Posts

Lost in the Moss – The Collared Mosscap

I often have a little scout around the garden if I’m moping about, just to see if there are any interesting little mushrooms popping up in the short grass. I was actually going to mow the lawn. Honest.

Rickenella swartzii‘Small’ is the key word here. In fact ‘very small’ would be a better phrase. I had to bend down, take a real close look, and there it was – a Collared Mosscap (Rickenella swartzii), along with several others scattered about the place, was poking its cap out above the grass languishing in the moist moss that now makes up a lot of my lawn! Good thing too. These tiny mushrooms are very attractive and interesting – and dare I say it? Quite cute.

The usual season for this mushroom is spring to early winter, but I tend to notice them more in late spring, perhaps because of the conditions and shortness of the grass with its mossy undergrowth.

The caps are barely 1cm across at best, and are usually slightly smaller. They are a subtle pale-ochre (or slightly darker ochre-brown) colour, faintly straited with a dark brown centre. At first, the cap is convex, but soon develops a central depression while still maintaining the curved shape.

Pale gills on the underside are widely spaced and extend slightly down the stem (decurrent). It’s at this point (the apex of the stem) that gives this mushroom its common English name. Its ‘collar’, so to speak, is violet (or dark brown with a violet hue) and noticeably much darker than the rest of the pallid ochre stem. This feature is a reliable and distinctive characteristic.

Although labelled as inedible due to their tiny size, they are not known to be poisonous but may actually contain very small amounts of psilocybin (a naturally occurring psychedelic compound), so best not to have a taste if you felt the need. Why not take a look around in short grassland and damp mossy areas to see if you can spot any. And I mean have a really good look, because as you can believe, they are very often overlooked.
Collared Mosscap mushroom photographs

The Collared Mosscap mushroom: Notice the darker violet hue at the apex of the stem and dark brown centred cap.

QUICK ID TABLE: COLLARED MOSSCAP Rickenella swartzii

CAP / FLESH

0.5-1cm across. Ochre-cream or light brown with dark brown centre. Initially slightly rounded then flat with central depression.

STEM

2-4cm x 0.1-0.2cm. pale yellowish, violet coloured at apex.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Decurrent. White or creamy coloured.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In moss on grassland in damp places, such as gardens or marshes etc. Late Spring to early Winter.

EDIBILITY

Too small to be worth eating.

Rickenella swartzii drawing

Sidewalk Snack – The Pavement Mushroom

Just about all of us live in a typical urban environment with pavements, roads and adjacent grassy verges. Because of this, from late spring to autumn, we may have the occasional chance of coming across one of these fellas…

Agaricus bitorquisAs the name suggests, the Pavement Mushroom (Agaricus bitorquis) chooses to flourish mainly in roadside situations and even gardens. But the interesting feature of this edible Agaricus is that it has the amazing capacity to push through the road (asphalt) itself. It’s proof that nature knows no barriers and doesn’t mind upsetting the local Council by wrecking the pavement.

I found this small group only a few centimetres away from the kerb on a street near my home. You’ll notice in the pictures that you can see how they tend to be ‘forcing’ their way out of the ground, pushing the earth aside as they go. You don’t see this with other, similar mushrooms and it’s a good first indication (along with the location) of positive identification.

The small dome shaped cap is the first thing to see, with remnants of earth clinging to the subtle flaky surface. As it grows the cap soon flattens out to around 10 – 12cm in size. Another good identification feature, especially seen when younger, are the two separate rings found on the white stocky stem (see picture: bottom right).

The gills are initially a dark pink to clay in colour and finish chocolate brown at maturity.

This mushroom really does smell ‘mushroomy’, is edible and quite nice to eat. But I have three qualms about eating this mushroom in particular. For one, this mushroom tends to be very mud loving and dirty so a thorough cleaning is required (I’m just too lazy!). The second is that they are often ‘bug munched’ to provide an unappetising visual appearance, and finally (by nature) they live near to the roadside. And depending on how busy that road is, I generally don’t want any pollution in my food.

