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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.

February Forage – Tawny Funnel

It may seem a little strange to feature this mushroom in February when it’s actually an autumn species. Well, mainly! 


Lepista flaccida

But year after year I often come across the Tawny Funnel (Lepista flaccida) in January or early February, as in this case. At first I thought I had an unfamiliar species to identify – but I have read (and heard) from fellow foragers and field mycologists that this is not so uncommon.

After all, the Tawny Funnel is usually one of late fruiting autumn species. Maybe it has unfinished business -waits until milder times at the start of the year to carry on. Who knows?

When young, the cap is flattish and convex but soon develops its distinctive ‘funnel’ shape which causes some confusion, as you would think that you’re dealing with a true Funnel mushroom – i.e. a Clitocybe species. In fact this mushroom has been formally known C. flaccida and some mycologists have named it C.inversa, or consider it to be a different species entirely. One reason it has been moved to this genus is because of its warty spores and moveable gills, features the same as the other common Lepistas (or Blewits) such as the Wood Blewit and Field Blewit.

The real confusion starts when you compare it to the Common Funnel (Clitocybe gibba) which looks like its identical twin! However it is only situated in broad-leaved woods and heaths, whereas L.flaccida appears in both deciduous and coniferous woodland, especially nutrient rich soil.

I’ve been experimenting over the years to see if I can recognise any macro features while out in the field to distinguish between the two. I’m still not 100% sure if you can, and I think true ID will be from looking at the microscopic spores. However, not everyone has access to a microscope so I’ll go on to mention what to look out for. Here goes…

This mushroom is often found in clustered groups and full or partial fairy rings in the soil and leaf litter. Average cap sizes of mature specimens are around 5 to 9cm across.

There are many changes throughout its life cycle, so expect to see variable colour variations of this mushroom. The young flattened-convex cap is pale ochre and is strongly hygrophanous (unlike C.gibba) and you will see pale/darker areas depending on the moisture in the cap. Also look out for water marks around the edge of the cap. With age, it becomes darker orange-brown (shades vary) as the distinctive funnel becomes more apparent. There may also be several darker spotted areas scattered across the surface.

The whitish-yellow gills are crowded (more so than the Common Funnel) and heavily integrated with the stem (decurrent) which is paler in colour than the cap. It is often curved slightly towards the white woolly base.

Take a whiff!

Smell is also an important factor here, as the Common Funnel and Tawny Funnel differ. The Common Funnel has a faintish odour of almonds (also described as new-mown hay!) whereas the Tawny Funnel is more or less non descriptive, but there may be a faint spicy odour.

This mushroom is a great challenge, so good luck in identification and your spring forages in general. Enjoy.

Tawny Funnel images

Notice the varied shades from light ochre to tawny and the very crowded decurrent gills.

QUICK ID TABLE: TAWNY FUNNEL Lepista flaccida

CAP / FLESH

2-9cm across. Initially flattish to convex then funnel shaped. Pale ochre, darkening tawny brown with age. Often darker spots. Thin flesh, pale to tan.

STEM

3-5cm x 0.5-1cm. Paler than cap. Becomes hollow. White woolly base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Very decurrent, narrow & crowded. Whitish to yellowish.
Spore Print: Creamy white (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On soil and in leaf litter of coniferous & broadleaved woods. Autumn. Sometimes in January & February.

EDIBILITY

Edible, but flesh is too thin & has an unpleasant taste.

The Genus LEPISTA (Blewits): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small to medium size. Pale to brownish caps. Some feature lilac/purple colouring on cap and stem.
• Pale pink spore print (see how to take a spore print here).

Tawny Funnel Diagram

Angel Bonnets at Christmas (Mycena arcangeliana)

Hope you all have a great Christmas and new year. I was going to squeeze this post in just before 2015 began, but I was too busy drinking!

Mycena arcangelianaThis autumn mushroom had clung on right until Christmas Day – although the examples I discovered were past their prime, I’m showing some images of these mushrooms I found earlier in the season.

