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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
.

Blue-leg Bounty – The Field Blewit

Happy (belated) new year to you all! Things have been very busy for me pre-Christmas, hence the delay featuring this lovely and edible treat I found in November, even though it can often be seen in the winter months!

I’m so happy to have found this mushroom recently as I don’t see much of it nowadays. It has patchy distribution throughout Europe and is notably harder to find than our reliable Wood Blewit (Clitocybe nuda / Lepista nuda). However, I hope you do come across The Field Blewit or Blue-leg (Clitocybe saeva / Lepista Saeva) pretty soon too. It is one of the more highly prized wild edible mushrooms to be found.

Field BlewitThese two conspicuous ‘Blewits’ look very similar but have a few notable differences. Firstly the most obvious difference is that the Blue-Leg is found mainly in Fields/pasture (as you would expect with such a name!) but it can reside close to woodland in grassy hedgerows (as in this case) or even gardens. They’re usually found in Fairy rings, but I don’t see much of that. My bad luck I guess.

The smooth, large cap  of a mature specimen (often with a wavy margin) is pallid brown in colour, unlike the Wood Blewit which has a distinctive violet hue.

The gills are similar in their crowded, fleshy appearance but have different colouring; the Field Blewit’s gills are whitish when young, maturing to a ‘pale flesh’ colour, unlike the violet tinge present in the Wood Blewit.

The streaky coloured stems however (or ‘Legs’ in this case) are very similar. The Field Blewit has a strong violet shade, which is bizarre considering they’re known as Blue-Legs – but there you go, I don’t make the rules! The contrasting light brown of the cap and strong violet stem is quite distinctive.

The Field Blewit is superior in flavour to the more common Wood Blewit, and apparantly they both store well in a freezer for future consumption. Yum.

Have a good new year and here’s hoping you have good foraging fortune. (P.S. Look out for Jelly Ear which is more conspicuous this time of year – they’re great for stir fry with a wealth of health benefits. Enjoy).

Lepista saeva

The Wood Blewit, also known as Blue-Leg with its distinctive bluish-lilac coloured stem. Gills are flesh coloured in mature specimens.

QUICK ID TABLE: FIELD BLEWIT Clitocybe saeva / Lepista saeva

CAP / FLESH

6-12cm across. Smooth, pale brown and fleshy. Flat to convex, sometimes with a central depression as it ages. Wavy edged with age.

STEM

3-6cm x 1.5-2.5cm. Violet/lilac (bluish) and fibrous. Sometimes swollen at base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Fleshy, crowded. Sinuate. Pale whitish when young. Flesh colour when older.
Spore Print: Pink (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In pasture/fields, grassy hedgerows. Sometimes gardens/orchards. Autumn – early winter.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Excellent – Cook well.

Fickle & Twisted – The Deceiver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deceiver Mushrooms

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

QUICK ID TABLE: DECEIVER Laccaria laccata

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible. Not really worth it.

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

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

Large as life – The Giant Puffball

There is no danger in mistaking this fungus with any other. Nothing comes close to its unique size and appearance. Everyone should feel lucky if they ever find any of these beauties in their prime. I only have the occasional luck here and there. They’re either too young, too old or vandalized! Late summer and autumn is the best time to go hunting for them.

PuffballsThe pictures of these magnificent Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) were kindly supplied by Brian Friend (excluding the header & bottom right image) taken in his garden in Stickney, Lincolnshire. My discoveries to date haven’t been particularly photogenic, so many thanks again Brian.

So here were not just one, but several Giant Puffballs in a long line – or so it seems. They are actually part of a large partial ring. The averge puffball size I would say would be approximately 20-23cm in diametre (around 4kg). They could also still be in the process of growing even larger. Mature specimens can reach up to 80cm across (approx. 20kg) or even larger in some exceptional cases.

Apart from hedgerows and woodland edges, it is gardens and pasture land that are the most common habitat for this fungus, often found in full or partial fairy rings (as in this case).

The outer skin is white or creamy white and is firm and leathery to the touch. The inner flesh contains a dense white spore mass, known as gleba. These young reproductive spores amount in excess to around 7-8 trillion – and sometimes more. That’s one determined fungus keen on reproduction! However, only a couple of the spores may find purchase and reproduce elsewhere. Maybe this is not a bad thing, otherwise we’d be knee deep in them every autumn.

