Eating mushrooms. Which ones are edible?

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Loving the Large – Macro Mushroom

We’re at the beginning of summer and have had some decent, warm sunny days and a reliable source of showers – apparently perfect conditions for this summer/autumn Agaric which has shown itself somewhat early. Great news for all foragers who fancy a fry up!

Agaricus urinascensThis small group of Macro Mushrooms (Agaricus urinascens / A.macrosporus) were found on a grassy roadside verge, not far from some fields and a small wooded area. They’re also found in similar environments such as pastures, woodland edges and grassy woodland clearings.

My initial analysis was to rule them out as Field Mushrooms as these are strictly pasture/field bound, away from the tree line. There was no stark, chrome yellow staining as I scored the flesh, so they weren’t Yellow Stainers either. Horse Mushrooms maybe?

Horse Mushrooms and Macro Mushrooms thrive in similar habitats, although the Horse Mushroom is not linked to woodland/tree situations. But they look much the same, especially when it comes to size; with an average cap diametre of 10 – 25cm. It has been known that the Macro Mushroom can grow up to a massive 30cm across – but this humble group were averaging around the 15cm mark.

Luckily, some immediate visual differences set these mushroom heavyweights apart;

The cap of the Macro mushroom is distinctively scaly with many ochre coloured patches. The margin also tends to naturally become toothed and/or split. It rarely opens to become flat like the smooth cap of the Horse Mushroom.

The veil covering the gills on the underside (when young and unbroken) shows a similar cog wheel style pattern as the Horse Mushroom but is not as defined.

The gills are at first greyish-white which then mature to dark brown, unlike the ‘white to pink to dark brown’ colour changes of the Horse Mushroom.

The Stem is distinctly scaly towards the base, and has a delicate/fine white particle coating all over. The stem on the Horse mushroom is relatively smooth.

The odour of the young Macro Mushroom is like almonds, becoming more ammonia-like with age. The Horse Mushroom has a mild aniseed-like odour.

One thing also to note though is that a variety of A.urinascens is also recognised, known a A.excellens. It’s even more of a Horse Mushroom lookalike, but is just as edible. Its cap is much smoother with only minute scales present and it does not grow as large; having only an average cap diametre of 10-15cm.

Edibility

The good news is that all of the above mentioned Agarics, with the exception of the infamous Yellow Stainer, are safe and good to eat. The Macro Mushroom has an excellent fleshy texture – and there’s lots of it. Don’t be put off by the slightly unpleasant, ammonia smell of the mature specimen, this disappears after cooking.

The taste is surprisingly mild although pleasant; similar to the button mushroom supermarket variety (a young variety of Agaricus bisporus). They’re definitely worth eating though. I always make sure I never ‘over pick’ my find and leave several behind to continue in their reproduction. Lovely.

Macro Mushrooms

Agaricus urinescens – The Macro Mushroom – Notice the yellow-brown scaling on the cap and the grainy/scaly base of the stem. The margin will become toothed or even split apart.

QUICK ID TABLE: MACRO MUSHROOM Agaricus urinascens / A.macrosporus

CAP / FLESH

8-30cm across. Initially rounded/convex. Covered in yellow-brown scales. Margin is toothed; often splitting. Smell of almonds in young specimens then has an odour of ammonia as it ages.

STEM

5-10cm x 2.5-3.5cm. Creamy white with fine white particle coating (easily removable); more scaly towards the base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Whitish-grey maturing to dark brown (no pink colouring at any stage).
Spore Print: Brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In small groups or even rings in pasture, grassy verges and grassy woodland clearings; summer to autumn

EDIBILITY

Edible. Mild & Good.

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.

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

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.

Boot-laced Bad Guys! The Honey Fungus

Right now at the time of writing, these medium to large mushrooms are out there in force. Large, dense groups swarm around tree stumps or at the bases of living deciduous and coniferous trees.

Honey Fungus in large groupThe Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea) or Boot-lace Fungus (for reasons I’ll explain later) can appear early in the season, from summer onwards straight through to early winter. I usually find them on the cusp between summer and autumn – although this may be just coincidence.

It is a dangerous parasitic species of trees and plants (of which there is no cure). The exchange of nutrients between the fungus and tree is an extremely bias one, in favour of the fungus as it takes more from the tree than it gives back, causing white rot and eventually killing off the host tree. Much timber is lost every year due to Armillaria mellea and is a great danger, not to mention being a horticulturists worst nightmare!