Aptly named for a Christmas time find, The Angel’s Bonnet (Mycena arcangeliana) is an attractive and perfectly formed example of a typical Mycena (or Bonnet) mushroom; broadly conical with a long delicate and slender stem.

Having the angelic name (which may be in honour to the botanist Giovanni Arcangeli) you’d be forgiven for thinking that this would be a pure white species, but in fact its ‘whitish’ translucent and striated cap has subtle grey-brown hues, especially at the centre. There may also be tinges of yellow or olive colours too.

The gills are initially white and turn pinkish over time, but the spore print is white, or whitish. The fragile stem is pale at the apex but is essentially greyish, becoming darker further down, especially at the base which is covered in a fine white down.

Take time also to have a quick sniff of this mushroom. It has a distinctive smell of iodoform – or that ‘hospital smell’ as I call it. You may need to crush the cap flesh to get a real good whiff!

It grows in typical ‘lined’ group formations on stumps and branches of deciduous trees and are very attractive when in full bloom (so to speak). The examples in the photos here are spread across a fallen branch.

They are very common and widespread throughout the autumn months, but this Mycena is also known as the ‘Late-Season Bonnet’ which is probably why it appeared on this mild winter day.

A nice find I thought. Anyway, keep your eye out for the usual winter suspects, especially the Wood Blewits and Velvet Shanks which (unlike our Bonnet mushroom here) are edible and tasty.

Happy New Year.

Mycena arcangeliana image selection

Mycena arcangeliana. Typically growing in rows on deciduous stumps and branches.

QUICK ID TABLE: ANGELS BONNET Mycena arcangeliana

CAP / FLESH

1-5cm across. Broad conical shape. White with a grey-brown hue and sometimes olive (or yellowish) tints. Striate markings with white margin. Iodoform smell.

STEM

2-4cm x 0.1-0.2cm. Whitish grey. Darker at base which is covered with white down.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnex and crowded. Initially white the turning pinkish.

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

HABITAT / SEASON

Typically in rows on deciduous stumps, logs and branches. Mainly autumn. Very common.

EDIBILITY

Indedible.

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

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

The darker side – Dark Honey Fungus

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

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

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

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

Safe to eat?

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

Strange but true!

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

Images of Armillaria ostoyae

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

QUICK ID TABLE: DARK HONEY FUNGUS Armillaria ostoyae

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny Trooper – The Collared Parachute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUICK ID TABLE: COLLARED PARACHUTE Marasmius rotula

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Not edible. Too small and insubstantial.

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

• Small or tiny caps with tall, thin stems.

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

Tree loving – The Poplar Fieldcap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polar Fieldcap images

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

QUICK ID TABLE: POPLAR FIELDCAP Agrocybe cylindracea / Cyclocybe cylindracea

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible. Mild and slightly nutty flavour.

Poplar Fieldcap Sketch

Scurfy Twiglet

This is another species I often find in urban locations as well out in woodland or the countryside, especially at this time of year in mild January or February months. The Tubaria species are often overlooked due to their small size and colour which helps them blend into their surroundings.

Young Scurfy Twiglet mushroomsThe Scurfy Twiglet (Tubaria furfuracea) is one of, if not, the most common of all the Tubaria (Twiglet) species. Typically small, reddish brown, found in scattered groups on twigs in and around wood debris. These particular ones were just in front of a hedgerow amongst the damp twigs and leaf litter. I was particularly proud in spotting them as I was riding by on my bicycle at the time! They can also appear on chippings and deciduous woodland floors.

The ‘Scurfy’ term relates to the fine flaky texture on the cap where velar remnants can be found on the surface. This often produces a dotted area around the margin (edge) of the younger cap, which is an attractive and useful identification feature.

When young, the cap is rounded or dome shaped, soon expanding with noticeable striated markings. The flesh is hygrophanous, meaning its colour changes depending on the levels of water absorbed by the mushroom. It can become pallid or creamy white as it dries and ages (see images below). Sometimes you may see the entire cap fade to cream, which makes it appear to be some other species. Very odd!

