A collection of Toadstool discoveries, in grass, woods and forests. Includes the inedible and poisonous mushrooms.

Beware the Fool’s Funnel

Experienced foragers often say, if you want to familiarise yourself with only a few mushrooms, it’s always best to recognise the deadly ones! Wise words indeed.

The Fool’s Funnel (Clitocybe rivulosa aka C.dealbata) is one of the more common poisonous species to be found in the UK, as well as in Europe and North America. It appears, alarmingly enough, in some very ‘people orientated’ places such as lawns, parks, road sides etc; in sandy soil, during late summer to late autumn.

The toxic culprit here is muscarine (found in many other poisonous fungi), and with a good dose it can cause some very unpleasant symptoms, and in some cases – death. So it goes without saying, don’t be too hasty in picking these innocent looking mushrooms. Here’s what to look out for:

Although not that large (around 4-6cm when mature), they often grow in small to medium groups and sometimes partial or full rings in grass. One of the largest partial rings I found were right in the middle of a local park.

The cap is powdered white often with concentric rings or blotch marks which show the darker buff coloured flesh beneath (or even cracking, depending on condition). This is a good identification marker to note. The shape is initially rounded but it soon flattens out, usually developing the common ‘funnel shape’ and the margin remains slightly inrolled.

I stipulated on my mushroom identification page that there are no ‘golden rules’ or ‘one tip fits all’ in identifying different species, but  if you want a good rule, then always be extremely wary of white gilled mushrooms. Several deadly species have white gills, but then again they can also have different coloured gills! So I guess what I’m trying to say is – ‘If you don’t know it, then don’t eat it‘ – simple. (I’m not sure if that was pointless and wasted paragraph! But there you go…)

In this case (typical for a funnel mushroom) the white/whitish-buff gills run decurrently down the stem (which share the same colour as the cap). They are quite crowded and turn more buff coloured as the fungi ages.

Last but not least; the flesh, if crushed between the fingers, will deliver a ‘sweetish’ smell, but I’d advise you wash or wipe your hands afterwards, and make sure you’re not tempted to a little nibble!

Fools Funnel

Clitocybe rivulosa where the white powder surface has faded to reveal the darker flesh beneath. In this case, it has a ‘cracked’ appearance.

QUICK ID TABLE: FOOLS FUNNEL Clitocybe rivulosa / C.dealbata

CAP / FLESH

3-6cm diameter. Initially convex, then flattened out, often funnel shaped. Powdered white, often with concentric or buff flesh markings. Flesh is buff; smells sweet.

STEM

2-4 x 0.5-1cm; similar colouring as cap. Often slightly woolly at the base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White/Whitish-buff, decurrent and crowded.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In small-medium groups, full or partial rings in grass of gardens, parks, roadsides, path edges (sandy soil). Summer – autumn.

EDIBILITY

Deadly poisonous. Contains muscarine.

Liquorice on a log – The Black Bulgar

For one reason or another I didn’t get the chance to get out much over winter, but a recent visit to some nearby woodland turned up these little black beauties.

As they were well camouflaged, I nearly walked by this mass of Black Bulgar (Bulgaria inquinans) on a fallen trunk (possibly Ash). There were many dozens of these small black jelly-like buttons scattered across the bark. They genuinely look and feel like a typical jelly fungus, but they’re actually not jelly fungi at all – scientifically speaking, as they are in the class/division of Ascomycetes, instead of the real ‘Jelly fungi’ (heterobasidiomycetes) which are in the division Basidiomycetes. So there you go – lesson over!

They grow in large clusters on deciduous fallen/felled trunks and branches, especially oak, beech and less often, on ash. But with the recent Ash Dieback disease and many felled trees as a result, they may well become more of a common sight.

When young, the margin is tightly enrolled, giving the fruiting body a tiny cup like appearance with a brown/dark drown outer surface which has a rough, scurfy texture. As they mature they spread out flat exposing their smooth ‘spore bearing’ top side in a distinctive disc shape. The ‘gummie bear’ flesh inside is dark ochre-brown which is more rubbery and gelatinous in damp conditions. It becomes much tougher as it begins to dry out.

Rubbery or tough – it doesn’t really mater because this isn’t a fungus for the foragers list. However, in Northeastern China it is considered a delicacy. After careful preparation I believe it’s fine to eat – but quite poisonous otherwise. Phytochromes (photoreceptors in fruiting body pigment) can cause serious food-sensitised solar dermatitis – which sounds rather uncomfortable. I think I’ll give it a miss!

Black Bulgar Fungus

Top: Flat disc shapes of the mature fruiting bodies. Bottom left: Younger cup like examples with a scurfy brown exterior. Due to the damp conditions, this surface appears much darker.

QUICK ID TABLE: Black Bulgar Bulgaria inquinans

FRUITING BODY

Approx 1-4cm across. Jelly-like, rubbery texture. Top fertile surface is smooth, Underside scurfy brown/dark brown. Margin enrolled when young, expanding to a flat disc shape.

STEM

N/A – Minimal/small stump.

SPORE PRINT
Spore Print: Dark brown/blackish (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On fallen/felled oaks, Beech, Sweet Chestnut and Ash. September to March

LOOKALIKES

Witches’ Butter (Exidia glandulosa)

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Poisonous if not prepared properly.

The notorious Magic Mushroom

Well I suppose at some stage I would had to do a feature on this mushroom. A select few people I meet often presume that as a mushroom hunter, I only go looking for this particular species. Well that’s just not so – I was in the right place at the right time as I stumbled across these bad boys. Simply observed for identification reasons – honestly officer!

Psilocybe semilanceataThe Magic Mushroom or Liberty Cap (Psilocybe semilanceata) is the most notorious of all the hallucinogenic mushrooms (of which there are many), this being one of the most common and potent!

It contains a chemical cocktail of psychoactive ingredients, most notably ‘psilocybin’ (hence Psilocybe) which is a naturally produced psychedelic compound, and is the main active substance. Ingestion of several mushrooms, whether eaten fresh, dried or powdered and added to food etc, can produce a variety of ‘psychedelic’ experiences similar to those produced by LSD. Since 2005 it has been made illegal to be in possession of this mushroom (in whatever form) and is labelled as a Class A drug – so there you go.

The mycelium (the vegetative part of the fungus) feeds on the decaying matter of grass roots, so they are very at home scattered in pastures, lawns (sometimes parks), grassy roadsides and paths.

The first thing to note is that the cap of the mushroom is hygrophanous, meaning it will change colour depending on how much moisture it retains. In wet conditions the colour will be yellowish-brown / brown with a slight olive tinge. It has a glutinous viscid layer which can be delicately removed. As it drys out the colour fades to pale buff or whitish with a dark spore stained edge.

But the small conical cap remains a similar shape throughout these changes. It is elongate with striate markings (more noticeable when moist) with a distinctive small bump at the very top (umbo).

The thin white/creamy coloured stem (sometimes with darker yellowish hues) is relatively long compared to the cap size, and can grow up to 7 or 8cm high. Sometimes you may notice a blueish tinge at the very base. The gills are pale creamy-grey at first, but as the mushroom matures they become a dark purple-brown.

I’m not at liberty to say where I found these (or where to find others for that matter) as I was on a private reserve where I had permission to study. So please no questions about that on the blog or via email, thanks.

There are plenty around at the moment, but be aware that they’re just for looking at …right folks?

Magic Mushroom

Psilocybe semilanceata or Magic Mushroom is hygrophanous and drys to a pale buff colour.

QUICK ID TABLE: MAGIC MUSHROOM / LIBERTY CAP Psilocybe semilanceata

CAP / FLESH

0.5-1.5cm across. Elongated conical shape with pointed bump (umbo). Yellow-Brown / Brown with olive hue. Drying to pale buff.

STEM

3-8cm x 0.1-0.2cm. Pale whitish/cream often with yellowish hues. Sometimes with purple tinge at base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Pale clay/creamy-grey maturing to dark purple-brown.
Spore Print: Dark purpleish-brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Pasture, garden, grassy roadsides and paths. Common in late summer to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Hallucinogenic. Illegal to be in possession of.

Down in the Damp – The Birch Milkcap

As the common name states, this Milkcap is often found around Birch trees, but it can also grow with other deciduous tress, especially if the ground is mossy, rich and moist.

Lactarius tabidusThe Birch Milkcap Lacctarius tabidus is an extremely common member of the milkcap family. This group were randomly scattered about the place enjoying the damp conditions in a humble sized birch copse, just away from a grassy field footpath.

These are also one of the smaller Lactarius species, nicely formed with an all over yellowish brown (or dirty orange) colouring – they can be sometimes hard to spot! The cap grows up to 4-5cm across and forms a shallow central depression which often has a small bump in the middle. The similarly coloured stem (which becomes hollow after time) is fragile and easily breakable, and the crowded, slightly decurrent gills are again, similar in colour to the rest of the mushroom but paler.

