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Flaky Pholiota – The Shaggy Scalycap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pholiota squarossa

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

Pholiota squarossa

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

QUICK ID TABLE: SHAGGY SCALYCAP Pholiota squarossa

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Not edible.

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

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

Late Summer brings out the Parasol mushrooms

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

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

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

Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera)

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

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

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

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

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

Shaggy Parasol (Macrolepiota rhacodes)

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

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

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

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

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

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