However, they are impressive mushrooms to behold when in many numbers (which is often). Enormous groups can cover large parts of a tree, sometimes in clusters of up to (and over) a hundred at any one time. Very impressive indeed.

When young, the shallowly domed caps are honey coloured with tiny, darker coloured fibrils covering the surface, especially at the centre. As they grow and the cap expands and is variable in shape, ranging from broadly convex, depressed at the centre and often wavy and irregular at the margin. The colour is not so intense with age, they are more yellow/ochre almost always with a darker centre, retaining some of the fleck-like scales on the surface.

The long whitish-yellow stems are darker reddish-brown towards the base where several stems all fuse together. Whitish fibres can also bee seen vertically streaking along its length. The whitish ring, high up near the cap has a yellowish tinge and the white gills soon change to pale yellow, often becoming blemished with darker spots as it ages.

Fit to eat?

Just in case you’re wondering the ‘Honey’ reference defines the colour of the cap and not the taste. That may be obvious to many, but I just wanted to set the record straight! However, they are an edible species and MUST be cooked before consumption. They aren’t for everyone though, some people can suffer gastric upset, so if you intend on eating any always try a small portion first to see how you get on. If you do alright, try this great little recipe here: Spaghetti with Honey Fungus. Simple and tasty.

Honey Fungus and their Boot-laces!

Just like something out the ‘Day of the Triffids’, this fungus spreads to infect new trees by means of black cords called rhizomorphs, made up of parallel hyphae (the branching filamentous structure of a fungus). They resemble long black boot-laces (hence the use of the common name), creeping long distances to reach neighbouring trees. Rhizomorphs can be seen on roots or in the soil, but older boot-laces are often noticed under the bark of infected trees (see image below).

For the horticulturalist…

I’m no expert in the field of horticulture or anything similar, but I do know what a threat they can be for many trees and plants. If you’ve stumbled across this page looking for some answers in the removal or prevention of this fungus, here’s some good links to point you in the right direction:
Royal Horticultural Society – Honey Fungus – Facts, symptoms and control
Preventing garden pests and diseases – Honey Fungus (half way down the page)
Garden Forum – Horticulture – Honey Fungus (half way down the page)

Armillaria mellea

Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea) often grow in large clustered groups. Notice the difference between the younger (bottom right) and older examples.

Grouped Honey Fungi and old Rhizomorphs

Top: Picture courtesy of Mariano Lampugnani. Location: Oxford
Bottom: Old Rhizomorphs (‘Boot-laces’) under the bark of a fallen tree

QUICK ID TABLE: HONEY FUNGUS Armillaria mellea

CAP / FLESH

3-14cm across. Initially rounded/domed. Expanding into variable shapes including shallowly domed, depressed centre and/or wavy margin.

STEM

6-15cm x 0.5-1.5cm. Often tapered at the very base. Fine white fibre streaks. Whitish-yellow. Reddish-brown towards base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White, then pale yellow. Spotted dark brown with age.

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

HABITAT / SEASON

Growing on stumps or trunks of deciduous or coniferous trees – or growing from the roots underground. From Summer to early winter.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Must be cooked. Some people may suffer gastric upset.

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.

Armillaria-mellea-sketch-illustration

Out in the field – The Bearded Fieldcap

In one of my recent posts I featured the lovely Poplar Fieldcap mushroom, where I mentioned I had come across another Agrocybe just a few weeks before. I had actually discovered these right at the end of May and have had emails and Tweets from people finding them right around the same time. But you can still keep a look out as their season is from spring to summer (up until September).

Bearded Fieldcap mushroom pictureSummer is nearly at an end and the mushroom season in autumn is nearly upon us, but I had to feature this particular species before then. It is commonly known as the Bearded Fieldcap (Agrocybe molesta or A.dura) and can be found in a range of similar-ish environments, such as grassland, grassy verges, meadows, scrubland, grassy/green woodland areas, gardens, and as in this case, newly prepared crop field (sweetcorn) with rich soil and some very happy weed greenery.

It’s because of this location that I had an issue with identification. Does it actually grow here? Is this normal? or has it been documented? Questions, questions. On close examination (non-microscopic) all evidence was pointing to what is definitely a Fieldcap (Agrocybe).