As with all milkcaps, the gills will seep milk (latex) when handled or damaged. The Birch Milkcap doesn’t have large quantities of it, so there may not be much being produced. But when you do get your hands on some, dab a portion of the milk on a handkerchief (or similar white cloth) and it will slowly turn yellow. This will be extra proof that you are dealing with Lactarius tabidus. The taste of the milk is mild, slowly becoming slightly unpleasant and bitter. The flesh is just the same, so I wouldn’t recommend these for eating – there’s too much of an acrid taste.

Although, inedible it is indeed an interesting looking Milkcap and one to tick off your ‘found that’ list, so keep a look out when you’re around birch trees, especially if the ground is mossy and/or damp. Happy hunting.

Birch Milkcap Mushrooms

Lactarius tabidus – notice the shallow dip in the cap with a small central bump, and the seeping white milk (latex) from the crowded gills.

QUICK ID TABLE: BIRCH MILKCAP Lactarius tabidus

CAP / FLESH

4 – 5 cm across. Yellow-brown or dirty orange. Thin flesh. Shallowly convex with central depression, often with a small bump.

STEM

4 – 8cm x 0.5- 1cm. Same colour as cap. Cylindrical, often narrowing at the top.

GILLS / MILK / SPORE PRINT

Slightly decurrent, crowded. Similar colouring to rest of mushroom but paler. Producing white milk.
Spore Print: Pale cream (with a slight pinky tinge) (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Very common, on moist, mossy and/or damp ground near deciduous trees – especially birch.
Late summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Acrid taste.

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.

Bay Polypore

Many bracket (or shelf) fungi grow all year round, or at least from spring through to autumn. This one is a classic example – most common in central Europe but less so farther north.

Polyporus durus The Bay Polypore (Polyporus durus / P.badius) can be found throughout this long season. I live in middle England and find them ‘now and again’ – they’re one of the few ‘good looking’ polypores out there, as many can be quite dull and inconspicuous with bland colours.

The size of the mature fruiting body can differ greatly, ranging from 5cm up to approximately 20cm across. The first group of photos below show several examples from the same group, all different shapes and sizes. The typical ‘off-centre’ stem (which is mostly black – or at least at the base) produces a thin, lobed and often wavy cap. It’s very smooth with a very slight ‘waxy’ feel.

The colour also varies with many shades of brown and mahogany. Age is also a key factor in these variations too. When young, the fruiting bodies are pale/pallid brown becoming dark brown/mahogany at maturity. The first group of photos here show some ‘rich’ dark brown examples – so much so that I had to get a second opinion and microscopic confirmation from the spores. They were indeed Bay Polypores, just darker than usual. As a rough ‘general’ colour guide I would say they’re most often a mild pallid brown, often with darker central zone. But when it comes to identification, fungi like to keep you on your toes!

As many of you will know (or may not know) fungi such as these do not have gills on the underside but have pores instead (from where their reproductive spores will drop). ‘Polypore’ simply translated means ‘many holes’, and in this case they are very small holes; around 5-10 per millimetre! So at first glance the underside looks like a smooth creamy white, featureless surface. You have to take a closer look. And like most polypores, they only grow on tress, trunks or fallen logs etc. In this case the Bay Polypore will only be found on dead or living deciduous wood.

Lookalikes?

You may also stumble across the Blackfoot Polypore (P. leptocephalus) which I find is a more common species but essentially smaller (cap ranges from 2-10cm across) and much paler with radiating streaks on its surface. It is also found on dead/dying deciduous wood, but not living trees.

Bracket fungi for foraged food?

Well, to be honest, there are not many bracket fungi out there for the pot. Many are too thin, too tough, too bitter or all of the above! Never mind, I’m sure they appreciate not being eaten to carry on they’re great ecological work.

So, keep a look out for all those variable brackets out there this spring, summer and autumn (especially on fallen trunks). Enjoy.

Polypore fungi

The typical wavy/lobed shape of the Bay Polypore. Notice the dark/blackish stem base.

Bay Polypore

Older examples of the Polyporus durus – Mahogany brown in colour and extreme wavy/lobes edges.

QUICK ID TABLE: BAY POLYPORE Polyporus durus

CAP / FLESH

5-20cm across.

STEM

0.2-0.4cm x 0.5-1.5cm, off centre. Black(ish) more so at the base.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

Very small, circular (5-10 per mm). White/pale cream.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead or living deciduous trees. Spring to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Not edible. Too tough and bitter.

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 on the underside.
• Usually tough/leathery or hard and woody.
• Many are perennial or annual
.

A Winter Polypore in Spring

Apart from the usual (and culinary preferable) spring mushrooms out there such as the Morels and St.Georges Mushroom, there is still one pretty common woodland mushroom you may come across.

Winter Polypore MushroomThe small and beautifully formed Winter Polypore (Polyporus brumalis) is quite a common winter/spring mushroom which is actually one of the smaller polypores to discover in woods.

Polypore literally means ‘many pores’ due to the holes showing on the underside of the cap. These are the open ends of decurrent tubes growing downwards from the underside of the cap. All members of this genus come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes, but they consistently feature the typical cap and stem morphology of a regular mushroom with gills.

The common name is quite relevant, as this mushroom has an uncommon fruiting season that typically begins at the end of autumn continuing through to the end of spring. Not many mushrooms last through this seasonal time span.

I often find these mushrooms in small groups on large dead beech branches in early to mid spring. I venture out less in winter so I suspect that’s why I don’t see them often during this time!

The cap flesh is very thin and the surface is nice and smooth. It has an average cap size of around 2-8cm. Its shape is initially convex but matures flatter and appears in various shades of tawny/brown. You may often see concentric zones of light and dark brown on the surface too.

The images here show some slightly older examples. They become much more tough and leathery with age, and the cap edge becomes darker. The relatively large roundish/rectangular pores are initially white, but these too discolour to yellowish-brown over time.

They are very widespread and pretty common, so keep a look out for them this spring. Enjoy.

Polyporus brumalis mushrooms

Fruiting bodies of Polyporus brumalis live on through the winter and spring seasons.

QUICK ID TABLE: WINTER POLYPORE Polyporus brumalis

CAP / FLESH / MILK

2-8 cm across. Variable shades of brown sometimes with concentric light & dark bands. Smooth texture, thin flesh.

STEM

Up to 7cm long. Similar colour to cap. Cylindrical shape, sometimes off centre attachment.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

White when young. Turning tan with age. Roundish or sausage shaped (rectangular).
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead hardwood, esp. beech branches. Late autumn through to late spring.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too tough. Little flesh.

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.
• Many are perennial or annual
.

February Forage – Tawny Funnel

It may seem a little strange to feature this mushroom in February when it’s actually an autumn species. Well, mainly! 


Lepista flaccida

But year after year I often come across the Tawny Funnel (Lepista flaccida) in January or early February, as in this case. At first I thought I had an unfamiliar species to identify – but I have read (and heard) from fellow foragers and field mycologists that this is not so uncommon.

After all, the Tawny Funnel is usually one of late fruiting autumn species. Maybe it has unfinished business -waits until milder times at the start of the year to carry on. Who knows?

When young, the cap is flattish and convex but soon develops its distinctive ‘funnel’ shape which causes some confusion, as you would think that you’re dealing with a true Funnel mushroom – i.e. a Clitocybe species. In fact this mushroom has been formally known C. flaccida and some mycologists have named it C.inversa, or consider it to be a different species entirely. One reason it has been moved to this genus is because of its warty spores and moveable gills, features the same as the other common Lepistas (or Blewits) such as the Wood Blewit and Field Blewit.

The real confusion starts when you compare it to the Common Funnel (Clitocybe gibba) which looks like its identical twin! However it is only situated in broad-leaved woods and heaths, whereas L.flaccida appears in both deciduous and coniferous woodland, especially nutrient rich soil.

I’ve been experimenting over the years to see if I can recognise any macro features while out in the field to distinguish between the two. I’m still not 100% sure if you can, and I think true ID will be from looking at the microscopic spores. However, not everyone has access to a microscope so I’ll go on to mention what to look out for. Here goes…

This mushroom is often found in clustered groups and full or partial fairy rings in the soil and leaf litter. Average cap sizes of mature specimens are around 5 to 9cm across.

There are many changes throughout its life cycle, so expect to see variable colour variations of this mushroom. The young flattened-convex cap is pale ochre and is strongly hygrophanous (unlike C.gibba) and you will see pale/darker areas depending on the moisture in the cap. Also look out for water marks around the edge of the cap. With age, it becomes darker orange-brown (shades vary) as the distinctive funnel becomes more apparent. There may also be several darker spotted areas scattered across the surface.

The whitish-yellow gills are crowded (more so than the Common Funnel) and heavily integrated with the stem (decurrent) which is paler in colour than the cap. It is often curved slightly towards the white woolly base.

Take a whiff!

Smell is also an important factor here, as the Common Funnel and Tawny Funnel differ. The Common Funnel has a faintish odour of almonds (also described as new-mown hay!) whereas the Tawny Funnel is more or less non descriptive, but there may be a faint spicy odour.

This mushroom is a great challenge, so good luck in identification and your spring forages in general. Enjoy.

Tawny Funnel images

Notice the varied shades from light ochre to tawny and the very crowded decurrent gills.