You may come across caps of older and/or larger specimens which drastically curl back on themselves, exposing their widely spaced gills outwards. Again, this is a typical feature often seen on the Scurfy Twiglet. Look closely at the gills – they have an adnate attachment (widely attached to the stem) but are also very slightly decurrent (running down the stem). The stem is coloured similar to the rest of the mushroom and is covered in fine white down at the base which tends to cling to the surrounding substrate.

Keep a look out for these guys, especially during the early months of the year. But as we’re well on the way to Spring now, there may not be many around now. Next year then!

Note: I posted an article on the Winter Twiglet (Tubaria hiemalis) in February 2011, and I still believe it is. They are practically identical and hard to distinguish between in the field. The gills were not slightly decurrent like the Scurfy Twiglet, neither did it have any velar remnants. Without going back to take a closer look, I can’t be 100% sure, but they are very much of a muchness and are visually almost identical.

Tubaria mushroom

Scurfy Twiglet (Tubaria furfuracea) Often late in the year, but also in February/March time.

QUICK ID TABLE: SCURFY TWIGLET Tubaria furfuracea

CAP / FLESH

1-4cm. Initially rounded/domed. Flattening out. Striate at edge. Margin curling upwards/central depression with age. Ochre/rust brown fading to pale ochre/cream with age. Minutely scurfy. Veil remnants.

STEM

2-5cm x 0.2-0.4cm. Similar colour to cap. Base covered in white down.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate, slightly decurrent. Yellow brown. Widely spaced.
Spore Print: Pale ochre brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On twigs, woody debris, chipping or mulch in gardens, deciduous woodland, hedgrows etc. Autumn through Winter.

EDIBILITY

Not edible.

Colourfully Versatile – Turkeytail Fungus

This is another perennial bracket fungus that is extremely common. If you find them at the right time in their life-cycle you’ll be witness to some beautiful displays that are visually stunning.

Turkeytail fungusWhat we have here is Turkeytail (trametes-versicolor) and is often layered in tiered groups on deciduous wood all year round. I often find these in ‘full bloom’ (so to speak) during the summer months. The pictures shown here are a selection from last June.

The common English name is very apt due to distinctive fan-like shape and concentric mix of colours involved, very similar indeed to that of a Turkeys’ tail feathers. You learn something new everyday!

The ‘versicolor’ description in the scientific name explains the changeable range of colours in which they can be found, such as shades of brown, blues, greys and greens. But whatever variable colour set you find, the thin wavy edge always remains creamy white. There are other Trametes species that do not share this feature.

The upper surface to touch is often variable too, depending on the weather conditions and age of the specimen. When younger, the texture is like a soft velvet, but this becomes smoother and less velvety with age.

The creamy white underside as you’ve probably guessed consists of many tiny round pores, with a few that are angular here and there. The flesh too is white with a tough and leathery consistency. Not really an edible species. It has no real taste to speak of anyway. Never mind.

But keep a look out for Turkeytail this autumn. I hope you get lucky and see some great examples of this pretty bracket.

The varied colours of the the small bracket fungus Turkeytail - Trametes versicolor)

Notice the varied mix of colours shown here of the common bracket fungus Turkeytail – Trametes versicolor. The margin is always cream/white and and nearly always thin and wavy.

QUICK ID TABLE: TURKEYTAIL Trametes versicolor

FRUITING BODY

4-10cm x 3-5cm. 0.1-0.5cm thickness. Often in large tiered groups, overlapping each other. Upper surface extremely variable in mixed colours. Concentric pattern. White wavy edge.

UNDERSIDE

White / Smooth. Matures to ochre.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

Small and circular often with irregular, angular pores too.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

All year round. Growing on deciduous wood. Very common.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too tough. Tastless.

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

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

Big Bonus – The Horse Mushroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horse mushroom pictures

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

QUICK ID TABLE: HORSE MUSHROOM Agaricus arvensis

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible and excellent. Good mushroomy flavour.