With age, the skin rots away and peels, leaving the now mature olive-brown spores to be released. This is further helped when the whole fruiting body becomes detached from it’s relatively small mycelial attachment (small white root-like appendage) and is free to roll ‘not-so-gracefully’ over the surrounding grassland.

If you’re lucky enough to find these magnificent white balls in their prime, the young white flesh is excellent for eating, and there’s a wealth of recipes out there for it. Here’s just a choice few:

Happy Hunting…

Giant Puffball image identification

The Giant Puffball can reach up to 80cm across. Older examples peel open and release the mature brown spores within (bottom right).

 

Fawny coloured Deer Shield

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the Deer name?

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

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

Deer Shield Mushroom

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

QUICK ID TABLE: DEER SHIELD Pluteus cervinus

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible. Not considered particularly good.

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

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

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

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.

The darker side – Dark Honey Fungus

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

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

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

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

Safe to eat?

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

Strange but true!

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

Images of Armillaria ostoyae

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

QUICK ID TABLE: DARK HONEY FUNGUS Armillaria ostoyae

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny Trooper – The Collared Parachute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUICK ID TABLE: COLLARED PARACHUTE Marasmius rotula

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Not edible. Too small and insubstantial.

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

• Small or tiny caps with tall, thin stems.

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

Tree loving – The Poplar Fieldcap

To be honest, I don’t really see many Fieldcaps, scientifically known as Agrocybes (Agro meaning Field and cybe meaning cap/head). Many have a fruiting season from late spring through to autumn, hence they are very conspicuous when seen during the summer months, when there is little about. And to add as an update/note (May 2017): This species is now classified as Cyclocybe cylindracea)

Agrocybe speciesThis is my second find in the same month of two different species of Agrocybe, but I’ll focus on the latter example here. Although its common name suggests its habitat, the Poplar Fieldcap (Agrocybe cylindracea or Cyclocybe cylindracea) only grows in association with trees, namely Poplar and Willow – just like our native Black Poplar as in this case. (More info on identifying the Black Poplar here). It’s really not that common but has an ‘all year round’ season, and rather than being seen with trees, it can also be found out of its natural surroundings such as on rotting wood mulch and garden chippings.

I found this small collective at a local park that seemed to be growing in the grass, near a Poplar tree. As I always say, check out the environment, because at first glance some things can be deceptive. On closer inspection, the stem bases were actually attached to the gnarly roots just hiding beneath the grass, embedded slightly deeper in the soil. This fact alone helped as a great clue to its identity.

I caught them a little late though. When younger (as you will see in some of the pictures below) the whitish/pale buff caps are rounded and smooth and range from 4cm to 6cm across. After a short time the caps expand (up to 10cm approximately) and often dry out to leave a ‘crazed’ surface pattern and the margin often becomes wavy and split. Initially the adnate (or slightly decurrent) gills are pale but soon mature to dark tobacco-brown as the spores mature. These mature spores will fall onto the persistent ring beneath, leaving a dirty brown stain on the upper side.

Although edible I don’t hear much about what people think about them. I simply assumed they were just not held in any high regard. But after sampling a couple of the younger, more fleshy samples, I was pleasantly surprised. The smell and taste is typically ‘mushroomy’ but much milder with a ‘nutty’ hint. Very nice indeed. I would definitely recommend them.

So, for a species that isn’t terribly common I was lucky to find these… Well, actually I was told about them by a friend. It’s pays off when you ask all your friends and family to keep a look out. All those extra pairs of eyes are very useful. Happy hunting.

Polar Fieldcap images

Top: Notice the spores that have dropped onto one of the younger caps, leaving a dark brown stain. A.cylindracea often grow in tight overlapping groups. The cap flattens out with age and splits at the margin. As it loses moisture and dries out, it develops a ‘crazed’ surface pattern.

QUICK ID TABLE: POPLAR FIELDCAP Agrocybe cylindracea / Cyclocybe cylindracea

CAP / FLESH

4-10cm across. Pale. Whitish with yellow-brown centre. Darker with age or brown from spore deposits of other mushrooms. Rounded at first, maturing flat and often cracking.