QUICK ID TABLE: TAWNY FUNNEL Lepista flaccida

CAP / FLESH

2-9cm across. Initially flattish to convex then funnel shaped. Pale ochre, darkening tawny brown with age. Often darker spots. Thin flesh, pale to tan.

STEM

3-5cm x 0.5-1cm. Paler than cap. Becomes hollow. White woolly base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Very decurrent, narrow & crowded. Whitish to yellowish.
Spore Print: Creamy white (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On soil and in leaf litter of coniferous & broadleaved woods. Autumn. Sometimes in January & February.

EDIBILITY

Edible, but flesh is too thin & has an unpleasant taste.

The Genus LEPISTA (Blewits): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small to medium size. Pale to brownish caps. Some feature lilac/purple colouring on cap and stem.
• Pale pink spore print (see how to take a spore print here).

Tawny Funnel Diagram

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.

Angel Bonnets at Christmas (Mycena arcangeliana)

Hope you all have a great Christmas and new year. I was going to squeeze this post in just before 2015 began, but I was too busy drinking!

Mycena arcangelianaThis autumn mushroom had clung on right until Christmas Day – although the examples I discovered were past their prime, I’m showing some images of these mushrooms I found earlier in the season.

Aptly named for a Christmas time find, The Angel’s Bonnet (Mycena arcangeliana) is an attractive and perfectly formed example of a typical Mycena (or Bonnet) mushroom; broadly conical with a long delicate and slender stem.

Having the angelic name (which may be in honour to the botanist Giovanni Arcangeli) you’d be forgiven for thinking that this would be a pure white species, but in fact its ‘whitish’ translucent and striated cap has subtle grey-brown hues, especially at the centre. There may also be tinges of yellow or olive colours too.

The gills are initially white and turn pinkish over time, but the spore print is white, or whitish. The fragile stem is pale at the apex but is essentially greyish, becoming darker further down, especially at the base which is covered in a fine white down.

Take time also to have a quick sniff of this mushroom. It has a distinctive smell of iodoform – or that ‘hospital smell’ as I call it. You may need to crush the cap flesh to get a real good whiff!

It grows in typical ‘lined’ group formations on stumps and branches of deciduous trees and are very attractive when in full bloom (so to speak). The examples in the photos here are spread across a fallen branch.

They are very common and widespread throughout the autumn months, but this Mycena is also known as the ‘Late-Season Bonnet’ which is probably why it appeared on this mild winter day.

A nice find I thought. Anyway, keep your eye out for the usual winter suspects, especially the Wood Blewits and Velvet Shanks which (unlike our Bonnet mushroom here) are edible and tasty.

Happy New Year.

Mycena arcangeliana image selection

Mycena arcangeliana. Typically growing in rows on deciduous stumps and branches.

QUICK ID TABLE: ANGELS BONNET Mycena arcangeliana

CAP / FLESH

1-5cm across. Broad conical shape. White with a grey-brown hue and sometimes olive (or yellowish) tints. Striate markings with white margin. Iodoform smell.

STEM

2-4cm x 0.1-0.2cm. Whitish grey. Darker at base which is covered with white down.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnex and crowded. Initially white the turning pinkish.

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

HABITAT / SEASON

Typically in rows on deciduous stumps, logs and branches. Mainly autumn. Very common.

EDIBILITY

Indedible.

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 is striated.
• 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.

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

Credit: Caroline Hooper, Gloucestershire UK.

The 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.

Say what you see! It has to be
A Lumpy Bracket

Most bracket fungi are usually every day ‘all year round’ kind of guys, some persisting even for years. And here’s one of the other common shelf fungi to perpetuate throughout the year, releasing it’s reproductive spores (sporulating) during spring. It can be large, lumpy, but unfortunately inedible which is a shame due to the potential size it can reach.

Trametes gibbosaThe Lumpy Bracket (Trametes gibbosa) is found in woodland exclusively growing on dead deciduous wood, of which it favours beech, often solitary but also can be found in medium to large groups (sometimes very large groups – see photographs below). Either way, most of the time it is a striking white colour (sometimes with hues of grey or buff) and very thick and lumpy.

One fruiting body can grow up to 20 cm across and up to 7 or 8 cm thick. It’s typical semicircular shape often displays a distinctive central hump at the back where it meets the wood, especially when larger. The attachment to the wood is very thick and sturdy.

Its surface texture is initially velvet-like due to very fine surface hairs and later, with age, it becomes smooth to the touch.

A key characteristic I always look out for in order to confirm identification for sure, especially while out in the filed, is that the margin (edge of the bracket) is noticeably thick (like an outer ‘lip’ – especially when younger), although it does become thinner with age. It sometimes is a darker shade to the rest of the fungus, but this may be due to environmental conditions etc. And talking of that, you may stumble across many examples that appear green! This is because they are key targets for algae that like to grow among the fine downy hairs on the surface.

The pores on the underside are distinctively elongated and quite large. They are initially white or grey-white and age to a creamy colour.

In large groups (especially when younger) as illustrated in the photograph below, they can appear in stunning floral-like arrangements. I had to double check these were Lumpy Brackets as it’s not a typical site to see. But they were indeed worth a photograph or two. So keep a look out for these beauties, and as I commented on earlier, it’s a shame they’re not edible.

Top: Typical semi-circular bracket shape. Centre left: Green algae on upper surface. Centre right: Underside showing elongated pores. Bottom: Large group of Lumpy Brackets growing on stump

Top: Typical semi-circular bracket shape. Centre left: Green algae on upper surface. Centre right: Underside showing elongated pores. Bottom: Large group of Lumpy Brackets growing on stump

QUICK ID TABLE: LUMPY BRACKET Trametes gibbosa

FRUITING BODY

5-20cm across. Semicircular shape. 1-8cm thick. White, usually buff hues or with green algae markings. Minutely downy, later smooth.

FLESH

White. Cork like consistency.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead deciduous wood, usually beech. All year. Sporulating in spring.

EDIBILITY

Not edible. Too tough. Bitter and tasteless.

Colourfully Versatile – Turkeytail Fungus

This is another perennial bracket fungus that is extremely common. If you find them at the right time in their life-cycle you’ll be witness to some beautiful displays that are visually stunning.

Turkeytail fungusWhat we have here is Turkeytail (trametes-versicolor) and is often layered in tiered groups on deciduous wood all year round. I often find these in ‘full bloom’ (so to speak) during the summer months. The pictures shown here are a selection from last June.

The common English name is very apt due to distinctive fan-like shape and concentric mix of colours involved, very similar indeed to that of a Turkeys’ tail feathers. You learn something new everyday!

The ‘versicolor’ description in the scientific name explains the changeable range of colours in which they can be found, such as shades of brown, blues, greys and greens. But whatever variable colour set you find, the thin wavy edge always remains creamy white. There are other Trametes species that do not share this feature.

The upper surface to touch is often variable too, depending on the weather conditions and age of the specimen. When younger, the texture is like a soft velvet, but this becomes smoother and less velvety with age.

The creamy white underside as you’ve probably guessed consists of many tiny round pores, with a few that are angular here and there. The flesh too is white with a tough and leathery consistency. Not really an edible species. It has no real taste to speak of anyway. Never mind.

But keep a look out for Turkeytail this autumn. I hope you get lucky and see some great examples of this pretty bracket.

The varied colours of the the small bracket fungus Turkeytail - Trametes versicolor)

Notice the varied mix of colours shown here of the common bracket fungus Turkeytail – Trametes versicolor. The margin is always cream/white and and nearly always thin and wavy.

QUICK ID TABLE: TURKEYTAIL Trametes versicolor

FRUITING BODY

4-10cm x 3-5cm. 0.1-0.5cm thickness. Often in large tiered groups, overlapping each other. Upper surface extremely variable in mixed colours. Concentric pattern. White wavy edge.

UNDERSIDE

White / Smooth. Matures to ochre.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

Small and circular often with irregular, angular pores too.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

All year round. Growing on deciduous wood. Very common.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too tough. Tastless.

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.
• Many are perennial or annual
.

Tickled Pink! – The Blushing Bracket

I hope people don’t mind me featuring an overdue fungus to the Mushroom Diary. Yes, it’s a common, dull and inedible bracket fungus that appears in many numbers throughout the year. But just in case you’re not sure what this familiar sight is, it will be a pleasure for me to explain for you…

Daedaleopsis confragosaExtremely common in our English woodlands, the Blushing Bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa) is often found on the dead wood of Willow trees but also on many kinds of deciduous trees.

The semi-circular or fan shaped brackets, often in grouped tiers, can grow up to 15cm across. The upper surface shows distinctive radiating ‘bands’ and has a wrinckled surface texture (smoother when young). They are often thicker at the point of attachment to the wood (up to 5cm) and the margin remains thin and undulating.

As an ‘all year round’ fungus, like a lot of bracket fungi, it’s colour changes dramatically throughout it’s lifetime. When young to middle-aged they are white or have a white-pinkish tinge. They age to a much darker reddish/brown and become a lot tougher and ‘corky’ in consistency.