But I have since discovered from colleagues and research that, yes, this is quite an acceptable abode for our bearded buddies. In fact, the mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus) could quite have happily been transferred via the nutrient rich, composted soil, to end up on this stretch of land. I’m guessing the unwanted greenery and collection of weeds were unwelcome too, but in no way have they halted the development of the corn (which by now is in good form as I saw the other day).

So, unburdened by legions of corn at this time, this fine scattered colony of Fieldcaps were ripe for the picking. Right of way through this filed is allowed I may point out, just in case you’re thinking I’m a forager gone naughty!

The cap when young is very convex, eventually spreading out to a flattish shape – smooth in texture. The margin (edge) remains slightly inrolled, often showing hanging white veil remnants – hence the common ‘bearded’ name. The colour is very pale ivory white to creamy tan with a smooth surface that often cracks when dry and old. The margin usually splits in places too. At first glance, the general appearance is that of a typical Field Mushroom (Agaricus campestris), they even smell similar – but there are subtle differences, more noticeable when you study the gills and stem.

The gills when young are pale but soon mature to a darker clay brown, unlike Field mushrooms that are initially pink, maturing to chocolate brown. The solid stem is cylindrical and concolourous with the cap. The ring is high up near the apex and often leaves a smooth fibrous, white veil covering from here to where it meets the cap.

Apart from our Poplar Fieldcap (which grows in association with willow/poplar trees) there is an extremely similar and more common species known as the Spring Filedcap (A. praecox), which shares the same season as the Bearded Fieldcap but has a smooth darker cap which rarely cracks or breaks up on the surface – and also has no ‘bearded’ appearance at the cap margin. It prefers grassy locations in parks and woodland edges.

Either way, these species are all edible, and I knew Agrocybe molesta was going to be a ‘taste and see’ exercise as there are mixed reports on taste etc, and no-one I know has actually eaten any. Just like the Poplar Fieldcap, I was pleasantly surprised with the younger specimens which were nice and fleshy with a mild mushroomy flavour. Some others, mainly the larger/older ones were quite bland though. A little watery and pretty tasteless (even very slightly bitter).

There may be some still about at this time. At least now you know what to look out for. Happy hunting.

Agrocybe molesta image collection

Agrocybe molesta – Ivory white to Creamy tan coloured. Pale clay brown gills mature darker and the white ring is high on the stem, sometimes discoloured brown from falling spores. Note in the very top image on this page the ‘veil’ remnants at the edge of the cap, hence the common name ‘Bearded Fieldcap’.

QUICK ID TABLE: BEARDED FIELDCAP Agrocybe molesta

CAP / FLESH

3-9cm across. Whitish – tan. Convex then flat, often crazed pattern when much older. Margin inrolled often with white veil remnants.

STEM

4-8cm x 0.3-1cm. Creamy white when young, darker with age. Felty and firm with ring near the apex.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate. Pale then dirty clay brown with age.
Spore Print: Brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In scattered tufts in meadows, grassy verges, sometimes in scrubland, in rich soil of fields. Late spring – autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Ranging from mild to bitter. Younger ones taste nice; very ‘fleshy’.

Fieldcap mushroom sketch

Tree loving Agrocybe – 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.

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) 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

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

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.

Sulphur Surprise – Chicken of the Woods

It was one of those rare times when I ventured out looking for something in particular and actually found it! Summer isn’t a great season for mushroom hunting but it does have some interesting and choice variety (albeit small) of edible fungi.

Laetiporus sulphureusAt the edge of a long woodland path in a Leicestershire wood, fortune was on my side when I came across Chicken of the Woods or Sulphur Polypore (Laetiporus sulphureus). One of those bracket fungi that are instantly recognisable and a joy to behold.

What I found was a very modestly sized tier of Sulphur Polypore (a common name I seem to prefer). The upper (older) bracket, although still featuring lemon yellow pores on the underside was unfortunately losing it’s full potential of colour on the top side.

The younger sprouting shelves though were more succulent and rich in colour, soft and malleable to the touch.

Chicken of the Woods quite often grows in high layered formations around a metre or more high, with fanned brackets reaching up to 30-40cm or so in width. But like many fungi and mushrooms, finding it in the prime of it’s life is paramount, not only for identification reasons but (as in this case) for edibility.