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

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

Tickled Pink! – The Blushing Bracket

I hope people don’t mind me featuring an overdue fungus to the Mushroom Diary. Yes, it’s a common, dull and inedible bracket fungus that appears in many numbers throughout the year. But just in case you’re not sure what this familiar sight is, it will be a pleasure for me to explain for you…

Daedaleopsis confragosaExtremely common in our English woodlands, the Blushing Bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa) is often found on the dead wood of Willow trees but also on many kinds of deciduous trees.

The semi-circular or fan shaped brackets, often in grouped tiers, can grow up to 15cm across. The upper surface shows distinctive radiating ‘bands’ and has a wrinckled surface texture (smoother when young). They are often thicker at the point of attachment to the wood (up to 5cm) and the margin remains thin and undulating.

As an ‘all year round’ fungus, like a lot of bracket fungi, it’s colour changes dramatically throughout it’s lifetime. When young to middle-aged they are white or have a white-pinkish tinge. They age to a much darker reddish/brown and become a lot tougher and ‘corky’ in consistency.

When younger and more fresh, a little test on the underside can reveal their identity. The white(ish) pores are quite large and are a mix of elongated slots and round holes. Rubbing these with your finger you will see them readily bruise (or should I say ‘blush’) pinkish/red. This is unique to this bracket alone.

When they are very young and quite small I often think they may be something new I haven’t seen before, but over time I have realised that the ‘tickled pink’ test will tell me what it is straight away. It’s always good to have an ‘in the field’ test under your belt.

Daedaleopsis confragosa

The Blushing Bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa) turns a deep red/brown as it ages. Notice the Pinkish/Red bruising on the pores (top-right). This is how it got it’s common name.

QUICK ID TABLE: BLUSHING BRACKET Daedaleopsis confragosa

FRUITING BODY

Up to 20cm diametre / 1.5-5cm thick. Semi-circular or fan shaped. Thin margin. Wrinkled and radially ridged. Found singularly or in tiered groups. White/Pink when young then brown/reddish when old.

PORES / TUBES / SPORE PRINT

Large round and elongated pores.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead deciduous wood, esp. Willow. Very common. All year.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Tough and very bitter.

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

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

Shelling out – The Oyster mushroom

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

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

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

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

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

Oyster mushrooms

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

QUICK ID TABLE: OYSTER MUSHROOM Pleurotus ostreatus

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible and good.

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

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

The Oaks friend – Oakbug Milkcap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oakbug Milkcap images

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

QUICK ID TABLE: OAKBUG MILKCAP Lactarius quietus

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible.

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

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

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…

Branching Out – The Branched Oyster Mushroom

Luck was on my side this Saturday as I walked in one of my favourite woods. Stepping aside to give a couple some more room on the path, I just caught a glimpse of something white hiding beneath the undergrowth. Was it litter or was it a mushroom? You’ve always got to take a look…

Pleurotus cornucopiaeOn a fallen branch of a deciduous tree (I’m not sure which to be honest – I was too excited to notice!) was a small stout and proud group of Branching Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus cornucopiae). A couple were damaged but there were some great specimens with younger ones just poking below the senior ones. They were cute!

I don’t come across many Oyster mushrooms at all. Maybe that’s just Leicestershire, who knows? But this find was new to me, albeit being a moderately common mushroom. It had had it’s day during the period of Dutch Elm disease in the UK but nowadays is declining but still widespread.

I knew I was dealing with an Oyster mushroom of some sort. Looking at all the immediate visual features I was pretty sure what it was.

Unlike the typical Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) which has many colour variations, it is actually never white. So that ruled that out. But as the Branched Oyster matures further it does turn more towards ochre brown. Something to be aware of I think.

The other main feature was of course the stem which is very apparent. Many typical Oyster mushrooms have little or no stem to show, but in this case it was an interesting identification feature. It also has an ‘off-centre’ position in relation to the cap. The cap sinks into this stem in a similar way to a typical ‘Funnel Cap’ mushroom with very decurrent gills. In fact, if the stem was central and this mushroom grew from the ground you would think you were looking at a Funnel mushroom! Anyway, I digress, you get the picture…

To elaborate on the colour (mentioned above) this mushroom is initially white/cream, covered in a whiteish bloom, and in time will have an ochre tint, eventually becoming completely ochre-brown. Other features include the cap itself becoming wavy and often split a the margin, as shown here in the various pictures.