When younger and more fresh, a little test on the underside can reveal their identity. The white(ish) pores are quite large and are a mix of elongated slots and round holes. Rubbing these with your finger you will see them readily bruise (or should I say ‘blush’) pinkish/red. This is unique to this bracket alone.

When they are very young and quite small I often think they may be something new I haven’t seen before, but over time I have realised that the ‘tickled pink’ test will tell me what it is straight away. It’s always good to have an ‘in the field’ test under your belt.

Daedaleopsis confragosa

The Blushing Bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa) turns a deep red/brown as it ages. Notice the Pinkish/Red bruising on the pores (top-right). This is how it got it’s common name.

QUICK ID TABLE: BLUSHING BRACKET Daedaleopsis confragosa

FRUITING BODY

Up to 20cm diametre / 1.5-5cm thick. Semi-circular or fan shaped. Thin margin. Wrinkled and radially ridged. Found singularly or in tiered groups. White/Pink when young then brown/reddish when old.

PORES / TUBES / SPORE PRINT

Large round and elongated pores.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead deciduous wood, esp. Willow. Very common. All year.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Tough and very bitter.

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 are 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.

More Earthballs – The Scaly Earthball

It only seems logical that my next post is of yet another Earthball, just as a good comparison to my previous post on the Common Earthball.

earthball identificationThe Scaly Earthball (Scleroderma verrucosum) is similar to Common Earthball (see post here), but more often confused with the Leopard Earthball (post and pics to come soon I hope). This is understandable as they both share the same thick long tapering ‘stem like’ protusion and elliptical shape with brown dotted scales on the surface.

The dark brown scales on the Scaly Earthball are often random-like in their pattern whereas the Leopard Earthball has a network-like collection of brown scales surrounded by a ring (which eventually where off). You have to have a good look. The Leopard Earthball is also typically smaller, usually only growing as big as 4cm across.

The outer wall (again like the Leopard Earthball) is very thin compared to the Common Earthball. Taking one in hand and gently squeezing it will easily deform the shape.

When mature, this outer skin will split irregularly near the top to release the powdery spores. Give it a little tap to see the puff cloud. Great fun, but don’t eat them!

Scaly Earthball Pictures

QUICK ID TABLE: SCALY EARTHBALL Scleroderma verrucosum

FRUITING BODY

2-8cm in diametre. Spherical / Sometimes flattish on top. Brown with darker scales. Outer wall thin. Opens irregularly near apex.

STEM

Uncharacteristically long & thick white ‘stem-like’ protusion at base.

GLEBA

Olive-brown

HABITAT / SEASON

Woods, heaths and verges in rich sandy soil. Late summer to autumn. Common.

EDIBILITY

Inedible.

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.

Common as muck! The Common Earthball

It was only a couple of weeks ago whilst looking for the first signs of all the different Russulas that my attention was drawn away every two minutes only to find these little blighters. They were everywhere…

Round EarthballsWith a well deserved name, the Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum) is very numerous during the summer and autumn months, in and around damp woodland in rich peaty soil or moss. It is often in small scattered groups of 2 to 4 or so together, sitting there like discarded old potatoes! It is a mycorrhizal species and shares this special relationship with deciduous trees, especially oak, beech and birch.

‘Potato like’ is a good analogy I think. They can grow up to 10cm in diametre and have an irregular ovoid like shape. The colour can be dirty yellow to ochre brown with rough scales all over the surface.

The difference ends once you cut the fungus in half. In an immature specimen you will find a solid blackish spore mass (the gleba) with a subtle marbled effect. The smell is quite a strong metallic odour which I find very unpleasant. At maturity this spore mass will turn into fine power and the outer surface will rot and split wide open in a random spot, unlike the puffball trait of opening at the apex, to release it’s spores.

There are several lookalike Earthballs out there, such as the Scaly Earthball and Leopard Earthball. These have some key differences, such as the surface texture or pattern. But there is quicker way to identify between these similar fungi. Unlike these examples, the Common Earthball has no stem at all, merely mycelial white cottony cords attached to the soil and it’s outer skin is very thick in comparison (from 2 – 5mm). Simply squeeze a Scaly Earthball and you’ll easily misshape the whole thing, the Common Earthball on the other hand won’t budge. Nice and sturdy.

Anyway, it goes without saying that this Earthball along with the rest are quite inedible, and the Common Earthball has been classed as poisonous in the past (which I agree with), but one comment from Jo (below) mentioned they are eaten regularly in the Philippines where she is from. However Gareth and Deborah from UK (another comment below) had a bad experience with sickness. I don’t like the smell (or the looks of them) at all, so I’ll just be avoiding it in future – like a bad potato.

Common Puffball pictures

QUICK ID TABLE: COMMON EARTHBALL Scleroderma citrinum

FRUITING BODY

2-10cm in diametre. Almost Spherical / Irregular potato shape. Dirty yellow to ochre brown with coarse scales. Outer wall thick.

STEM

No stem. Attached to soil by fine mycelial threads.

GLEBA

Purple/Black with white veins / markings. Turns to powder when mature.

HABITAT / SEASON

Rich soil in and around deciduous woodland. Summer & autumn. Widespread & very common.

EDIBILITY

Inedible.

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.

Update: 3rd October 2012. Two Fungi as One!

If you’re lucky, you may get see the Parasitic Bolete (Pseudoboletus parasiticus) that exclusively grows on older bodies of Common Earthballs and therefore easy to identify. The matt textured, olive/brown/yellow cap grows up to 4cm across. Sometimes there are several feeding off the one earthball.

They’re pretty widespread and occasional, and in-fact edible (some say not) but definitely not poisonous. The picture below was kindly sent to me from blog follower Chris Thornley. It was found in woodland near Sandringham. After rain, the cap seems to have a tacky texture. Thanks for the pic Chris.

Pseudoboletus parasiticus

© Chris Thornley 2012 – Parasitic Bolete (Pseudoboletus parasiticus)

Fool me once… The False Chanterelle

I love to feature all the lovely wild edible mushrooms I find (when I get the precious time), but every so often I have to include those annoying ‘look-a-likes’ so that we can all be aware of and be prepared for such party poopers!

Hygrophoropsis aurantiacaThe False Chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) is a very common and strikingly colourful mushroom, predominantly found in small to large groups, mainly in coniferous woodland. They can also be found on heathland too.

Although this mushroom is mainly an autumn species, I have often found it during late summer (just like the true Chanterelle) around early August, hence the reason I’m featuring it now at the end of July.

Myself and many other people have made the same mistake in thinking their luck was in – “Chanterelles – Fantastic”. Oh, how wrong we were. The Chanterelle (Chantharellus cibarius) has the same fruiting season (including late summer), habitat (as well as deciduous woods) and general size and appearance.

And as always, the devil is in the detail when distinguishing between the two. Size-wise, they can be very close, but other feature differences would seem quite obvious if you had either species side by side. But if you’re unfamiliar with both, then here’s what to look out for:

1. The Colour: The False Chanterelle tends to be a deeper Orange-Yellow compared to lighter egg yoke yellow of the True Chanterelle.

2. The Cap: The False Chanterelle has a fine ‘downy’ surface texture (esp. when younger). The True Chanterelle has a more distinctive ‘irregular’ wavy and lobed shape all round the edge.

3. The Gills: Although they both extend down the stem, The True Chanterelle has ‘false’ gills which are thicker and more fleshy.

4. The Smell: The False Chanterelle has a ‘mushroomy’ smell while the True Chanterelle has a very distinctive fruity, apricot-like odour.

3. Spore Print: To double check, you can take a spore print – False Chanterelle = white / True Chanterelle = Yellow/ochre.

Unfortunately, I don’t currently have any (True) Chanterelle images to show in comparison. I will add when I can at a later date of course.

The False Chanterelle has been known to be edible just like the True Chanterelle, but obviously not as superior in flavour etc. Some reference books have labelled it as harmless, but even though it isn’t deadly there have been reports from some people suffering unpleasant or alarming hallucinations. So I would recommend that nobody eat this mushroom.

And to finish, by adding confusion to the confusion, there’s are ‘look-a-like’ to this ‘look-a-like’ which I think most people in Southern Europe should be concerned about. The Jack o’ Lantern Mushroom (Omphalotus olearius) has patchy distribution throughout Southern Europe (with rare sightings in UK and Northern Europe). Again, it looks very similar to the True and False Chanterelles but is definitely posionous. Have no fear though, these guys usually grow in tight groups on living or dead wood of deciduous trees (from the underground roots) so that rules out the others and the major feature the Jack o’ Lantern has is that it’s (mature) gills have an amazing phosphorescent property and glow very bright green in the dark. This I know only from research and I would love to find some and see the effect in action. So that’s a good excuse for a holiday in Southern Europe then aye!?

Keep your eyes out this Late summer/autumn time and I hope your Chanterelle hunting moments don’t get ruined by this naughty twin.

Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca

QUICK ID TABLE: FALSE CHANTERELLE Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca

CAP / FLESH

2 -8 cm diametrre. Convex to funnel shaped. Often inrolled at the edge (margin). Orange-Yellow.