STEM

5-10cm x 1-1.5cm. Creamy white. Darkening with age. Persistent ring often coloured brown on the upper side by falling spores.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate or slightly decurrent. Initially cream, maturing to tobacco brown colour.
Spore Print: Tobacco brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In groups, sometimes overlapping, growing with Poplar and Willow. All year.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Mild and slightly nutty flavour.

Poplar Fieldcap Sketch

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

With a brown bump! – The Common Bonnet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why the Bonnet name?

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

QUICK ID TABLE: COMMON BONNET Mycena galericulata

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible but not really worth it.

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

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

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
.

Big Bonus – The Horse Mushroom

Right now there are quite a few Agaricus (mushroom) species. I have already seen many species in varying urban habitats. I was especially lucky when I stumbled across these beauties literally round the corner from my house on a large grassy verge.

Horse Mushrooms in grassThe most welcome Horse Mushroom (Agaricus arvensis) is a great tasty mushroom that grows in most types of grassland, mainly permanent pasture land, but to reiterate, in this case it was a small grassy front lawn/verge.

They’re often found growing in large rings and this was no exception, even though it was only a partial ring. Still plenty to go around though.

The word ‘Horse’ used in the English name doesn’t reflect on where they can be found, such as fields with horses in (which is a common misconception) but is in reference to their large size. The largest in this group was 15cm across, the size of a small plate. 20cm is the maximum size on average and even at these dimensions, they are still relatively fresh and ready for the pan. If you find what appears to be a Horse Mushroom, but has a 30cm diametre cap, then you’ve probably found a Macro Mushroom (Agaricus urinascens), very similar indeed to our Horse Mushroom but slightly more scalier on the cap. That’s another story for another time.

People often avoid the Horse Mushroom because of the yellow (pale ochre) colouring that appears on the cap as it ages. Some are unsure that they could be dealing with the rather unwelcome ‘Yellow Stainer’, an extremely common look alike that could cause nasty gastro upsets (read all the about the Yellow Stainer in this post). In fact, some Agariucus xanthodermus were quite happily growing on a grassy verge nearby that very day!

But have no fear, the Horse Mushroom has some key characteristics that set it apart from the rest. Initially I always do the ‘Yellow Stainer’ test in which I rub the side of the cap and get the base of the stem out of the ground and snap it in half. If there’s some ‘strong’ chrome yellow colouring I simply avoid it. The Horse Mushroom has no extreme colouring like this and no colouring at all in the base of the stem flesh.

If you look around and find a very young example, the gills will be veiled by the what is to become the ‘ring’ on the stem (see picture below). A distinctive jaggedy ‘cogwheel’ pattern runs around the outer circumference of the membrane. This is always a good sign.

The young gills are white at first and turn pink, then eventually chocolate brown as time goes by. I found these at a good time and I didn’t hesitate at all in collecting some for my tea, leaving a few to do their thing.

They eventually ended up in a lovely mushroom soup (if I don’t mind saying so myself). I hope you too have some good luck in finding these beautiful and tasty mushrooms. Enjoy.

Horse mushroom pictures

The Horse Mushroom can grow up to 20cm in diametre. Notice the ‘cogwheel’ pattern on the veil, covering the gills of the younger mushroom (bottom left).

QUICK ID TABLE: HORSE MUSHROOM Agaricus arvensis

CAP / FLESH

5 – 20 cm across. Initially domed cap expanding out. Creamy white, yellowing with age. Flesh firm and thick. Slight smell of aniseed (more so when young). Veil on underside initially covers gills. Has a ‘cogwheel’ pattern.

STEM

8-10cm x 2-3cm. Same colour as cap. Often becomes hollow.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free from stem apex. White at first, then pink, then chocolate brown with age.
Spore Print: Dark purple brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Grassy pastures, lawns and sometimes grassy verges. Often in rings. Late summer – autumn. Common.

EDIBILITY

Edible and excellent. Good mushroomy flavour.

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.

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
.

Shelling out – The Oyster mushroom

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

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

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

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

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

Oyster mushrooms

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

QUICK ID TABLE: OYSTER MUSHROOM Pleurotus ostreatus

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible and good.