And if you do (or even have) found any of these beauties you may see them growing sideways out from the wood and the stem curve so the cap is level with the floor. In this case, I think they were lucky to be facing skywards due to the fallen branch. The stems usually ‘fuse’ together at the base. Again, in this case, only a few were fused together when I found them, and the larger ones were on their own. Different finds sometimes show slightly different results. Good points to take note of.

White Oyster Mushroom

QUICK ID TABLE: BRANCHING OYSTER Pleurotus cornucopiae

CAP / FLESH

5-12 cm accross. Initially convex/rounded then funnel-shaped. Margin often splits. Cream coloured with white bloom turning ochre brown with age. Smell is of flour or slight ammonia.

STEM

2-5 x 1-2.5cm, off-centre. usually fused with others at the base. Whiteish. Ochre tinge with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Very decurrent. White and/or pale pink in colour.
Spore Print: Pale lilac (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In grouped clusters on stumps or dead wood of deciduous trees (esp. elm or oak). Spring to autumn. Occassional.

EDIBILITY

Edible. OK.

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

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

Buried Bunny? The Hare’s Foot Inkcap

This mushroom has a long fruiting season and depending on what time it is discovered, it can appear to be a different fungus altogether…

I have come across the Hare’s Foot Inkcap (Coprinus lagopus) as early as May right through to the late autumn months. It gets its common English name from the way the young ‘furry-like’ fruiting body is reminiscent of a hare’s foot – albeit poking up from the ground (hence my tasteless post title).

This Inkcap mushroom is usually found in small groups and matures into relatively tall specimens (up to 12 or 13cm in some cases). They’re usually found on soil or leaf litter in woodland (sometimes in rarer field scenarios).

But quite often, as in this case, they especially seem to enjoy taking to wherever there has been man made disturbance in woodland. There had been a huge pile of woodchip/bark mulch, left by the recent activity of forestry workers. There were dozens of them, in several groups spread across one side of the large mound.

The white(ish) veil remnants are numerous on the young caps, which are very delicate and disappear on handling. The cap expands to almost flat, thinly spreading out the fine fibres on it’s greyish and finely grooved surface. During this ‘growing’ stage, the young white gills soon turn black and deliquesce (turning to inky fluid) typical of nearly all the Inkcaps.

The long white stem is also covered in fine white fibrous scales but usually end up becoming completely smooth.

If you do find some of these Inkcaps coming to the end of their life, you’ll notice the cap curls upwards as it decays. And if you pick and hold up the mushroom to the sky (gills towards you) you will also see it is very translucent due to the very thin flesh. All interesting stuff.

Anyway, they’re pretty common throughout the UK and unfortunately inedible as they’re not really worth the time. Never mind eh!?

QUICK ID TABLE: HARE’S FOOT INKCAP Coprinus lagopus

CAP / FLESH

Young: 2-4 cm high, conical or ovate, covered in fine downy white veil remnants. Mature: Up to 6cm diametre, thin, grey. Covered in whitish veil remnants.

STEM

6-13 cm x 0.3-0.5cm. White, swollen at base. Covered in fine white down. Smooth later.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White, turning black very soon and deliquescing.
Spore Print: Violaceous black (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In groups on soil or leaf litter in woodland (less so in fields). Commonly found in disturbed woodland areas on wood chip or mulch. Early summer to late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too insubstantial.

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

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

Coprinu lagopus © Mark Williams 2012.

This great picture of an older Coprinus lagopus was kindly supplied by Mark Williams at www.gallowaywildfoods.com – Notice the up curling edges and see how much of the dark inky fluid, containing the spores, has dissipated, leaving a lighter, translucent cap.

Tree Hugger – The Toughshank / Spindle-Shank

It’s early June and with the recent inclement weather (or great weather for mushroom hunters!) there are plenty of different species popping up here and there. But after a local visit to a local (mixed woodland) wood, I was quite disappointed with the results. But then again, summer is usually a good mix of grassland and woodland finds. You can’t win or find them all!