STEM

3 – 5 cm x 0.5 – 1cm. Often curved. Same colour or darker than cap.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Decurrent, forked. Orange, thin and crowded.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Coniferous woods, heaths. Very common. Late summer – autumn.

EDIBILITY

Said to be edible but reports of hallucinations recorded.

Buried Bunny? The Hare’s Foot Inkcap

This mushroom has a long fruiting season and depending on what time it is discovered, it can appear to be a different fungus altogether…

I have come across the Hare’s Foot Inkcap (Coprinopsis lagopus / Coprinus lagopus) as early as May right through to the late autumn months. It gets its common English name from the way the young ‘furry-like’ fruiting body is reminiscent of a hare’s foot – albeit poking up from the ground (hence my tasteless post title).

This Inkcap mushroom is usually found in small groups and matures into relatively tall specimens (up to 12 or 13cm in some cases). They’re usually found on soil or leaf litter in woodland (sometimes in rarer field scenarios).

But quite often, as in this case, they especially seem to enjoy taking to wherever there has been man made disturbance in woodland. There had been a huge pile of woodchip/bark mulch, left by the recent activity of forestry workers. There were dozens of them, in several groups spread across one side of the large mound.

The white(ish) veil remnants are numerous on the young caps, which are very delicate and disappear on handling. The cap expands to almost flat, thinly spreading out the fine fibres on it’s greyish and finely grooved surface. During this ‘growing’ stage, the young white gills soon turn black and deliquesce (turning to inky fluid) typical of nearly all the Inkcaps.

The long white stem is also covered in fine white fibrous scales but usually end up becoming completely smooth.

If you do find some of these Inkcaps coming to the end of their life, you’ll notice the cap curls upwards as it decays. And if you pick and hold up the mushroom to the sky (gills towards you) you will also see it is very translucent due to the very thin flesh. All interesting stuff.

Anyway, they’re pretty common throughout the UK and unfortunately inedible as they’re not really worth the time. Never mind eh!?

QUICK ID TABLE: HARE’S FOOT INKCAP Coprinopsis lagopus / Coprinus lagopus

CAP / FLESH

Young: 2-4 cm high, conical or ovate, covered in fine downy white veil remnants. Mature: Up to 6cm diametre, thin, grey. Covered in whitish veil remnants.

STEM

6-13 cm x 0.3-0.5cm. White, swollen at base. Covered in fine white down. Smooth later.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White, turning black very soon and deliquescing.
Spore Print: Violaceous black (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In groups on soil or leaf litter in woodland (less so in fields). Commonly found in disturbed woodland areas on wood chip or mulch. Early summer to late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too insubstantial.

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.

Coprinu lagopus © Mark Williams 2012.

This great picture of an older Coprinus lagopus was kindly supplied by Mark Williams at www.gallowaywildfoods.com – Notice the up curling edges and see how much of the dark inky fluid, containing the spores, has dissipated, leaving a lighter, translucent cap.

Tree Hugger – The Toughshank / Spindle-Shank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toughshank or Spindleshank mushroom

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

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

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

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too tough and stringy.

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

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

Tinder Trotter – The Hoof Funfus

As winter seems to drag on and on, all mushroom foragers seems to be stuck in some kind of ‘no mans land’ of woe and sorrow… Hey ho!

Fomes fomentariusBut many fungi are perennial and more noticeable through the winter months. They’re easier to spot since many trees are bare and no dense foliage can get in your line of sight. And although not edible, they are worth a look. Some have good uses or properties that are quite interesting (probably not everyday use), as you’ll soon discover…

The Hoof Fungus or Tinder Bracket (Fomes fomentarius) is one of these annually persistent sights. This bracket fungus will get most people’s attention as many grow (often in groups) more or less at head height on the host tree (usually birch or beech). They’re also seen on fallen trunks and logs. It’s size is pretty substantial too. Growing up to 25cm in width and height, making it quite hard to miss!

The first thing you will notice is the familiar ‘hoof shape’ with a smooth dark grey upper zone and several layered, concentric zones below. The outer surface (crust) is almost as hard as the wood on which it grows. Go on, give it a tap! The light brown flesh within is very fibrous and quite hard too, smelling very acidic and fruity. A smooth underside shows the small light grey (sometimes light grey/brown) rounded pores, and like the upper concentric zones, the tubes also grow in several layers during the life cycle.

OK, so far this fungus seems to be pretty weird and particularly bland. But here comes the interesting stuff! Over the centuries, this has been a handy piece of nature our ancestors and die-hard survivalists alike have enjoyed to use…

To reconfirm, this bracket fungus is persistent throughout the year and very durable. One key feature is that it does not burn, but simply smolders. A hollowed out Hoof fungus was used to move (or store) burning embers that would keep for days at a time. The other English name ‘Tinder bracket’ is well founded too – When dried, the inner flesh catches a spark quite easily and can burn well – useful as a good ember (see this link for more info). A recent archaeological discovery uncovered a European Iceman who also had a use for this ‘Tinder Bracket’ -See the “Ötzi the Iceman” story here.

The fun doesn’t stop there though! Until relatively recently, a common use in Germany was the craft and creation of hats and bags, using the soft and pliable mycellial core (located inside the top-centre of the fungus). I intend to get a hat myself if they’re still out there, I must!

Just like many other fungi, there are sometimes useful medicinal uses. Centuries ago, Fomes fomentarius was widely used as a styptic to stop bleeding and as a drug to treat wounds. Even today fungi are invaluable in this area. The fascinating world of fungi never ceases to amaze me.

And before I end this post, I’d like to mention that, from general web visitor feedback and personal experience (rather than official research results), I consider this fungus be a ‘common’ species in the UK (more north than south). Several reference books have stated the main habitat to be situated in and around Scotland only, but I have found no end of these throughout Leicestershire and beyond. A recent enquiry to the ‘mushroomdiary.co.uk’ was questioning this very issue with positive ID’s from the Birmingham area. Migration and declination of fungi is a continual event, and local records are sometimes not up to date, and unfortunately there are no records at all from many areas. But on recent personal research, I’ve found that the appearance of this particular fungi is increasing throughout the UK. Which is all good stuff!

Bracket fungus - Tinder Bracket

Note the concentric layers and upper grey touch surface. Bottom picture shows the underside pores. The tubes are formed in several layers during the life-cycle.

White spores of Hoof Fungus

The production of white spores can be seen on the pores in spring (these photos were taken in April). They may also drop onto the surrounding substrate (right). Most other bracket fungi shed brown spores in the autumn months.

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.

Timebomb Toadstool – The Brown Roll-Rim

The words ‘Mushroom’ and ‘Toadstool’ are not truly scientific names, but general common usage describes these as edible or inedible (and poisonous) fungi respectively. But there is a grey area, (internationally speaking) regarding this mushroom or should I say toadstool?. It is still sold in eastern Europe markets, where-as here at home in the UK, it is strongly advised to be avoided. Over time, this fiendish toadstool can release it’s toxins and seriously poison you…

Brown roll-rimThe Brown Roll-Rim (Paxillus involutus) is a very common toadstool found throughout the UK and Europe. I have come across it many times in mixed woodland. If picked for eating it can lose it’s toxicity once thoroughly cooked, but over time and if eaten on a regular basis, it’s toxin will enter the bloodstream and systematically cause the destruction of the red blood cells. Not very pleasant and definitely not worth the risk. There’s no real timescale for when and if this will happen, but I think it’s best described as a ticking time-bomb!

The common name helps describe this naughty toadstool quite well. Naturally a brown toadstool, it’s rim remains ‘inrolled’ although less so when expanded as it grows – see picture on the left – excuse long fingernails!). The texture when younger is finely felted and later becomes smooth (slimy when wet).

Size-wise, it can grow from 5 – 15cm in diametre when fully mature and has a distinct hazel brown colour (tawny brown / olive when younger) often dotted with darker orange/brown blotches.

The crowded, decurrent gills are a reliable feature for identification also. They ‘bruise’ dark brown on handling are easily separated from the cap flesh.

Being very common in broad leaved and sometimes coniferous woodland (even parks and gardens), you will most likely stumble across these toadstools during late summer to late autumn. They have been classed as deadly poisonous and therefore, to repeat myself again, just avoid them. Several deaths have been reported from Europe. Better the devil you know – to coin a phrase!

Note: See comments boxes below. To eat or not to eat! I know I won’t be eating them!

Paxillus involutus

The Brown Roll-Rim Toadstool – Viscid when wet and brusing dark brown on the gills (top). Younger examples are more finely felted when young before becoming smoother.

PS. If you want to get scientific – check out this eco-news on the study of this very mushroom (and related species): http://www.jgi.doe.gov/sequencing/why/99182.html

QUICK ID TABLE: BROWN ROLL-RIM Paxillus involutus

CAP / FLESH

5-15cm across. Inrolled margin. Ochre – hazel-brown colour (often with darker rain post marks). Downy texture when younger, becoming smoother. Slimy when wet.

STEM

8cm x 0.8-1.2cm. Similar but lighter colour as cap. Stains darker with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Crowded and decurrent. Light ochre to sienna. Bruises darker.
Spore Print: Sienna brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In broadleaved woodland and on heaths. Late summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Poisonous. Can be deadly. Regular consumption build up toxins within the body. Avoid.