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

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

The Oaks friend – Oakbug Milkcap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oakbug Milkcap images

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

QUICK ID TABLE: OAKBUG MILKCAP Lactarius quietus

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible.

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

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

Sticky Suillus – Slippery Jack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suillus luteus pictures

QUICK ID TABLE: SLIPPERY JACK Suillus luteus

FRUITING BODY

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

STEM

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

PORES / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

With conifers, usually Scotts pine in autumn. Common.

EDIBILITY

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

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

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

Shaggy Inkcaps out in force…

It’s been a great October so far for Shaggy Inkcaps (Coprinus comatus). People have sent me loads of pictures and I’ve picked a couple dozen young ones for my pan too.

I recently had a picture sent to me showing someones great collection of Shaggy Inkcaps along with an equally impressive collection of something else. I wasn’t quite sure at the time and I couldn’t tell from the photos, but after a recent discovery of a large troop of Coprinus comatus, I realised that they too were not alone!

Scattered here and there with the Inkcaps were small, young brown caps which I suspected were Weeping Widows (Lacrymaria lacrymabunda / Click here for more information). I checked with all the characteristics and true enough, they were.

I don’t know if this is just coincidence or if they benefit from each other in any way. Maybe they are fighting for territory? I haven’t found any information to support this or otherwise. It’s a mystery to me. Anyway, I didn’t take the Weeping Widows (even though edible), just the lovely young Inkcaps, which are lovely to eat.

Follow this link to read more about my first post on The Shaggy Inkcap. It features extra information and identification features.

Weeping Widows with Inkcaps

Top: Shaggy Inkcaps young and old. Bottom: Shaggy Inkcaps with Weeping Widow mushrooms / Weeping Widow close-ups.

Oh, and one last thing. When you pick those lovely young Shaggy Inkcaps, get them in the pan as soon as possible. Don’t make the same mistake I did and forget about them. The picture below shows my bountiful collection turn into ink after a day or two. Oops!

Shaggy Inkcap Ink

Whoopsy! My Shaggy Inkcaps were left only a day. On opening the temporary storage box, there was a defiant spillage! Lesson learnt…

Savouring the Centre of the Stinkhorn!

It was two years ago at the end of October 2010 that I first featured a post on the Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) – or Witches Egg as it appears when in it’s young ‘egg form’…

Since then I have seen (and involuntarily smelled) many in mixed woodland and even gardens. They are pretty much revered as being horrible, disgusting, offensive and a unwelcome garden addition. This is a fair point of view, especially when they’ve found a way into your rose beds.

They are often first discovered in their ‘preparation’ egg stage of development and have no offensive smell at all. For some reason I had never cut one in half to examine the inner contents – well, there are obvious reasons for the normal average person, but as a regular mycophile finding a young and perfect stinkhorn egg like this, you’ve got to take a look… and a taste maybe…

Around the world I believe they are eaten it in most forms. Whole eggs are prepared for eating but I’m not sure I want to go there! I do know for sure they sell dried (mature) Nettled Stinkhorns for the pan (see link here). Don’t ask me what to do with them (beyond re-hydrating them) or if I have any recipe tips!

But I was encouraged to give the ‘white’ centre a raw tasting by an experienced mushroom guide one day. “It tastes like a nut” he claimed. I couldn’t refuse, and you know, it wasn’t that bad at all. It had the texture and consistency of a water chestnut but with the mild after taste of a raw peanut. Mind you – how many eggs would you need to get a few decent portions for a posh and weird ‘organic natures delights’ party. Quite a few I think.

I’d recommend you give it a go only if you know for sure you’re dealing with a young Stinkhorn egg. Please be sure or don’t try at all, as you may be dealing with a young ‘Deathcap Egg’ or other ‘young stage’ Amanita which is definitely bad news (and potentially deadly).

Oh, and one more thing which could put you off is (as legend has it) that you should never eat, or even pick Stinkhorns in New Guinea, where the Iban people (former headhunters) call it ghost penis fungus. It’s the member of a warrior who was decapitated in battle, and the twice-mutilated fighter will rise from the ground and pursue you until he cuts off your head with his headhunting sword! Fair warning…

Witches Egg

The young egg sliced in half. There is no nasty smell at this stage.

