gills on the underside are pale yellow and quite crowded. With age these change colour too, becoming light brown and eventually rusty brown. This is a good identification feature to look out for on older specimens.

The hollow stem, just like the cap, is very fragile and is relatively long when compared to the size of the cap (this can be helpful for locating them amongst the grass to be honest). On closer inspection you’ll see it is covered in fine white powder and more downy at the base.

And as a quick sign off, it’s interesting (albeit a little confusing) to know that although the common ‘Fieldcap’ name is used, the Yellow Fieldcap isn’t actually part of the Agrocybe genus, which are commonly known as Fieldcaps. So make of that what you will!

Mushroom montage

Different ages: Bottom left – Very young chrome yellow, viscous cap. Top left – Middle aged fading yellow cap. Top right – Yellow gills mature deeper brown. Bottom right – Old and faded cap with distinct striations.

QUICK ID TABLE: YELLOW FIELDCAP Bolbitius titubans

CAP / FLESH

1-5cm across. ball shaped or elliptical and chrome yellow when young. Pallid yellow to greyish white, bell shaped to almost flat when older. Striate margin. Thin, fragile flesh.

STEM

3-10cm x 0.2-0.4cm. Pale yellow or whitish. Hollow. Covered in fine white powder. Downy base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate to free. Crowded. Pale yellow maturing to light brown, then rusty brown.
Spore Print: Rust brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Manured grassland, rotting straw, dung, wood chip. Mid spring through to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Not edible.

Mushroom sketch - Bolbitius species

Scurfy Twiglet

This is another species I often find in urban locations as well out in woodland or the countryside, especially at this time of year in mild January or February months. The Tubaria species are often overlooked due to their small size and colour which helps them blend into their surroundings.

Young Scurfy Twiglet mushroomsThe Scurfy Twiglet (Tubaria furfuracea) is one of, if not, the most common of all the Tubaria (Twiglet) species. Typically small, reddish brown, found in scattered groups on twigs in and around wood debris. These particular ones were just in front of a hedgerow amongst the damp twigs and leaf litter. I was particularly proud in spotting them as I was riding by on my bicycle at the time! They can also appear on chippings and deciduous woodland floors.

The ‘Scurfy’ term relates to the fine flaky texture on the cap where velar remnants can be found on the surface. This often produces a dotted area around the margin (edge) of the younger cap, which is an attractive and useful identification feature.

When young, the cap is rounded or dome shaped, soon expanding with noticeable striated markings. The flesh is hygrophanous, meaning its colour changes depending on the levels of water absorbed by the mushroom. It can become pallid or creamy white as it dries and ages (see images below). Sometimes you may see the entire cap fade to cream, which makes it appear to be some other species. Very odd!

You may come across caps of older and/or larger specimens which drastically curl back on themselves, exposing their widely spaced gills outwards. Again, this is a typical feature often seen on the Scurfy Twiglet. Look closely at the gills – they have an adnate attachment (widely attached to the stem) but are also very slightly decurrent (running down the stem). The stem is coloured similar to the rest of the mushroom and is covered in fine white down at the base which tends to cling to the surrounding substrate.

Keep a look out for these guys, especially during the early months of the year. But as we’re well on the way to Spring now, there may not be many around now. Next year then!

Note: I posted an article on the Winter Twiglet (Tubaria hiemalis) in February 2011, and I still believe it is. They are practically identical and hard to distinguish between in the field. The gills were not slightly decurrent like the Scurfy Twiglet, neither did it have any velar remnants. Without going back to take a closer look, I can’t be 100% sure, but they are very much of a muchness and are visually almost identical.

Tubaria mushroom

Scurfy Twiglet (Tubaria furfuracea) Often late in the year, but also in February/March time.

QUICK ID TABLE: SCURFY TWIGLET Tubaria furfuracea

CAP / FLESH

1-4cm. Initially rounded/domed. Flattening out. Striate at edge. Margin curling upwards/central depression with age. Ochre/rust brown fading to pale ochre/cream with age. Minutely scurfy. Veil remnants.

STEM

2-5cm x 0.2-0.4cm. Similar colour to cap. Base covered in white down.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate, slightly decurrent. Yellow brown. Widely spaced.
Spore Print: Pale ochre brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On twigs, woody debris, chipping or mulch in gardens, deciduous woodland, hedgrows etc. Autumn through Winter.

EDIBILITY

Not edible.

Disco Eyelashes – The Common Eyelash Fungus

This small and attractive fungus is one of the ‘Discos’ (Disc fungi), an English description for one the groups in the genus of Pyronema (Pyronemataceae family) – but let’s not get too technical, we could be here forever!

Scutellinia scutellataAlthough widespread and common throughout the UK, I very rarely see the Common Eyelash (Scutellinia scutellata) on my travels but then again they can be extremely hard to spot, even with their bright colouring. I discovered these whilst kneeling down examining another fungus. Luckily they were in my line of sight.