Flaky Pholiota – The Shaggy Scalycap

It’s always a joy to find great big clumps of mushrooms while out foraging, especially when you’re not having much luck elsewhere. When you can’t find one mushroom – a bunch of them come along at the same time. Typical!

Pholiota squarossaAlways found at the base of living trees, the Shaggy Scalycap (Pholiota squarossa) is usually found in large, visually striking groups. The first time I found a particularly large gathering of 20 or so together, I was hoping they were edible. In fact I was ‘wishing’ that they were! But in fact they’re just too bitter to be enjoyed which is a great shame considering their size and abundance in which they grow.

The name Pholiota means ‘scaly’ in greek which is a very apt name for this particular genus, all of whom share the common trait of bearing scales on their cap and/or stem. But our common Shaggy Scalycap is one of the best examples at showing this feature off.

The cap, which ranges in size from 3 to 12cm, is a particularly dull or straw-like yellow covered in thick brown ‘upturned’ scales, and it doesn’t stop there! The long stem is just the same, with the scales becoming finer and smaller towards the darkening base. Apart from the crowded cinnamon brown gills (pale yellow when young) the only smooth area to be found is just above the torn ring zone – very close to where it meets the cap.

Although fairly common in the UK mainly with deciduous trees, the Shaggy Scalycap is particularly common in the Rocky Mountains with aspen and spruce trees. So that adds up to great scenery with the bonus of impressive mushrooms. It’s all good.

Other identification tips are in the ID chart below, but before you look there I thought I’d make a note about the poisonous Inocybe terrigena which can sometimes look familiar if you’re not used to the Shaggy Scalycap. But fortunately this not-so-common toadstool (one the ‘Fibrecaps’) grows on it’s own in chalky soils and not in dense clusters at the base of trees.

Pholiota squarossa

The Shaggy Scalycap grows at the base of living trees, often in large and dense clusters

Pholiota squarossa

Close up of the scaly cap and stem. Note the smooth area on the stem above the torn ring.

QUICK ID TABLE: SHAGGY SCALYCAP Pholiota squarossa

CAP / FLESH

4-12cm across. Convex; sometimes bell-shaped. Inrolled margin. Pale yellow with coarse brown scales.

STEM

5-12cm x 1-1.5cm. Like cap in colour; darker brown at the base. Smooth texture above the ring.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Subdecurrent and crowded. Initially yellow, maturing to cinammon.
Spore Print: Rusty brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

At the base of deciduous trees in clumps. Occasionally with conifers. Autumn.

EDIBILITY

Not edible.

The Genus PHOLIOTA (Scalycaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Grow on base of stumps and standing living or dead broad leaved trees, branches, wood debris.
• Most form grouped clumps.
• Spore print is rusty brown.

Dessert anyone? Plums & Custard

This is one of my favourite mushrooms, not really for eating but mainly because of it’s attractive colours and fantastic commonly used name!

Tricholomopsis rutilansSimply called Plums and Custard (Tricholomopsis rutilans) this very common mushroom almost looks good enough to eat, and even sounds good enough to eat, but before you get too excited, the general consensus is that it’s just not recommended. Too watery, unappealing with a bitter or unpleasant taste. Mind you, I’m not really much a fan of the real dish!

When you first stumble across this mushroom, the first thing you notice is it’s striking purple cap (sometimes with a reddish tinge). On closer inspection you’ll notice that purple effect is made up of many purple/reddish flecks or scales on a predominately yellow cap. They’re are usually denser at the centre, appearing darker. The same colour features on the stem are similar to the cap, but the fine purple scales are less profuse.

On the underside you’ll find the distinctive rich yellow gills, which in my opinion, actually do have an uncanny hue of custard.

The size of this mushroom varies from place to place and can grow quite large. But basically the cap dimaetre ranges from as small as 4cm up to 12cm. I also read somewhere that one specimen at an Italian mushroom show had an unusually large cap of 56cm in diametre. Now that’s big!

Next time you’re out in coniferous woodland during the usual mushroom season (September – November) keep a look out for these beauties growing on or around dead wood or old stumps. Shame we can’t actually eat them. Not for pleasure anyway!

Tricholomopsis rutilans

QUICK ID TABLE: PLUMS AND CUSTARD Tricholomopsis rutilans

CAP / FLESH

4-12cm across. Convex; sometimes bell-shaped usually with a shallow/broad umbo. Yellow flesh covered covered with purple/reddish scaly flecks.

STEM

3.5-6cm x 1-1.5cm. Colour and covering like cap but not as dense.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate to adnexed. Custard yellow.

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

HABITAT / SEASON

In woodland on rotting coniferous wood and stumps. Late summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible but doesn’t taste good.

Pointed & Puffy! – The Spiny Puffball

I have a good gauge for the start of the mushroom season in the UK* – and that is my birthday! Well, the birth month anyway. Mushrooms grow all year round, but they are never so much in abundance and variety until the beginning of September. It’s technically still summer, but I can sense the autumn changes already in the wind (and rain of course)! So when people say ‘When does the mushroom season begin?’ I always say – ‘You can’t go wrong from September to November, get yourselves out there for the best pickings…’

Spiny Puffball (Lycoperdon echinatum)I especially notice the puffballs first. I don’t know if this just a Leicestershire thing, but I always find them in abundance, on grass or in woodland, keen to get going. As I walked in the woods today I found at least three different types of woodland puffball without really having to look that hard. They really like to get started early!

I chose to feature the Spiny Puffball (Lycoperdon echinatum) because I hadn’t taken pictures of it before. It’s a great looking and slightly unusual member of the puffball family. Often hidden from view, it blends in very well with the undergrowth (depending on their age). They start off white but soon turn to neutral brown colour, although the short stem can remain white for longer.

It’s most noticeable feature of course is that it’s covered in many tiny spines or spikes. These are finer and less pyramidal than the Common Puffball and naturally a different colour. After time some of these spines can become detached from the main body, leaving a cellular-like pattern, usually before the puffball opens up at the top to disperse it’s spores. Unfortunately I have no current example in the photos shown here.

Dimensions are also similar to the Common Puffball except for the shorter stem, and live in a similar environment. The Spiny Puffball prefers deciduous woods (and sometimes heaths) whereas the Common Puffball is in any type of woodland (deciduous or coniferous).

The young inner flesh looks quite nice, but this puffball is unfortunately classed as inedible, and I don’t know why. Perhaps the taste is disagreeable and unpleasant. I really didn’t feel like trying. There’s plenty more edible mushrooms on the way.

Let the season begin…

Round spiny puffballs

Spiny Puffballs / Cross section of young white flesh which matures purple-brown

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

*In the US (Pennsylvania) a popular mushroom festival coincidentally started this year on my birthday! (http://www.mushroomfestival.org/). If you’re over near that way, it’s definitely worth a look.

Freckled Fungus – The Spotted Toughshank

Although this is a very common species of mushroom, I don’t come across them that often. Even though mainly white in colour they always seem to be hiding under bracken or disguise themselves in similar woodland undergrowth.

Collybia maculataBut once seen, never forgotten, the Spotted Toughshank (Collybia maculata / Rhodocollybia maculata*) is a nice looking, creamy white, chocolate sprinkled mushroom. Although I should really say Toadstool as it is inedible (tough and bitter) and there really isn’t any chocolate involved! If only…

I found this lovely group of ‘toughshanks’ (common name) in some mixed woodland, near the edge of a grassy woodland path hiding in the undergrowth. They can be found in both deciduous and coniferous woodland but they tend to favour coniferous trees – like this group.

The caps are initially a clean with a (slightly creamy) white colour, but soon develop brown spots or freckles on the cap. These tan brown spots can sometimes merge or not be as contrasty against the white cap, so it may sometimes appear as one blended brown patch, especially at the centre. When younger the caps are dome shaped but flatten out with age and sometimes get wavy at the edges.

On the underside the crowded gills (free from the stem) are also white and, in a similar fashion to the cap, become spotted dark brown with age.

The stem is also a great identification marker too. As with all Collybia species, the ‘shank’ is tough, fibrous and flexible. None of this genus have rings present either. As you see in the pictures they can also grow quite tall (up to 12cm), markings are similar to the cap, but mainly white and the longer stems can sometimes be slightly routing.

So be on the lookout anytime this summer to late autumn. They’re out there, but also like to to hide! See the extra ID notes below for further information…

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

Collybia maculata

See the speckles? The typical brown spots on the white cap of the Spotted Toughshank.

QUICK ID TABLE: BUTTER CAP Collybia butyracea / Rhodocollybia butyracea

CAP / FLESH

3-10cm across. First domed then flattened slightly. Creamy white, developing brown spotted markings on the surface.

STEM

5-10cm x 0.7-1.5cm. Similar colour to cap. Sometimes ‘rooting’.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free, white and crowded. Brown spots appear with age.
Spore Print: Cream to pale pink (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In all woodland. In undergrowth or bracken on heath land. Summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Not edible. Too tough and bitter.

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.

