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Loving the Large – Macro Mushroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edibility

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

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

Macro Mushrooms

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

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

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Edible. Mild & Good.

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

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

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.

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 Mushroom (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.

Update: North American poisonous lookalike:
As mentioned in the comments below (Nov 7, 2017), I thought it wise to mention the Green Spored Parasol (or False Parasol); Chlorophyllum molybdites, which is predominately most common in North America and causes gastrointestinal poisoning; such as diarrhea and/or vomiting a few hours after consumption. As of 2009 there has only been one record in the UK and I believe it may be still quite rare here. It looks very similar to edible Parasols (especially the Shaggy Parasol), but lacks the snakeskin pattern on the stem and has coarser cap scales. Fortunately a simple spore print test will reveal green spores. The gills, initially white often turn darker/greener with age.