They are often found in groups clustered together on rotting wood or soil, most of the time in damp places and sometimes lost amongst moss. They measure around 0.2 – 1cm across, so finding a solitary individual would be very hard indeed.

Apart from the bright orange/red colour and mini disc/shallow cup shape – the main distinctive feature are the tiny fine dark brown/black hairs (up to 20mm in length) on the margin. They look like tiny ‘eyelashes’ all around the edge, hence the English name. Depending on how good your eyesight is, these are just visible with the naked eye and look quite menacing through a lens. Fortunately these fine hairs are not sharp and cannot penetrate the skin.

Many cup shaped fungi have similar growing hairs around their edge and they differ in length and colour etc. Similar species to the Common Eyelash include Scutellinia umbrorum / S. olivascens which share the same colours and environment, but are larger in size (up to 2cm across) and with shorter, less conspicuous hairs.

Their season is late spring to late autumn, so keep a keen eye out and you could get lucky.

Orange Red coloured Disc fungi

Scutellinia scutellata – The Common Eyelash Fungus. Often found in groups on damp rotten wood sometimes amongst moss.

 

March Mottlegill – The Turf Mottlegill

Spring has arrived and the clocks have gone forward. And like most people, it tends to make me feel a whole lot more happy about things in general. Even so much so that I actually mowed my lawn since before Christmas. This is a good thing, because shorter grass will bring out those early spring mushrooms. Guaranteed.

Turf Mottlegil - Panaeolus fimicolaOK, so these little babies aren’t edible (but neither poisonous) but it’s good to see nature once again spring into life (excuse the pun!), especially when it’s literally in your own back garden. I’m talking of the common Turf Mottlegill (Panaeolus fimicola or Panaeolus ater).

The Mottlegills are a family of small to medium small mushrooms that can occur from spring or summer through to autumn and/or early winter. They get their common name from the ‘mottled’ appearance on their gills (when younger) as the black reproductive spores ‘unevenly’ mature.

These little beauties can pop up in their dozens all around in the short grass, and are initially very hard to spot. I think most of time they go unnoticed. Their caps, when young, are around 1cm in diametre and can grow up to 4.5cm. But if they’re on your own lawn they don’t really last long and get knocked down or crushed. Poor things!

As with many mushrooms, their appearance can change as they mature. In this case it is the colour of the cap and gills. When they first appear, their button small caps are a lovely dark brown (especially when wet) and their gills are a very light brown/greyish colour. After a couple of days the cap dries a paler tan colour, from the edge of the cap inwards. So you can really get some different brown colour combinations going on.

Also, to help with identification, the slender brown stem (around 2-5mm thick) is covered in a very fine white ‘frosty like’ down.

All in all, these are lovely little spring mushrooms, which carry on popping up all the way through until autumn. And as I said, don’t worry, they’re not in the least bit poisonous. They’re too cute for that!

Even though this mushroom is not edible, as always be cautious. There are very similar Panaeolus mushrooms that are poisonous. For example, the common Brown Mottlegill which appears from June to November has been known to contain psilocybin (the psychedelic ‘magic mushroom’ cocktail) which can cause unpleasant symptoms. In fact, even the famous ‘Magic Mushroom’ although not deadly has (and recently discovered) sinister twins which are very dangerous in ways of attacking the liver. It’s best to avoid all these kinds of mushrooms and stick to beer! Hoorah!

Turf Mottlegill Pictures

Young Turf Mottlegill / Drying tan brown from margin / younger pale gills & mature black gills

The Genus PANAEOLUS (Mottlegills): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small pale or brown mushrooms.
• The spores mature unevenly; giving a ‘mottled’ effect on the gills.

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.

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.

Golf balls in the grass? – Meadow Puffpall

My first visit to a field nearby my house in Blaby, Leicestershire on a mild august day was only slightly productive but good fun. I chose the slightly odd title of this post for one good reason – the land adjacent (separated by a patchy hedge) is one huge golf course and as I walked through the neighbouring field I heard the constant groans and cursing of the golfers searching for their missing balls! It was an odd coincidence to come across these white balls poking their heads up through the grass. No wonder they can’t find them!

But wait. I was happily mistaken. These little white balls of fun were Meadow Puffballs (Vascellum pratense). On further research I’ve discovered they are common on and around golf courses, so perhaps my story isn’t that unique after all. Other main habitats include lawns, pasture and of course meadows.

Meadow PuffballThere were around a dozen or so sprinkled around a 2-3 metre radius. Some were on their own and some were in groups of two or three. Unlike the Common Puffball (found mainly in open woodland) their stems are quite short, so they sit ‘squat’ like in the grass and they are not as large in width either, from 2-4cm across. The surface has uniformly patterned, delicate white specks. If you touch them with your finger, the powdery-like texture smudges off to create a smooth surface. On younger specimens you’ll also notice a light yellow tone about them.