See the picture below showing a developing/opening Stinkhorn egg and the mature specimen. Note that the head is initially covered in a blackish gloopy goo giving off the offensive chemical-like/rotting meat smell which attracts flies. The spores are dispersed as the flies move on. Very clever really…

To see my write up for more information (including comments and blog feedback) see my previous Stinkhorn post, click here.

Phallus impudictus - Witches Egg - Stinkhorn Fungus

The Stinkhorn egg has hatched open. At this stage, the ‘stink’ will start and become stronger as the ‘horn’ shaped fungus grows out.

Deliciosus! – The Saffron Milkcap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lactarius deliciosus - edible milkcap

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

QUICK ID TABLE: SAFFRON MILKCAP Lactarius deliciosus

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible. Very Good. Popular in Europe.

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

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

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.

Shy Amanita? The Blusher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aminita mushroom

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

Blusher Toadstool

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

QUICK ID TABLE: THE BLUSHER Amanita rubescens

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible. Must be boiled before cooking. Discard water.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collybia butyracea - var.asema

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

QUICK ID TABLE: BUTTER CAP Collybia butyracea / Rhodocollybia butyracea

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible but not great.

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

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

ExCEPtional! – The Penny Bun, Cep or Porcini mushroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good hunting…

The Cep

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

Boletus edulis Mushroom UK

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

QUICK ID TABLE: CEP Boletus edulis

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

PORES / TUBES / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible. Excellent.

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

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

Halloween Special – The Witch’s Hat

This mushroom is one of, if not ‘the‘ most common of all the Waxcaps (known as the Hygrocybes) which I recently discovered on the 30th October. By posting on the first day of November I realise I’ve missed the Halloween deadline (excuse the pun) and I’m sorry. But Halloween ‘is’ the eve of ‘All Saints Day’ – making my error simply forgiven! Or something like that…

Hygrocybe conicaAlthough it has been a relatively bad season for mushrooms and fungi alike due to the dry weather, this last week has proved fruitful, especially in relation to Waxcaps.

Because of the excellent timing, I had to feature the ‘Witch’s Hat’ or ‘Blackening Waxcap’ (Hygrocybe conica) to be my latest post.

As the common and scientific name suggests, the cap of this very common grassland mushroom is ‘conical’ in shape, usually broadly conical or bell-shaped (often irregularly lobed). The texture, common with all Waxcaps, is slimy and waxy and although quite small, is very noticeable in the grass due to it’s bright and striking colours. In this case, the colour can vary somewhat, but mainly you can see yellow/orange (sometimes with scarlet shades) – even hints of green can be present.

But the main feature you will recognise (again, shared with some other Waxcaps), is the ‘blackening’ effect (sounds very seasonal and horrific!). The older the mushroom is – the blacker it will get – although it does not auto-digest and turn to ink like the gills of the Inkcap genus.

Very old specimens turn completely black and appear to be decayed or burnt out. If picked, you will also notice it will bruise black upon handling. But if left alone, the blackening process will slowly take effect, starting mainly from the cap edge (see image above).

Keep a look out this (late) autumn and you may find some along with it’s more colourful friends. It can be found mainly in grassland in fields and woods, but is also common in ornamental lawns, waysides and even plant pots (as my mother discovered!) due to it being less sensitive to nitrogen enriched soil.

It is classed as edible and sometimes as inedible or poisonous from different references. But it is not deadly, and I’m guessing – not very palatable. It’s just best for looking at, which is good because it’s so good looking…

Witches hat

Very common Waxcap, found in field or woodland grass. Bright orange/yellow (sometimes with red or green hues) that blackens with age (see far left).

QUICK ID TABLE: BLACKENING WAXCAP / WITCH’S HAT Hygrocybe conica

CAP / FLESH

3-5.5cm accross. Conical or bell-shaped. Often irregularly lobed. Waxy. Yellow/ Orange colours. Blackens with age.

STEM

3-7 x 0.6-1 cm. Yellow, scarlet flush. Blackening streaks with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnexed or free. Pale yellow. Waxy.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Grass in fields or woods. Ornate gardens and plant pots too. Autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible,but best avoided.