Collybia fusipesAfter seeing these chaps again, I felt it was time to feature this common woodland mushroom (which I always see this time of year). As usual, they’ll be hugging the base of an oak, beech or other deciduous tree or stump.

Yes, the Toughshank / Spindle-shank (Collybia fusipes (Gymnopus fusipes)) has always been a reliable show around summer all the way through to early winter time. It can also show it’s face during the late spring months too.

Collybia (or Gymnopus) species* have the common English name of ‘Toughshanks’ for the simple reason that they have very tough, flexible and fibrous stems. In addition to this (or subtraction!) they never have any ring or volva present (see mushroom identification page for more general info).

As mentioned, they often appear at the base of broadleaved trees (especially oak) and grow in dense tufts of a dozen or more. Sometimes they can appear to be growing out of the ground, but they are in fact attached to the nearby host tree via it’s underground roots. I have only seen this a few times and I really don’t know how common that is.

When young, the numerous caps appear button like (between 1 – 3 cm in diametre) and are red/brown in colour with lighter patches here and there. You’ll also notice much darker spots on the surface due to the odd nibble from a bug or minor surface imperfection. When more mature, the cap expands up to 7cm in diametre and fades slightly in colour (see pictures below) especially as it drys out. The texture is very smooth but gooey when moist, or soon after rain.

But the main identification feature of this mushroom (or should I say mushroom group) is that the stem, as we already know, is very fibrous and tough. Just break it apart and you’ll see. It is more ‘swollen’ in the centre where the colour deepens and grows darker brown towards the thinning, tapered base. These stems often fuse together as one. Indeed, this is a common trait in many of the Toughshanks.

The gills are free but may also be attached to the stem ‘decurrently’ only very slightly (see gill attachment details). They are whitish in colour then show a reddish tinge later on.

And just like most common mushrooms that you tend to see over and over again, you’ll find they are usually inedible. Curses! They’re just too tough and spindly for a good meal! Ah well…

Toughshank or Spindleshank mushroom

Note the younger/smaller examples (top right & bottom middle) and the paler/dryer mushroom group (top left/bottom middle). These were all found at the base of oak trees in mixed woodland.

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

QUICK ID TABLE: SPINDLESHANK / TOUGHSHANK Gymnopus fusipes (Collybia fusipes)

CAP / FLESH

2-7 cm in diametre. Dark red/brown. Dome shaped expanding with age. Paler when dry.

STEM

4-9cm x 0.7-1.5cm. Thicker in middle. Thin and darker at base. Often fused with others.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free or faintly attached. Whiteish – Reddish tinge
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In dense tufts at the base of deciduous trees, mainly oak and beech. Late spring to winter.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too tough and stringy.

The Genus GYMNOPUS (Toughshanks); COLLYBIA name often still used for some species: Characteristics to look out for:

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

Two Toned Treat – The Sheathed Woodtuft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keuehneromyces mutabilis

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

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

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

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

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

Flaky Pholiota – The Shaggy Scalycap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pholiota squarossa

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

Pholiota squarossa

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

QUICK ID TABLE: SHAGGY SCALYCAP Pholiota squarossa

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Not edible.

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

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

It’s Miller time!

There’s a small stretch of coniferous woodland close to where I live, and over the years I have never seen such a variation of mushrooms, toadstools and fungi in such a relatively small place. Great stuff!

Clitopilus prunulusAnd today was no disappointment either. Poking out of above the leaves in a small clearing were the caps of a small group of Miller mushrooms (Clitopilus prunulus).

This was the first time I’d seen them here and I needed to check all characteristics of this wonderfully edible mushroom (as I always do) but especially this time as they were very close to the woodland/grassland border. The poisonous Fool’s Funnel (Clitocybe rivulosa) – a grassland species – is a sinister looking double for our tasty Miller mushroom.

The Miller has a pink spore print, so I also needed to be aware of confusion with other poisonous species with the same feature. For example, the Livid Pinkgill (Entoloma sinuatum), although not looking too similar, is quite an unpleasant toadstool.