But this all just a good moan – they are very good indeed.

Agaricus bitorquis

A group of Pavement Mushroom (Agaricus bitorquis) pushing through the tough soil next to an urban city road.

Pavement Mushroom

The Pavement Mushroom pushing through the soil next to a roadside kerb. Notice the double (separated) rings on the stem (bottom right) and the larger, flatter cap of an older specimen (bottom left).

QUICK ID TABLE: PAVEMENT MUSHROOM Agaricus bitorquis

CAP / FLESH

4-12cm across. White. Convex/dome shapes, flattening out. Very faintly flaky. Thick white flesh.

STEM

3-6cm x 1.5-2cm. White with 2 separate sheathing rings.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free. Pink, then clay then chocolate brown.
Spore Print: Brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In gardens and roadside verges, sometimes out of the road/asphalt. Late spring – autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible and 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.

March Mottlegill – The Turf Mottlegill

Spring has arrived and the clocks have gone forward. And like most people, it tends to make me feel a whole lot more happy about things in general. Even so much so that I actually mowed my lawn since before Christmas. This is a good thing, because shorter grass will bring out those early spring mushrooms. Guaranteed.

Turf Mottlegil - Panaeolus fimicolaOK, so these little babies aren’t edible (but neither poisonous) but it’s good to see nature once again spring into life (excuse the pun!), especially when it’s literally in your own back garden. I’m talking of the common Turf Mottlegill (Panaeolus fimicola or Panaeolus ater).

The Mottlegills are a family of small to medium small mushrooms that can occur from spring or summer through to autumn and/or early winter. They get their common name from the ‘mottled’ appearance on their gills (when younger) as the black reproductive spores ‘unevenly’ mature.

These little beauties can pop up in their dozens all around in the short grass, and are initially very hard to spot. I think most of time they go unnoticed. Their caps, when young, are around 1cm in diametre and can grow up to 4.5cm. But if they’re on your own lawn they don’t really last long and get knocked down or crushed. Poor things!

As with many mushrooms, their appearance can change as they mature. In this case it is the colour of the cap and gills. When they first appear, their button small caps are a lovely dark brown (especially when wet) and their gills are a very light brown/greyish colour. After a couple of days the cap dries a paler tan colour, from the edge of the cap inwards. So you can really get some different brown colour combinations going on.

Also, to help with identification, the slender brown stem (around 2-5mm thick) is covered in a very fine white ‘frosty like’ down.

All in all, these are lovely little spring mushrooms, which carry on popping up all the way through until autumn. And as I said, don’t worry, they’re not in the least bit poisonous. They’re too cute for that!

Even though this mushroom is not edible, as always be cautious. There are very similar Panaeolus mushrooms that are poisonous. For example, the common Brown Mottlegill which appears from June to November has been known to contain psilocybin (the psychedelic ‘magic mushroom’ cocktail) which can cause unpleasant symptoms. In fact, even the famous ‘Magic Mushroom’ although not deadly has (and recently discovered) sinister twins which are very dangerous in ways of attacking the liver. It’s best to avoid all these kinds of mushrooms and stick to beer! Hoorah!

Turf Mottlegill Pictures

Young Turf Mottlegill / Drying tan brown from margin / younger pale gills & mature black gills

The Genus PANAEOLUS (Mottlegills): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small pale or brown mushrooms.
• The spores mature unevenly; giving a ‘mottled’ effect on the gills.

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

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.

A small Coprinus collective

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

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

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

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

Coprinus disseminatus

Fairies Bonnet is a very apt name for these little beauties

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

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

Parasola plicatilis

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

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

Coprinus micaceus

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

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

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

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

Sobriety Test! – The Common Ink Cap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Common Ink Cap

The torpedo or bell shaped Common Ink Cap in grass

QUICK ID TABLE: COMMON INKCAP Coprinopsis atramentaria

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

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

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

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