These young puffballs (like most of the ‘white’ species) are edible and good. Especially nice if coated in a breadcrumb mix and deep fried. It has quite a mild flavour. If you find a Common Puffball you may have to peel the outer skin which is thicker than the Meadow Puffball. This can be a pain! But definitely worth a taste.

Avoid older specimens as they taste pretty rancid, but not poisonous in any way. Best rule is – ‘whiter the better’. Slice one in half and take a look inside. It should be a nice solid white. If there are any other colours going on in there, it’s best to forget it.

Have a look at the Meadow Puffballs in all their glory below. On the right is an example of an older specimen where, as you can see, turns light brown with the top broken open at maturity to release its spores. At the end of it’s days it still has the added usefulness as a pixies bath tub – or so I’ve been told!

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

As mentioned above be wary not to mistake small white ball or ‘egg-shaped’ fungi. These could be other poisonous toadstools in early development. For example the Death Cap starts life in a small white egg sack. Slicing it in half will reveal the young mushroom shape inside though. And besides, it’s a good tip to bear in mind and keep you on your toes. Be safe out there kids!

Meadow Puffball

The Edible Meadow Puffball, common in grass meadows and golf courses!

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 small Coprinus collective

Spring finally came, and that extreme winter we’ve just had just wouldn’t let go.

The natural contenders for ‘mushrooms I have to find’ were undoubtedly The Morel and the St.Georges Mushroom. But as yet – no luck on either, even after many outings. Grrrr!

But in the garden and out in force though like some giant family outing, were a selection of the smaller Ink Caps – Fairies Bonnets (or Fairy Inkcap or Trooping Crumble Cap) (Coprinus disseminatus / Coprinellus disseminatus). They come out in their dozens or hundreds even! Very common and quite pretty to look at on the whole. They mass mainly around old stumps of broad-leaved trees and spread to nearby soil.

The caps vary only slightly in colour, from a pale buff brown or clay grey-like colour. They are very fragile and the gills start off white then turn grey-brown and eventually turning black.

Coprinus disseminatus

Fairies Bonnet is a very apt name for these little beauties

Nearby, milling around in the short grass, I find the Fairy Parasol (or Pelated Ink Cap) (Parasola plicatilis). Again, these are small and fragile, but don’t group in a large troop like our Fairy Bonnet.

This short-lived grassland mushroom has small caps are thin and very ribbed (hence pelated) and are often greyish brown or pale greyish with a darker more brownish central zone. The cap eventually flattens out and shrivels up (within 24 hours) but does not dissolve into a black ink. You will see these in short grass in lots of places from spring to early winter. They also like to grow near woodland herbs.

Parasola plicatilis

Pelated Inkcaps have a strongly grooved but delicate cap. They only survive for around 24 hours.

And again we have another common Corpinus family member – The Glistening Ink Cap (Coprinellus micaceus). Definitely the larger and most interesting in this little collective due to the young bell-shaped ochre coloured caps are dusted with glistening, mica-like particles or grains (fairy dust I call it, just to keep us in the fairy theme!). Older specimens slightly curl and split at the cap edge. The gills, common to the ink caps, age from pale buff to brown and eventually black before dissolving into an inky fluid. (That’s when the fairies cry!). The white stems are darker in colour at the base. These are great little mushrooms and one to look out for. They’re about for most of the year, usually in dense groups on broad leaved tree stumps or feeding off dead tree roots.

Coprinus micaceus

Shine on! These pics were taken by my dad after maiming them while trimming the grass!

And to sign off, please that these mushrooms are all edible but the stone cold fact is that they are too insubstantial, bland in flavour and poor in texture. Hey ho!

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

• Most species gills dissolve into an inky black liquid as the black spores ripen, Amounts of ink vary.
• 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.

Spots before my eyes – Coral Spot Fungus

Although tiny (0.5 – 1.0mm) the orange fruit bodies of the Coral Spot (Nectria cinnabarina) grow in their hundreds mainly on small dead twigs and branches (wood piles etc.). Even if you’re no mycophile, not many wood walking people can say they haven’t noticed these little critters blossoming just about everywhere throughout the year. And myself, as a fan of all thing fungal just had to know what they were. So now we know.

One mushroom guide I have noted that the ‘non-sexual’ form is the most common found, as in these pictures shown below. The ‘true’ sexual form is dark red/red-brown which has a bumpy surface and both forms usually grow together. We’re getting into the sexual side of things I know – and don’t ask me too much on this subject, I’m still getting my head round the other mysteries of mushrooms!

Anyway. Here’s the picture. You know you’ve seen them before don’t you!? Note: This shot was taken in November 2009.

Coral Spot

Look out for these common orange spots in the woods anytime.

One last thought – I know Coral Spot is classed as inedible, mainly due to them being insubstantial (I believe). But imagine if you will, what if somebody took the time and collected thousands of them, just enough for a good portion – what would it really taste like? I’ve read elsewhere that it’s taste and odour have no distinction – but I think if you really had a munch on a big batch of the stuff, you might get a different result!

Well, maybe not! Just a thought.