Instantly recognisable features of this bracket fungus are the bright yellow and orange colours. The very small pores on the underside are a striking lemon yellow and the upper side (depending on age) is more orange yellow (often ridged and wrinkled in shape).

With age, the upper surface will lose it’s colour along with the rest of the fungus. Finding it young is a must. The flesh of the younger folds are often quite thick and succulent, ideal for your cooking pot. But even though it looks beautiful and enchanting this fungus is actually a parasite often found on dying oak trees and also on other trees such as sweet chestnut, poplar, willow and yew. But in this case – a cherry tree.

Edibility-wise this fungus doesn’t tick all the boxes for all people. Only the young , fresh parts are worth eating. It does have a strong taste which sometimes can be quite acidic and bitter. But it’s all in how you cook it and I’m not a notable chef (unless it’s in a curry of course) so I can offer no advise. It’s very much trial and error with this fungus. It’s up to you to see how you can make it a ‘chicken substitute’, and being a very ‘tofu-like’ flesh, it has great potential in the kitchen. You can save some for later too because it stores well in the freezer for a while.

Finally (and as always), be careful trying any mushroom/fungus (you understand is edible) for the first time, as their may be an unwelcome reaction. Only try a small portion at a time and give yourself a generous few hours to see how you go. I would recommend that Chicken of the Woods found on Yew trees to be avoided altogether. It has been known to cause severe gastric upset, dizziness and general nausea. That’s not what you want!

But apart from that warning – Happy hunting…

Chicken of the Woods fungus - Laetiporus sulphureus

The typical Orange/Yellow colours of the Sulphur Polypore (Chicken of the Woods). The thick white flesh of the younger brackets are best for cooking.

Sulphur Polypore

Another example of the fungus; layered in the usual way but more fleshy and rounded.

QUICK ID TABLE: CHICKEN OF THE WOODS / SULPHUR POLYPORE Laetiporus sulphureus

FRUITING BODY

10 – 40cm accross. Fan shaped / Semi-circular. Irregular margin. In large tierd groups. Yellow/Orange. Thick and fleshy. Turns straw/white coloured with age. Uneven upper surface – usually lumpy-like.

PORES / TUBES / SPORE PRINT

Very tiny pores (circular or ovate). Sulphur yellow in colour.

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

HABITAT / SEASON

On deciduous trees. Common on Oak, Cherry, Poplar and Willow. Thoes found on Yew known to be poisonous. Late spring to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible when young and fresh. Best cooking tips from Germany & North America.

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 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…

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.

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.

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.

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

 

Field Mushrooms again… Keep ‘em coming

I know the Field mushroom is common, I know there are more exotic mushroom finds out there and I know also that you can never have enough of the great Field Mushroom. I love it so…

The Field Mushroom (Agaricus campestris) is often found in small groups or even rings (though not always, as in this case) but is found commonly in older pasture land and grassland in general, but nowhere near trees of any kind (at least 20 metres from the tree line anyway).

I just wanted to point out and exaggerate the identification tips of this beautifully edible UK mushroom. As well as the typical large white ‘mushroom look’, I’ve shown in the pictures the distinctive pink gills of the younger mushroom (these mature to dark brown), and the ring zone two thirds up the stem, which is very small, sometimes indistinct! So this helps in identification, as the Yellow Stainer mushroom; a sinister (but not deadly) looalike has a much larger, floppy ring zone. See my post on the Yellow Stainer mushroom.

Field Mushroom - Common UK Mushroom

Younger and older examples of the Field Mushroom. Notice the slightly scaly white cap.

Flaming colour – The Charcoal Burner

This is a fine and sturdy mushroom of the woods and one of my favourites, both aesthetically and palatably. Although very common indeed from summer through to autumn, I haven’t seen as many as I would have liked so far. But it’s still early autumn and I do get impatient!

The usual haunting ground for the Charcoal Burner (Russula cyanoxantha) is in broad leaved woods, mainly with beech. It is part of the very large family of Russulas (there are 200+ in Britain alone) with the majority of well known ones having yellow, blue and green variations in colour.