The Genus HYGROCYBE (Waxcaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small sized caps brightly coloured in reds, yellows, oranges, greens and whites.
• Caps are often conical or domed and normally greasy or slimy.
• Gills are waxy. Some bruise blackish when damaged.

See Kew gardens conservation news on the British Waxcap family here.

Tree slippers – The Giant Polypore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polyporus giganteus. Giant Polypore

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

QUICK ID TABLE: GIANT POLYPORE Meripilus giganteus / Polyporus giganteus

FRUITING BODY

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

STEM

See above.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible. Can be bitter.

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

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

Two Toned Treat – The Sheathed Woodtuft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keuehneromyces mutabilis

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

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

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

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

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

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.

Seeing Red – The Ruby Bolete

There are mixed reports on the frequency of this following mushroom. Some reports and publications label this as a common European mushroom, and others regard it as a rare sighting. But whatever the current reality is, I do hope you find one of these. They’re a really beautiful example of how nature, especially the world of fungi, can make things all the more colourful for everyone.

Nibbled red bolete MushroomOK, so I’m being a little melodramatic, but the Ruby Bolete (Boletus rubellus or Xerocomus rubellus) is a very striking and pretty mushroom. I actually discovered this last august but I thought it was about time I shared it with the world.

Please excuse the poor picture examples shown here. They had been nibbled and trampled by God knows what! But at least you can see the basics and the beautiful red colour of the cap.

So, whether rare, common or whatever – the usual season for this Bolete (and most other Boletes in general) is from July to November.

It’s a relatively small Bolete in comparison to others of the same genus. The cap ranges in width from 3 – 7cm (sometimes slightly larger), but obviously it’s most striking feature is it’s colour of ruby red and/or scarlet. There also maybe tints of olive colouring near the margin. You’ll also notice there is not much colour change in the pale yellow flesh from the pictures – but there is a colour change on the underside (ie. the pores).

As with all Boletes, there are no typical mushroom ‘gills’ to speak of. They have pores (the open holes from the tubes within the cap). They appear to be maze-like and/or angular and be small and condensed together or quite large and spaced out. In this case it is the latter with the added feature in which it slowly ‘bruises’ blue. Press your thumb on the pores and see the colour change before your eyes. Great and weird all at the same time.

If the red cap and blue staining isn’t enough for positive ID, then take a look at the stem which is slender, often quite tall (up to 8cm), coloured yellow/orange with streaks of red. It is more chrome yellow at the top and duller towards the base. If you slice it in half (vertically) you’ll see the flesh at the base to be speckled with orange flecks. Colour all the way!!

They are edible but unfortunately not really that good. Perhaps younger specimens in a mixed mushroom dish might work, but I gave this batch a miss this time. Too nibbled and mashed!

You can find these special little gems in damper areas around broad-leaved trees in grassland, including local parks. Try to get there before the slug munchers though, unlike me!

Boletus rubellus

The ruby red cap of the Boletus rubellus – notice the blue staing on the pores.

Note: This has also been known as: Boletus versicolor, a name that is no longer used.

Ruby Bolete

 

Common crumbler – The Common Yellow Russula / Ochre Brittlegill

Recently from late summer to round about now (mid-autumn) this is the most (extremely) common mushroom I find on my trips out. Well, this and the Sulphur Tuft, which is as common as muck but a lot prettier!

The Common Yellow Russula or Ochre Brittlegill (Russula ochroleuca) is simply everywhere. Sometimes in small groups scattered across the woodland floor (all types of woodland) and sometimes simply on their own. What a popular fellow (no tree pun intended).

Young Common Yellow BrittlegillThe Russula family of fungi is simply huge, consisting of more than two hundred species. Their commonly used name is the Brittlegills. If you run your finger across it’s white, widely spaced gills with light pressure they will buckle and break very easily. In fact the whole mushroom structure is brittle, or for want of a better word ‘crumbly’. This genetic characteristic is a useful identification tip in recognising all Russulas (Please note that the Charcoal Burner is the exception to the rule with it’s gills being quite flexible and resistant).

With so many Russula mushrooms lying about, all with their own distinctive colourings, there are (you’ve guessed it) more yellow chappies out there to add to the confusion. Mushrooms don’t ever make thing easy do they!? The most common twin is the Yellow Swamp Brittlegill (Russula Claroflava) which is definitely more tasty than our common friend here. It has a brighter yellow coloured cap and is found only in moist, damp birch woodland. The spores are ochre coloured as opposed to the white/cream spore print of the common species.