Bulging bracket! – The Birch Polypore

It’s very rare that I do not see one of these bracket fungus when I’m out and about on a forage. They grow quite large and are around all year. It would be hard to miss one.

The Birch Polypore or Razorstrop fungus (Piptoporus betulinus) is an extremely common polypore fungus. As the name suggests, it is found exclusively on birch trees.

At maturity they are typically semicircular or kidney shaped as they grow outwards from the tree body. Shapes and sizes may differ a little but generally this is the norm. As I mentioned earlier, they can grow to a good size – between 20 – 30cm across and 8cm thick! They’re quite a sight to behold when they get to this size.

The colour is that of pure white (when younger) and as it matures it changes to a dull grey or tawny brown. It’s smooth surface often cracks, showing white flesh underneath. The consistency is spongy or slightly rubbery to the touch. These fruiting bodies can usually last from one year into the next, that is why you can see them all of the time over the winter months.

Razorstrop Fungus

Typical semi-circular/kidney shape of the Birch Polypore

On the underside the pored surface is smooth and pure white, but over time this gets marked with dark patches from age and/or insect attack.

I know what you’re thinking though. Is this fungus edible? Well, unfortunately not. It actually smells quite pleasant but it’s taste is quite bitter. It’s a shame, I know.

At least it had it’s uses even as far back as 5,300 years ago! In 1991 “Ötzi the Iceman” (Europe’s oldest natural human mummy) was discovered by German tourists in the Alps. Found in his possession were two species of polypore mushroom. One of which was the Birch Polypore (for medicinal use) which is known to have antibacterial properties. It could have also have been used to sharpen blades or tools – hence the name ‘Razorstrop’.

Polypore fungus

In the images above are some very young Birch Polypores growing out of from the bark of a fallen silver birch tree.

What a rotter! – The Willow Shield

This is the first in my posts aimed at the Pluteus genera of mushrooms. Nearly always found on rotting wood including logs, stumps and general wood debris, hence the savvy title. The common name used for this group is ”Shield”, and a very apt name it is too because they always remind me of actual shields – fancy that!

Pluteus salicinusFeatured this time is the Willow Shield (Pluteus salicinous). I almost missed several of these on a walk through the woods. The upper canopy had drained quite a lot of the natural light. It was also still dry out there as the recent weather hadn’t delivered much rain – but plenty of sticky warm days!

Perhaps the warmth and dryness had taken the moisture out of these beauties, the wrinkled edges in the photos aren’t usually a common feature of a healthy young specimen.

Imperfections aside, the Willow Shield is a pretty dull mushroom anyway – but on closer inspection really quite distinct. The first thing that struck me was the colour of the cap. Although it appears a mundane grey in these photos (better captured in image below) there is an overall tint of blue (sometimes green) but very subtle, and that really caught my attention. It’s sometimes hard to capture in a photograph, but part of that may be a trick of light and what angle you view it from – or do I need another camera!?

The cap holds further details for inspection. It is noticeably darker at the centre, and after flattening out as it matures it usually leaves a slight umbo (or bump). This central point is very finely velvety to the touch where subtle coloured streaks radiate outwards from it’s centre. The stem itself is a good old ‘uncomplicated’ smooth white (although sometimes with a darker tinge at it’s base).

As with all Pluteus mushrooms, their gills are free from the stem and the spore print will be pink. As this mushroom ages, it’s gills will turn from white to pink as the spores mature.

And last but not least you’ve probably noticed I have categorised this post in ‘What’s your Poison?’ and ‘Tales of Toadstools / The Inedibles!’ because this mushroom is generally classed as inedible. But I have read elsewhere that unlike other Pluteus species, this mushroom (or now should I say toadstool!?) contains small amounts of psilocybin (compound psilocin). This is the same substance found in Magic Mushrooms (or Liberty Caps). So it’s advisable to leave this toadstool alone.

Pluteus salicinus

Notice the cap has a slight blue colouring and a distinctive bump (or umbo) at the centre which is darker in colour

QUICK ID TABLE: WILLOW SHIELD Pluteus salicinous

CAP / FLESH

2-6cm across. Convex the flat with a slight bump (umbo). Bluish or greenish grey. Darker radiating streaks. Darker at centre.

STEM

3-5cm x 0.2-0.7cm. White. Tinged with cap colour at base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

On deciduous rotting wood, especially willow. Spring – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Not edible. Contains some psilocybin (psilocin). Avoid.

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

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

Common in a crowd – The Sulphur Tuft toadstool

There’s a extremely good chance of you finding a large group of Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare) at just about anytime of the year (especially from April to December). These beauties are extremely common in the UK and populate all types of woods and forests.

Sulphur Tuft Toadstool/MushroomThey are Saprotrophs (feeding off decaying matter) and appear in small tufts or large groups on dead/rotting wood (deciduous or coniferous), tree stumps or underground buried decaying wood or roots. The Hypholoma group of fungi like these are commonly known as ‘Brownie’.

When found in great numbers they are indeed a great sight to behold. When in their prime, the convex cap has an amazing bright sulphur-yellow colour with darker orange tones towards the centre. Remnants of the pale yellow veil (initially covering the gills) can be found at the edge (margin). The stem, which is often curved, share a similar yellow-brown colour (sometimes greenish) though dirty brown towards the base with a fibrous appearance. The gills , when younger, appear green-yellow which act as a good indicator in identification.

They almost look good enough to eat (and do have that ‘mushroomy’ smell), but unfortunately are not edible and will most likely give you stomach ache, vomiting and similar gastrointestinal symptoms. But the almost identical Conifer Tuft (Hypholoma capnodes) on the other hand – is edible – but less common throughout the year. As the name suggests, this species only grows in coniferous woods, in fact only always found on rotting tree stumps.

There is a ‘taste test’ you can make to identify between the two. Simply taste a small sample from the cap, making sure you don’t swallow! If it is bitter in taste, it is a Sulphur Tuft but if it is mild, then it is a Conifer Tuft.

Please note that you shouldn’t try this taste test with other mushrooms or toadstools you find (unless you know exactly what you’re dealing with. ie. Russula or Lactarius) as nasty results can come from tasting unknown species!

And if you do find some Conifer Tuft, I’ve heard they’re best steamed or used in a soup. I have no idea what they taste like!

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare)

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare). Note the slight yellow green of the gills which age to an olive colour, and then finally to dark brown.

Hypholoma fasiculare

Sulphur Tuft – Grouped clusters on a fallen log and a group of young/small specimens.

Toadstool ID Chart - Sulphur Tuft

The Genus HYPHOLOMA (Brownies): Characteristics to look out for:

• Often yellow/orangy brown caps.
• Dark brown spore print.

Small and Brown! What is it? Winter Edition

I often hear from my friends various stories from their travels in these winter months. They sometimes stumble across ‘small and brown mushrooms’ – “What are they?” they would shout! Without really being there, that was really quite a tough question!

Winter Twiglet Mushroom (Tubaria hiemalis)Small and brown mushrooms usually mean ‘nightmare identification’ to most people. But if it’s a winter mushroom (ie. January/February) I at least have the advantage of elimination.

Apart from the Velevet Shank mushroom, there’s really not much out there this time of year. But there are still quite a few typical ‘mushroom-shaped’ species scattered around (ie. not a bracket fungus).

And recently I myself have come across a certain small brown species, found in mid-january. They were growing in abundance along the side of a grassy woodland path, among the dead leaves and general wood mulch.

Mushrooms!? Ground mushrooms this time of year!? What’s going on? Yes, to be fair, it’s not your typical find and I was keen to fathom out what on earth they were.

As you’ve probably guessed, these mushrooms were new to me, but I always entertain myself in the process of identification (I know I should get out more …but I already was!) Anyway, after much research – both online and churning through my extensive literature – I learned I was dealing with the ‘Tubaria’ group of fungi (in the family of ‘Cortinariaceae’ to be precise!)

Many books out there (even some of the heavyweight ones) do not not include many from the Tubaria group of mushrooms. But luckily, after a lot of cross referencing, I believe I’m dealing with Tubaria hiemalis (Winter Twiglet) – one of the more common species which grows from September to February. And before you ask – No, it’s not edible! Not poisonous, but simply tastes bad. Shame!

Well, there you go. You may see some scattered around the country side or near your home even. Key identification info and characteristics can be seen at the end of this post in the ‘Quick ID notes’.

Winter Twiglet (Tubaria hiemalis)

These older specimens of the Winter Twiglet grow from late autumn through winter to early spring in woodland debris/mulch. The caps of younger specimens appear more uniformly round, and almost balled shaped, sprouting from the ground, when very young.

Winter Twiglet Identification Chart

Halloween Special – The Witch’s Egg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stinkhorn egg sack and mature stinkhoorn fungus

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

Dying Stinkhorn

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

Horse & Field Mushroom Imposter! – The Yellow Stainer

It’s a Sunday afternoon and I pass by a grass verge near my house. My heart jumps at the sight of a huge cluster of (what seem to be) Horse mushrooms or possibly Field mushrooms, but this is no field, just a grassy verge near trees at the side of the road! I was without a basket or bag so like a kid in a sweet shop I scooped up a good share, leaving some to drop their spores.

