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Blue-leg Bounty – The Field Blewit

Happy (belated) new year to you all! Things have been very busy for me pre-Christmas, hence the delay featuring this lovely and edible treat I found in November, even though it can often be seen in the winter months!

I’m so happy to have found this mushroom recently as I don’t see much of it nowadays. It has patchy distribution throughout Europe and is notably harder to find than our reliable Wood Blewit (Clitocybe nuda / Lepista nuda). However, I hope you do come across The Field Blewit or Blue-leg (Clitocybe saeva / Lepista Saeva) pretty soon too. It is one of the more highly prized wild edible mushrooms to be found.

Field BlewitThese two conspicuous ‘Blewits’ look very similar but have a few notable differences. Firstly the most obvious difference is that the Blue-Leg is found mainly in Fields/pasture (as you would expect with such a name!) but it can reside close to woodland in grassy hedgerows (as in this case) or even gardens. They’re usually found in Fairy rings, but I don’t see much of that. My bad luck I guess.

The smooth, large cap  of a mature specimen (often with a wavy margin) is pallid brown in colour, unlike the Wood Blewit which has a distinctive violet hue.

The gills are similar in their crowded, fleshy appearance but have different colouring; the Field Blewit’s gills are whitish when young, maturing to a ‘pale flesh’ colour, unlike the violet tinge present in the Wood Blewit.

The streaky coloured stems however (or ‘Legs’ in this case) are very similar. The Field Blewit has a strong violet shade, which is bizarre considering they’re known as Blue-Legs – but there you go, I don’t make the rules! The contrasting light brown of the cap and strong violet stem is quite distinctive.

The Field Blewit is superior in flavour to the more common Wood Blewit, and apparantly they both store well in a freezer for future consumption. Yum.

Have a good new year and here’s hoping you have good foraging fortune. (P.S. Look out for Jelly Ear which is more conspicuous this time of year – they’re great for stir fry with a wealth of health benefits. Enjoy).

Lepista saeva

The Wood Blewit, also known as Blue-Leg with its distinctive bluish-lilac coloured stem. Gills are flesh coloured in mature specimens.

QUICK ID TABLE: FIELD BLEWIT Clitocybe saeva / Lepista saeva

CAP / FLESH

6-12cm across. Smooth, pale brown and fleshy. Flat to convex, sometimes with a central depression as it ages. Wavy edged with age.

STEM

3-6cm x 1.5-2.5cm. Violet/lilac (bluish) and fibrous. Sometimes swollen at base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Fleshy, crowded. Sinuate. Pale whitish when young. Flesh colour when older.
Spore Print: Pink (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In pasture/fields, grassy hedgerows. Sometimes gardens/orchards. Autumn – early winter.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Excellent – Cook well.

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

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.

Small and Brown! What is it? Winter Edition

I often hear from my friends various stories from their travels in these winter months. They sometimes stumble across ‘small and brown mushrooms’ – “What are they?” they would shout! Without really being there, that was really quite a tough question!

Winter Twiglet Mushroom (Tubaria hiemalis)Small and brown mushrooms usually mean ‘nightmare identification’ to most people. But if it’s a winter mushroom (ie. January/February) I at least have the advantage of elimination.

Apart from the Velevet Shank mushroom, there’s really not much out there this time of year. But there are still quite a few typical ‘mushroom-shaped’ species scattered around (ie. not a bracket fungus).

And recently I myself have come across a certain small brown species, found in mid-january. They were growing in abundance along the side of a grassy woodland path, among the dead leaves and general wood mulch.

Mushrooms!? Ground mushrooms this time of year!? What’s going on? Yes, to be fair, it’s not your typical find and I was keen to fathom out what on earth they were.

As you’ve probably guessed, these mushrooms were new to me, but I always entertain myself in the process of identification (I know I should get out more …but I already was!) Anyway, after much research – both online and churning through my extensive literature – I learned I was dealing with the ‘Tubaria’ group of fungi (in the family of ‘Cortinariaceae’ to be precise!)

Many books out there (even some of the heavyweight ones) do not not include many from the Tubaria group of mushrooms. But luckily, after a lot of cross referencing, I believe I’m dealing with Tubaria hiemalis (Winter Twiglet) – one of the more common species which grows from September to February. And before you ask – No, it’s not edible! Not poisonous, but simply tastes bad. Shame!

Well, there you go. You may see some scattered around the country side or near your home even. Key identification info and characteristics can be seen at the end of this post in the ‘Quick ID notes’.

Winter Twiglet (Tubaria hiemalis)

These older specimens of the Winter Twiglet grow from late autumn through winter to early spring in woodland debris/mulch. The caps of younger specimens appear more uniformly round, and almost balled shaped, sprouting from the ground, when very young.

Winter Twiglet Identification Chart

Winter’s bounty – Velvet Shank

It’s been cold this Winter – Damn cold! And there are few pickings out there for the mushroom hunter during any winter. But hold the phone, do not despair. There’s always some foraging delights to be had.

Velvet Shank MushroomThe Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) is quite a common mushroom who’s fruiting season is mainly from September to March. It can resist the winter frosts and low temperatures, even continuing to survive after being frozen solid. Quite a trooper!

These beauties are usually found in medium to large ‘tufted’ clusters on dead or decaying wood, favouring elm and oak. Their caps are a striking orange-brown colour (much lighter at the edges) and is quite shiny with a distinctly sticky/tacky surface texture.

Normally I wouldn’t touch any mushroom or toadstool that falls into the ‘small brown mushroom’ category! Even though Velvet Shank isn’t exactly small (3 – 10cm cap diametre) my instincts at any other time of the year would tell me to avoid as some small brown species are quite nasty! But in this case, and at this time of the year (January to be specific) there is no fear of mistaking it with much else.

The defining factor in identification of this mushroom lies in the examination of the stem. As the common name suggests, it’s ‘shank’ or stem has a smooth (and strangely satisfying) velvety feel, and the colour is a very dark brown/black – lighter at the top (closer to the cap) and darker at the base. Other identification factors regarding the tough stem is the lack of any ring, and when cut in half horizontally, it will show different coloured, thick layers with a small central hollow (see the picture below). If you’re still not sure, take a spore print. It will show up white.

After collecting a few of these, I’ve decided to dry them out and then make a powder from them for later use (or maybe slow cook them to add to a Chinese dish). I’ve heard that this is what they are best used for. You can cook them but they lack any real flavour. The caps are best chopped into strips and added to soups. The Japanese can’t get enough of them and cultivate a form of the Velvet Shank in high quantities, commercially known as Enoki-take.

Velvet Shank - Cap and Stem

Notice the dark coloured ‘velvety’ stem, sticky cap, gills and cut stem pattern

Identification table for Velvet Shank