As mentioned above, the Yellow Swamp Brittlegill is a better edible find but I have no good photos of it yet to show you – that’ll be for another day in the diary I think. But none the less, I did try our common friend here – and although not highly rated – I didn’t think it was that bad. It is a little bitter, but it can be nice and fleshy and would be quite good if added to a multi-mushroom dish with good seasoning. Give it a try.

One last tip before you take these mushrooms home is take a good smell test. Just in case you have a Geraneum Scented Brittlegill (Russula felea) on your case. It is very much unpleasant and bitter to eat. So, just as you wouldn’t geraniums – don’t eat mushrooms smelling of them. Good rule!

Common Yellow Brittlegill

Not often will you find a prisitine specimen. Russulas are fragile things, and most loved to be nibbled and munched!

QUICK ID TABLE: COMMON YELLOW BRITTLEGILL / OCHRE BRITTLEGILL Russula ochroleuca

CAP / FLESH

4-10cm across. Initially convex, then flatenning out, often with a depression. Ochre, yellow or sometimes greenish-yellow. Two-thirds peeling. Flesh tastes mild to moderately hot.

STEM

4-7cm x 1.5-2.5cm. White. Turns grey-white with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnexed. Creamy white.
Spore Print: Whitish / pale cream (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

With broad-leaved trees and conifers. Late summer to late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible. OK.

The Genus RUSSULA (Brittlegills): Characteristics to look out for:

• Simple stems with no ring or volva.
• Many have bright colours in shades of red, yellow, greenish and purple (or mixtures of). A few are pallid.
• Whole fruting body is ‘brittle’ (granular and fragile) and will easily crumble, break on handling.
• All have straight (precise geometric look) gills. These crumble (on all but one species) when touched/handled; hence brittlegill.
• Note how much the cap cuticle/skin ‘peels’ from the margin upwards (.ie. 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 or none etc).
• Note smells and tastes of hot, bitter or mild from nibbling & spitting (be sure you’re dealing with Russulas!).

Autumn ink – The Shaggy Ink Cap (or Lawyers Wig)

Well, this weekend autumn has certainly stamped its inital authority on the land. Some leaves have already fallen in areas around the urban edges of my town. But I am a die-hard lover of fresh autumn mornings. There is still the summer warmth clinging on, but that zingy freshness of autumn is making itself known.

A call from one of my friends (literally working up the road at a school) was my waking alarm clock this morning – “We’ve got lots of white mushrooms going on here, a lot of them eliptoid shaped! Come and have a look if you can”. Well, it doesn’t take much to get me interested in a free meal, and I always love it when my friends let me know of any mushroom discoveries going on. Bless them. And as I work for myself, I wasn’t going to upset the boss by being late for work.

So, at just gone 9am, on a lovely misty autumn morn, I’d arrived at his school. Lots of grass around and lots of Shaggy Ink Caps around too (they also appear abundantly in summer). After a weekend of constant drizzle it had obviously encouraged these beauties to sprout forth. Excellent.

Shaggy Ink CapThe Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus) – (comatus meaning ‘long haired’), is (naturally) a member of the ink cap family. As they get older, the cap opens (though not out flat) and eventually goes through a stage of dissolving and releasing an inky black fluid. It’s very similar cousin – the Common Ink Cap is similar in size and shape but has a smooth surface. It can be poisonous depending if you’ve some alcohol or not! See the Common Ink Cap (Coprinus atramentarius) post – read all the details here.

The common name alone gives a clue in identification to this edible and lovely mushroom over it’s sinister (though not deadly) cousin. Its shaggy appearance is caused by the white or pale-brown scales on its long, rugby ball shaped, cap. There is a drastic change in appearance depending on at what stage you find it. Young specimens don’t show much stem at all, in fact it can be hidden, depending on the height of the grass it’s in – and the brilliant white cap is unblemished, though sometimes showing light brown colouring at it’s tip (which persists). But as it grows older, the cap opens up and then shrinks, as it slowly dissolves into inky black oblivion! I know that sounded a bit dramatic but I thought I’d get the point across. A lot of people, on first encounters, see the younger specimen and older specimen as a different mushroom. And I really can’t blame them, they appear so different.