But my dreams of a nice fry up or even a creamy mushroom soup are soon quaffed because I suddenly realise these mushrooms are not what they appear to be. I wait until I get home around the corner to double check. Read on…

Image of yellow marking on Agaricus xanthodermus

Chrome yellow staining on cap edge. Bulbous base.

I’m not surprised at all that the Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthodermus) is responsible for the most cases of mushroom poisoning in this country. Although this evil twin of our favourite field, wood and Horse mushrooms is not deadly it can keep you in the loo for longer than you normally do! Gastric symptoms can persist for up to 24 hours. Fortunately I have not been caught out yet, but some people after consumption usually get away with only mild upset or sometimes have no reaction at all. My Uncle once told me “Ooh, I don’t get along with those Yellow Stainers – don’t like ’em” . Let’s hope that it was only his palette they offended – I didn’t ask!

So how on earth can I identify this poisonous peril when compared to a Horse mushroom? I hear you all cry!

Don’t rely on the ‘overall look’. They differ in colour from pure white to brown/grey, scaly and smooth, tall and short and so on. Horse mushrooms can display some paler yellow on the cap and stem – so if you do see some yellow it’s not always a bad thing.

Both the Horse Mushroom and Yellow Stainer ‘bruise’ yellow (There’s hardly any yellow about the Field mushroom). But the Yellow Stainer has a stronger chromium yellow once bruised. If you rub the cap with your thumb, there will be a very noticeable colour change. But the crunch test for me is at the very base. Take a knife to the very bottom of the stem (the base is more bulbous than the others) and cut in half (see picture below). If the colour changes to a vivid yellow, then you’ve got yourself a Yellow Stainer. Horse and Field mushrooms do not stain at the base like this.

Other good ID tips are:
1. The smell is an unpleasant (phenol/inky smell more apparent when being cooked)
2. The ring on the stem is large and floppy.
3. Before the veil drops it does not have the ‘cogwheel’ pattern like the Horse Mushroom.
4. Gills when very young are white unlike the Horse and Field mushrooms which are pink

In addition to point 3 – if you’re new to collecting mushrooms, avoid very young specimens as they also can be confused with much more poisonous (even deadly) young toadstools.

The Yellow Stainer - Poisonous UK mushroom

Horse and Field Mushroom lookalike – The Yellow Stainer. Notice the chrome yellow colouring at the base of a cut stem.

Large ring of Yellow Stainer mushroom

On open caps: The ring on the Yellow Stainer is noticably large and floppy. The Field Mushroom’s ring is a fine torn frill. The Horse Mushroom’s ring is formed of a double membrane. The lower part is ‘star shaped’

Quick ID checlist for Agaricus Xanthodermus.

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.

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

Sobriety Test! – The Common Ink Cap

This common and cheeky mushroom has a trick up it’s sleeve. If you’re a ‘tea totaller’ then there’s nothing to worry about. Just throw it in the pan, cook it up and get stuck in.

On the other hand if you’re fond of the odd tipple – beware! The Common Ink Cap (Coprinopsis atramentaria) inhibits the breakdown of alcohol in the liver, and toxic levels will build up in the body.

Ironically, my first discovery of this mushroom was actually on a Sunday afternoon on my way home from the pub! I thought it best to leave it where it was. Had a snooze instead!

If consumed with alcohol a selection of symptoms will occur, including hot flushes, redness of the face/upper body, headaches, sweating, shortness of breath and some tingling in the limbs. These side effects, although not too serious, would be very unwelcome after lunch time. So if you’re going to try some, avoid the juice for a good 2-3 days (I’m guessing, as I haven’t tried it myself). Anyone fancy a pint?

Anyway, that’s the interesting technical part over with, now on to what our common friend looks like. One of its most striking features which it shares with it’s other family members is the cap itself, which has a distinctive ‘torpedo’ or ‘bell-like’ shape. As it matures it will open up, sometimes only slightly, and begin to lose colour and disintegrate. It’s at this stage the gills dissolve and create an inky fluid. In the past this fluid literally has been used for writing ink. Wonderful stuff.

So stay off the booze if you want a taster. Hope it’s worth it.
I’m off to the pub. Cheers…

Update 25.04.11 – Just a quick note on the habitat of the Common Ink Cap. Although most of my finds have been in grassland or gardens, this mushroom is equally at home in woodland. Recent discoveries were found at the base of a rotting tree stump and also coming through a pavement next to a wall (behind which was woodland). Their main source of nutrients is from dead rotting wood underground, hence the diverse locations. TTFN.

The Common Ink Cap in all its glory, although in a slightly phallic pose! The black fluid from the mature gills has been used in the past as a good writing ink, by boiling the inky cap with a little water and cloves.

Also see my post on it’s tasty (non-poisonous twin) The Shaggy Inkcap.

Common Ink Cap

The torpedo or bell shaped Common Ink Cap in grass

QUICK ID TABLE: COMMON INKCAP Coprinopsis atramentaria

CAP / FLESH

4-8cm tall. Initially egg shaped, later bell shaped; opening up flatter with age. Grey/fawn colour. Thin fleshed.

STEM

6-17cm x 0.9-1.5cm. White, smooth and hollow. Trace of ring near the base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Crowded and grey; maturing brown; to black, eventually to inky fluid.
Spore Print: Black (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Grass, parks and gardens. Growing on buried wood. Spring – early winter.

EDIBILITY

Edible but can be poisonous if alcohol is in the body, even from days before and after.

The Genus COPRINUS, COPRINOPSIS & 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.

Fairytale Fungus – The Fly Agaric

It’s always nice to come across one of the most loved of all toadstools. I’m of course talking of the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria). Most probably you will recall first seeing them depicted in your favourite childhood nursery rhyme or fairytale (or even in a so called ‘Mario’ video game).

Amanita muscaria ToadstoolIt was interesting to discover that they were traditionally used as a fly killer by the people of Slovenia (also England and Sweden). Chopped up flesh chunks were placed in saucers of milk or water, which would then release psychoactive compounds, deadly to any fly or bug foolish enough to take the bait. Some consider this story debatable, but one thing for sure is that the iconic and cultural history of this famous toadstool go back a long way, having deep routes in religion, spirituality, and of course recreational use!

This mushroom is in the same genus as the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) but A.muscaria has a different make-up and is rarely fatal (many would have to be consumed). It is not, as some people think, The Magic Mushroom which most people have heard of. The actual Magic Mushroom or Liberty Cap is actually a Psilocybe species called Psilocybe semilanceata. Nevertheless, the Fly Agaric is indeed a famously noted and powerful hallucinogenic.

I’ve never felt the urge to experiment (either for culinary or recreational interest) as they do cause sickness, and in some cases produce some very alarming symptoms. However, there are some places in Europe where they still eat them, only after careful preparation (parboiling etc). Hmm! I’m still not sure.

The Fly Agaric contains a compound called ‘Muscarine’, which is one of the poisons found in other mushrooms from the Inocybe and Clitocybe genus, although they are in very small quantities here, hence the minimal reports of serious poisoning and/or deaths.

There are many active chemical compounds in the mushroom, but the main psychoactive agent is called muscimol. Its effect on the brain excites neural transmitters causing the hallucinogenic effects, which are very unpredictable and will differ from person to person.

But simply eating this mushroom out right rarely has the effect some people actually want. Yet somehow, somewhere, someone discovered how to get the results they were after – and that was to drink urine! That is, the urine of someone willing to consume the mushrooms in the first place. The psychoactive elements pass through into the urine, while all the other bad elements are all filtered out by the body. All you have to do then is take a drink! There would be minimal or no bad side effects and all the desired good effects – well, hopefully. Several cultures (past and present) have used this practice as a form of religious ritual, recreation and/or spiritually as an entheogen – meaning ‘generating the divine within’.

Whatever your stance is on the ‘use’ of this mushroom, there’s no doubt it is one of natures most interesting and beautiful species. And if you do find some this autumn (or late summer) be sure to look out for any Ceps (Boletus edulis) hanging around nearby – they sometimes will be growing in the same vicinity. Good luck.

Amanita muscaria Images

The Fly Agaric’s Red cap with white spots (veil remnants). Bottom: Notice that over time from weathering/rain etc. the cap can fade in colour and the white veil remnants can be washed off, as shown here.

Amanita muscaria

Two young Fly Agarics covered with remnants of the white veil.

Note: Bear in mind that extremely young examples of this mushroom growing up from the soil can appear like small white puffballs. There was a case of someone eating what they thought was a puffball, and experienced mild hallucinations but suffered no ill effect, just a bit of a scare!

QUICK ID TABLE: FLY AGARIC Amanita muscaria

CAP / FLESH

10-20cm across. Red with white ‘spotted’ veil remnants on the surface; these can wash off with rain and the colour fade to orange-red. Mature cap edge is grooved.

STEM

15-20cm x 1.5-2cm. With a grooved ring. Bulbous base with volva that has rings and scales.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

Woodland, mostly with birch; also pine and spruce. Late summer – early winter.

EDIBILITY

Poisonous, causing sickness. Contain hallucinogens.

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.