The Charcoal BurnerThe Charcoal Burner gets it’s common name from the range of colours visible on it’s sturdy, fleshy cap – like the colours of a charcoal flame. Sometimes it can be one colour but often it can be variable. There’s often a mixture of blue and yellow, and in this case, with strong hues of violet and a pinch of blue/grey (you can also get browns and greens going on. This mushroom likes to show off!). The latin name cyanoxantha defines the blue and yellow colours.

This Russula is from a group known as the Brittlegills, and as the name suggests, their gills are very brittle and tend to crumble and break when you touch them. But identification-wise, mushrooms always like to move the goal posts! Because in this case the white gills are not brittle, but in fact quite flexible. What can I say? It’s a rebel Russula and likes to break the rules!

Although quite large, with the cap growing up to 12cm and it’s stem a up to 8cm and 3cm thick, it’s still easy to pass by. Depending on what angle you are coming from you can easily waltz by it. The cap colour is very good camouflage against the woodland floor. So keep a sharp eye out. I always tend to find these beauties growing nearby the Common Yellow Russula (or the Common Yellow Brittlegill (Russula ochroleuca)) They are of a similar size and have an ochre yellow cap, and not as tasty as our Charcoal Burner.

One thing I have to say about Brittlegills, or more so – about slugs, is that the latter do really enjoy a nibble, and I mean a nibble. I think the slugs prefer the yellow and green species because it’s not often I find one in pristine condition. They are, at some stage or another, left mutilated by those hungry slime bugs! Still, it’s as much their find as it is mine! They do have a head start by living there though – and that’s just not fair!

Charcoal Burner

Purple/blue/yellow cap – thick white stem and white gills which are sometimes forked.

Charcoal Burner. Russula Identification.

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!).

Fairy Rings – Fairy Ring Champignon

This mushroom is the ‘perfect lawn’ mans worst enemy. Although I love them, my dad goes spare at the sight of them – “bloody mushrooms ruining my lawn etc…” – “Natures got no rules man” was my lame hippy reply!

Lawns are the main target ground for Fairy Ring Champignon (Marasmius oreades) – or at least where we may see them the most. It’s a very common mushroom around spring to autumn time. My recent discoveries were late summer (as shown in the pictures) and very recently in mid-september again in my dad’s garden (again)!

Fairy Ring Mushroom‘Champignon’ is the nice French word for ‘mushroom’. It’s a highly prized edible mushroom sold throughout Europe and USA in many markets. To the local wild picker, it can be found in short grass, lawns, parks and pasture land. It is often in rings, although not all the time.

What’s this ‘fairy ring’ thing all about then? We’ve got to get into underground mycology magic for that. The mushroom is the ‘fruit’ of the underground mycelium, or organism that is the fungi (a network of fine white filaments known as hyphae). Mushrooms are born to deliver their spores in the breeding process.

In short, the mycelium expands as it grows outwards from a central position. The older, central zone dies off and at the edges of this ring is where the mushroom grows. Die hard gardeners are extra miffed because the grass around the ring dehydrates and dies too (helped along by fungal cyanide toxins). The outer grass region is a nice and green affair due to the hungry, feeding mycelim.

Some of these ‘fairy ring’ organisms have lasted for hundreds of years and more (not just our Marasmius oreades) and can reach up to a mile in diametre. They are are truly wonderful organisms that seem to break all kinds of records. But that’s another story for a later date.

Recently, I have seen many Fairy Ring Champignons collections. Some were but a few, others in partial rings and only one as a giant ring in pasture land of about 4 metres in diametre. The caps (or heads) of these beauties are the best edible part. Just discard the stems as they are just too tough and not worth it. Make sure you get them when they’re young – you won’t make a mistake because the older ones just look unapetizing anyway! Check out recipes online. They’re also good for pickling as they hold their shape and don’t disintegrate. Hope you find as many as I have.

Fairy Ring Champignon - Edible Mushroom

Although not in a ring this time – here’s a few of the Champignons on a lawn

Mushroom ring in grassland

See how the ring is formed in this patch of grass. The outer edge, where the mushrooms are growing, are stimulating the grass growth. The centre of the grassy patch will eventually die off.

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

• Small or tiny caps with tall, thin stems.
• Convex ‘umbrella’ or ‘parachute’ shaped caps.
• The Fairy Ring Champignon is one of the larger species in this genus

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.

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 (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.