A spore print for identification is not needed I think though. This mushroom speaks out loud for itself, and if you find it later in life, its obviously going to have a ‘black’ feel about it! It has a good salty flavour and is definitely worth a taste, I love it. Try it out, it’s a wonderful mushroom*. Look out for it this October, not only in grassland but on roadsides and disturbed ground even at woodland edges/woodland vegetation…

Young to old - Shaggy Ink Cap

The Shaggy Ink Cap from very young to old (as black ink starts to be produced)

Always try a little sample if you’re trying an edible mushroom for the first time, just to see if it agrees with you. The first time I tried this lovely mushroom I had a mild reaction of little red bumps in my mouth and what felt to be a slight hot flush! There was no unpleasantness involved and wasn’t at all serious. It soon passed. It’s just good to check your body is OK introducing it to the new food. It’s just like eating abroad really!

ID notes - Shaggy Inkcap

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

• Most species gills dissolve into an inky black liquid as the black spores ripen.
• Growing on the ground, wood or dung.
• Many young species have woolly veil. Felty scales are often left on the mature specimen.
• Smaller species have distinct radial markings on the cap.

White balls in the Wood! – Common Puffball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Puffball

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

Large white Puffballs

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

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

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

A Royal Treat – The Prince Mushroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prince - Edible Woodland Mushroom

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

The Prince Mushroom

Another young unopened prince mushroom

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

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

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.

Don’t cry for me Lacrymaria! – The Weeping Widow

The Weeping Widow (Lacrymaria lacrymabunda) has got to have one of the best common names I’ve heard of even though it has a negative vibe about it. It sounds like a toadstool you should avoid at all costs, but never fear, this mushroom is not poisonous but is in fact edible, though unfortunately a little bitter. I’ve read about a simple recipe where you can cook with butter or deep fry for a while and then serve with a sweet pickle to counteract the twinge of the bitter taste. Worth a try I think. I’ll let you know in a later post if I do…

It’s season is late spring to Autumn. Earlier in June, my father found a group of them at the edge of his garden (near soil and a paved patio). I’ve also found them growing from peoples gravel driveways! But these beauties were found on tufted grass in local park’s car park (near gravel and paving again). So this is interesting to note – as a general rule they tend to grow near (or on) paths and roadsides mainly in short grass.

It’s a medium sized yellow/ochre brown mushroom which is convex shaped which has a persistent central umbo (rounded bump) with a fine ‘fibre’ texture. As it grows older the cap flattens out and the brown coloured centre appears darker. The gills are dark brown/purple.

In it’s early development the upper part of the stem is trapped within the closed cap. Being from the Ink Cap family it has inky black spores which characteristically leave their mark here. When the cap opens the fibred/cotton-like veil remnants can remain (NOT weblike like a webcap), giving it a woolly edged appearance.

So why is it called the Weeping Widow? It’s a well earned name, because during moist/damp weather conditions it exudes droplets of water which many books term as ‘weeping’. Makes sense, but not as much as the Widow part!? See examples in the picture below (top left) of how the droplets form on the gills.

Weeping Widow (Lacrymaria velutina)

Medium ochre brown mushroom – The Weeping Widow

Weeping Widow Garden Mushroom

The Weeping Widow is common in gardens too. The top right picture shows the cotton-like veil breaking

Late Summer brings out the Parasol mushrooms

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

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

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

Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera)

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

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

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

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

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

Shaggy Parasol (Macrolepiota rhacodes)

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

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

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

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

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

Note: This post was updated on 29.10.16, using the current scientific name of the Shaggy Parasol; Chlorophyllum rhacodes.

A small Coprinus collective

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

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

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

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

Coprinus disseminatus

Fairies Bonnet is a very apt name for these little beauties

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

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

Parasola plicatilis

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

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

Coprinus micaceus

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

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

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

• Most species gills dissolve into an inky black liquid as the black spores ripen, Amounts of ink vary.
• Growing on the ground, wood or dung.
• Many young species have woolly veil. Felty scales are often left on the mature specimen.
• Smaller species have distinct radial markings on the cap.