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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
.

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.

A Winter Polypore in Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polyporus brumalis mushrooms

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

QUICK ID TABLE: WINTER POLYPORE Polyporus brumalis

CAP / FLESH / MILK

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

STEM

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

PORES / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too tough. Little flesh.

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

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

Winter white tips of the Candlesnuff Fungus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glow in the dark

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

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

Candlesnuff Fungus images

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

QUICK ID TABLE: CANDLESNUFF Xylaria hypoxylon

FRUITING BODY

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

BASE

Black and finely felty.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

n/a

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Tough, too small.

Dessert anyone? Plums & Custard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tricholomopsis rutilans

QUICK ID TABLE: PLUMS AND CUSTARD Tricholomopsis rutilans

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate to adnexed. Custard yellow.

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible but doesn’t taste good.

What a rotter! – The Willow Shield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pluteus salicinus

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

QUICK ID TABLE: WILLOW SHIELD Pluteus salicinous

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

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

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

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

Anyone for cake? – King Alfreds Cakes

King Alfred was a terrible cook. In fact (but really in legend) while hiding from the Danes, he’d left a whole batch of cakes in the oven. They were suitably burnt and naturally ruined. So I can only guess he went to the woods and scattered them everywhere on dead ash trees to try and cover up his mistake and pass them off as some kind of fungus. Or something!

Cramp Ball fungusKing Alfred’s Cakes (Daldinia concentrica) attach themselves on the dead wood of broad leaved trees, mainly ash and beech. It’s one of those distinctive fungi I see every almost every time I’m out in woodland. Although their season is summer to autumn, the older specimens linger on the wood for years and years.

Their appearance is literally that of some burnt cakes or even lumps of smooth charcoal. Older fruit bodies have a shiny surface, but younger developing fruit bodies are red/brown in colour with a duller surface. If you were to cut one open it would reveal silver/light and black concentrical zones (hence the ‘concentrica’ in the scientific name), very similar to the ring zones of a tree – or at least half a tree (due to their hemispherical shape).

King Alfreds Cakes

Typical black lumps or ball shapes growing on dead logs

Other ‘common’ names for this fungus are Coal Fungus (for obvious reasons) and Cramp Balls because it used in an old folk remedy for night cramps. I think I’d rather have the night cramps!

And as a great bush craft tip, these beauties are great for starting fires! The inner flesh of an old, dry specimen can be lit with a ‘firesteel’ flint for example (or even a magnifying glass). It will slowly smolder, much like your barbecue briquette and can be used to light your tinder.

But needless to say – much like burnt cakes – these fungi are not edible.

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.

Hair raising! – Hairy Stereum

This is one of the common fungus sights around. In fact it is one of the most commonly recorded fungi in Britain. I’m talking of course of the Hairy Stereum or Hairy Curtain Crust (Stereum hirsutum). You’ll find it layered on the dead/fallen wood and stumps of deciduous trees – and it’s appearance is all year round. Shame it’s too tough and leathery to even think about putting in the pan! Damn!

It’s a bracket fungi and has a semicircular shape which is wavy or curtained in appearance. The ‘zoned’ yellow/brown fruiting bodies typically form in many rows, overlapping each other as they go. I think they look quite pretty when in full bloom – especially when there’s a quite a few of them. Each individual cap can grow up to 6 cm in width and can be up to 3mm thick. Older groups of the Hairy Stereum turn green with algae and look like some kind of Martian slime lettuce! (It does!)

So what’s this ‘hairy’ business all about then? Well, on initial viewing you don’t notice, but on closer inspection you can see many hairy tufts along the upper side. And as a bit of extra trivia, hirsutum in latin means hairy. The brighter yellow/orange lower surface, which is smoother, releases the spores. When older, this underside fades to a dull grey/brown.

So to sum up – If you haven’t seen any of these yet – you’re on the wrong planet. And yes – they’re inedible.

Stereum hirsutum - Hairy Stereum - Bracket fungi

Seen all year round – Typical rows of the orange/brown wavy fungus Stereum hirsutum.