The main identification markers were all there (see ID table below) – the size, the wavy irregular shape, the soft leathery (kid glove) texture, decurrent gills (that came away easily from the stem and cap), and of course the strong floury (mealy), raw pastry odour were all unmistakable.

The gills of this mushroom are initially white, then change to a mild pink colour as they mature (hence the pink spore print mentioned earlier). But to be on the safe side, I would always recommend you take a spore print (see how to make a spore print), just as I did, to doubly make sure.

Unfortunately these beauties were being systematically killed off inside from larvae infestation. They started at the base, munched up the stem and into the cap. I’m not sure if this killed off the spores developing properly or all spores had been shed (which I’m not convinced about), but not even a single spore had dropped to make any kind of print. Needless to say, I didn’t eat them, but then I couldn’t anyway – maggot munchies anyone!?

There should be more elsewhere or on the way soon. They can be found in small groups, and interestingly have some biological link with Ceps (Boletus edulis), so take a look around to see if there are any nearby. Good luck…

Miller mushroom - Clitopilus prunulus

The Miller (Clitopilus prunulus). Notice the wavy, irregular shape of the cap.

QUICK ID TABLE: THE MILLER Clitopilus prunulus

CAP / FLESH

3-10cm across. Convex then irregular and wavy. Soft leather feel. Inrolled margin. White to cream in colour.

STEM

1.5cm x 0.4-1.2cm. Same colour as cap. Usually off-centre attachment to cap.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

Grass in open woodland. Summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible and good.

Common in a crowd – The Sulphur Tuft toadstool

There’s a extremely good chance of you finding a large group of Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare) at just about anytime of the year (especially from April to December). These beauties are extremely common in the UK and populate all types of woods and forests.

Sulphur Tuft Toadstool/MushroomThey are Saprotrophs (feeding off decaying matter) and appear in small tufts or large groups on dead/rotting wood (deciduous or coniferous), tree stumps or underground buried decaying wood or roots. The Hypholoma group of fungi like these are commonly known as ‘Brownie’.

When found in great numbers they are indeed a great sight to behold. When in their prime, the convex cap has an amazing bright sulphur-yellow colour with darker orange tones towards the centre. Remnants of the pale yellow veil (initially covering the gills) can be found at the edge (margin). The stem, which is often curved, share a similar yellow-brown colour (sometimes greenish) though dirty brown towards the base with a fibrous appearance. The gills , when younger, appear green-yellow which act as a good indicator in identification.

They almost look good enough to eat (and do have that ‘mushroomy’ smell), but unfortunately are not edible and will most likely give you stomach ache, vomiting and similar gastrointestinal symptoms. But the almost identical Conifer Tuft (Hypholoma capnodes) on the other hand – is edible – but less common throughout the year. As the name suggests, this species only grows in coniferous woods, in fact only always found on rotting tree stumps.

There is a ‘taste test’ you can make to identify between the two. Simply taste a small sample from the cap, making sure you don’t swallow! If it is bitter in taste, it is a Sulphur Tuft but if it is mild, then it is a Conifer Tuft.

Please note that you shouldn’t try this taste test with other mushrooms or toadstools you find (unless you know exactly what you’re dealing with. ie. Russula or Lactarius) as nasty results can come from tasting unknown species!

And if you do find some Conifer Tuft, I’ve heard they’re best steamed or used in a soup. I have no idea what they taste like!

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare)

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare). Note the slight yellow green of the gills which age to an olive colour, and then finally to dark brown.

Hypholoma fasiculare

Sulphur Tuft – Grouped clusters on a fallen log and a group of young/small specimens.

Toadstool ID Chart - Sulphur Tuft

The Genus HYPHOLOMA (Brownies): Characteristics to look out for:

• Often yellow/orangy brown caps.
• Dark brown spore print.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young to old - Shaggy Ink Cap

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

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

ID notes - Shaggy Inkcap

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

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

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.

Clouded judgement – The Clouded Agaric

This post is placed in two categories; setting it in ‘Tales of Toadstools’ and ‘Woodland Treats’ due to its mixed acceptance in edibility, so it may not be much of a ‘woodland treat’ for everyone out there.

Clouded Agaric (Clitocybe nebularis)It’s one of those ‘they’re everywhere’ mushrooms in autumn, definitely around Leicestershire anyway. Their appearance can be really quite dull, but depending on their age, the Clouded Agaric (Clitocybe nebularis) can vary in medium to very large in size (up to 20cm) and often grow in huge rings or groups in deciduous or conifer woodland. They’ve always have a place in my heart because they were my first mushroom hunting discovery and ID case. Just shows how ‘common as muck’ they are! Very common that is, from late summer to late autumn.

The common name comes from the appearnce of the cloudy white/grey coloured cap (sometimes with a hint of light brown) which is always darker at the centre. The shape of the cap is initially domed, then flattened and later with a depressed centre. The margin can be smooth and round or even wavy and irregular. The whitish stem is often quite tall with a thick bulbous base, covered in fine white mycelium where woodland floor debris likes to cling to.

Being one of the Clitocybe genus (Funnels) the crowded whitish gills are always decurrent, that is, running down the stem, sometimes only slightly so.

Edibility-wise, they are recommended to be avoided, which I’m having a problem with. It seems such a waste. They’re large, juicy looking with loads of them about. The main reason being is that they can ‘disagree’ with some people and cause some bad stomach upset. Somebody must have tried to eat them, and what do they taste like? Was it worth it?

After a little net surfing I came across a great blog article covering this very subject. ‘Risky Eating’ was the title by the author Becky. She decided to take a chance and sample a small amount. Having no reaction after 24hours, she cooked up a lot of fungus and found it to be ‘really really tasty’ with a ‘strong flavour’. (See the full article here)

So, come Autumn again this year, I think I’ll have a taster and see if I’m OK with it. Because if I am, then wow, I’ll be spoilt for pickings. Here’s hoping!

Clouded Agaric Toadstool

The cloudy whiet/grey agaric often grows in rings or large groups in woodland. They are often quite large (15 – 20 cm diametre cap). Note the decurrent gills (left).

QUICK ID TABLE: CLOUDED AGARIC / CLOUDED FUNNEL Clitocybe nebularis

CAP / FLESH

8 – 20cm White/Grey sometimes with light brown hue. Initially convex, matures to flat and dip in centre. Inrolled margin. Margin sometimes wavy & irregular. Flesh is thick & white with strong sweetish smell.

STEM

5 – 12cm x 2 – 3 cm. Paler than cap. Swollen, thicker base. Woodland floor debris sticks to white mycellium at base. Becomes hollow and breaks easily.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White, crowded & decurrent. When older the colour has a yellowish hue.
Spore Print: Cream (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In deciduous and coniferous woodland on the floor amongst leaf and needle litter. In large groups or rings. Late summer – late autumn. Very common.

EDIBILITY

Edible. OK. May cause gastric upset. Cook a little first and test.

The Genus CLITOCYBE (Funnels): Characteristics to look out for:

• Caps are often ‘funnel’ shaped; sometimes with a central bump (umbo).
• Gills are decurrent; sometimes very deep down the stem.
• Possess strong; often distinctive smells such meal (fresh flour/grain or slightly cucumber-like) or aniseed.

Update (September 2010): Autumn came around again pretty sharpish and I harvested a few of these beauties. After I fried and tasted a small sample, I waited a good 12 – 24 hours and I was fine. No gastric upset (as this is all this mushroom can do at it’s worst!). My God, what a lovely flavour. I consider this to be the ‘poor mans’ Field Mushroom’ – it’s not as splendid in overall flavour and consistency, but by golly, it’s damn close. I tucked into a few with my usual Saturday morning fry-up. They are really nice. I shouldn’t be telling you this because you may get out there and harvest my crop!

But seriously – well worth a go, and if you find a good patch in a wood in a ring – you will be spoilt senseless. Just cut open the stem to check for any maggot infestation – unfortunately they love it also!

See my latest pictures below. Some are younger and perfectly formed. As they grow older they get a ‘wavy’ margin (edge of cap).

Clouded Agaric pictures