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The notorious Magic Mushroom

Well I suppose at some stage I would had to do a feature on this mushroom. A select few people I meet often presume that as a mushroom hunter, I only go looking for this particular species. Well that’s just not so – I was in the right place at the right time as I stumbled across these bad boys. Simply observed for identification reasons – honestly officer!

Psilocybe semilanceataThe Magic Mushroom or Liberty Cap (Psilocybe semilanceata) is the most notorious of all the hallucinogenic mushrooms (of which there are many), this being one of the most common and potent!

It contains a chemical cocktail of psychoactive ingredients, most notably ‘psilocybin’ (hence Psilocybe) which is a naturally produced psychedelic compound, and is the main active substance. Ingestion of several mushrooms, whether eaten fresh, dried or powdered and added to food etc, can produce a variety of ‘psychedelic’ experiences similar to those produced by LSD. Since 2005 it has been made illegal to be in possession of this mushroom (in whatever form) and is labelled as a Class A drug – so there you go.

The mycelium (the vegetative part of the fungus) feeds on the decaying matter of grass roots, so they are very at home scattered in pastures, lawns (sometimes parks), grassy roadsides and paths.

The first thing to note is that the cap of the mushroom is hygrophanous, meaning it will change colour depending on how much moisture it retains. In wet conditions the colour will be yellowish-brown / brown with a slight olive tinge. It has a glutinous viscid layer which can be delicately removed. As it drys out the colour fades to pale buff or whitish with a dark spore stained edge.

But the small conical cap remains a similar shape throughout these changes. It is elongate with striate markings (more noticeable when moist) with a distinctive small bump at the very top (umbo).

The thin white/creamy coloured stem (sometimes with darker yellowish hues) is relatively long compared to the cap size, and can grow up to 7 or 8cm high. Sometimes you may notice a blueish tinge at the very base. The gills are pale creamy-grey at first, but as the mushroom matures they become a dark purple-brown.

I’m not at liberty to say where I found these (or where to find others for that matter) as I was on a private reserve where I had permission to study. So please no questions about that on the blog or via email, thanks.

There are plenty around at the moment, but be aware that they’re just for looking at …right folks?

Magic Mushroom

Psilocybe semilanceata or Magic Mushroom is hygrophanous and drys to a pale buff colour.

QUICK ID TABLE: MAGIC MUSHROOM / LIBERTY CAP Psilocybe semilanceata

CAP / FLESH

0.5-1.5cm across. Elongated conical shape with pointed bump (umbo). Yellow-Brown / Brown with olive hue. Drying to pale buff.

STEM

3-8cm x 0.1-0.2cm. Pale whitish/cream often with yellowish hues. Sometimes with purple tinge at base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Pale clay/creamy-grey maturing to dark purple-brown.
Spore Print: Dark purpleish-brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Pasture, garden, grassy roadsides and paths. Common in late summer to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Hallucinogenic. Illegal to be in possession of.

Bay Polypore

Many bracket (or shelf) fungi grow all year round, or at least from spring through to autumn. This one is a classic example – most common in central Europe but less so farther north.

Polyporus durus The Bay Polypore (Polyporus durus / P.badius) can be found throughout this long season. I live in middle England and find them ‘now and again’ – they’re one of the few ‘good looking’ polypores out there, as many can be quite dull and inconspicuous with bland colours.

The size of the mature fruiting body can differ greatly, ranging from 5cm up to approximately 20cm across. The first group of photos below show several examples from the same group, all different shapes and sizes. The typical ‘off-centre’ stem (which is mostly black – or at least at the base) produces a thin, lobed and often wavy cap. It’s very smooth with a very slight ‘waxy’ feel.

The colour also varies with many shades of brown and mahogany. Age is also a key factor in these variations too. When young, the fruiting bodies are pale/pallid brown becoming dark brown/mahogany at maturity. The first group of photos here show some ‘rich’ dark brown examples – so much so that I had to get a second opinion and microscopic confirmation from the spores. They were indeed Bay Polypores, just darker than usual. As a rough ‘general’ colour guide I would say they’re most often a mild pallid brown, often with darker central zone. But when it comes to identification, fungi like to keep you on your toes!

As many of you will know (or may not know) fungi such as these do not have gills on the underside but have pores instead (from where their reproductive spores will drop). ‘Polypore’ simply translated means ‘many holes’, and in this case they are very small holes; around 5-10 per millimetre! So at first glance the underside looks like a smooth creamy white, featureless surface. You have to take a closer look. And like most polypores, they only grow on tress, trunks or fallen logs etc. In this case the Bay Polypore will only be found on dead or living deciduous wood.

Lookalikes?

You may also stumble across the Blackfoot Polypore (P. leptocephalus) which I find is a more common species but essentially smaller (cap ranges from 2-10cm across) and much paler with radiating streaks on its surface. It is also found on dead/dying deciduous wood, but not living trees.

Bracket fungi for foraged food?

Well, to be honest, there are not many bracket fungi out there for the pot. Many are too thin, too tough, too bitter or all of the above! Never mind, I’m sure they appreciate not being eaten to carry on they’re great ecological work.

So, keep a look out for all those variable brackets out there this spring, summer and autumn (especially on fallen trunks). Enjoy.

Polypore fungi

The typical wavy/lobed shape of the Bay Polypore. Notice the dark/blackish stem base.

Bay Polypore

Older examples of the Polyporus durus – Mahogany brown in colour and extreme wavy/lobes edges.

QUICK ID TABLE: BAY POLYPORE Polyporus durus

CAP / FLESH

5-20cm across.

STEM

0.2-0.4cm x 0.5-1.5cm, off centre. Black(ish) more so at the base.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

Very small, circular (5-10 per mm). White/pale cream.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead or living deciduous trees. Spring to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Not edible. Too tough and 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 on the underside.
• Usually tough/leathery or hard and woody.
• Many are perennial or annual
.

Fawny coloured Deer Shield

This common wood-rotting mushroom has a variable season. It is prolific in summer and autumn, but if conditions are mild enough, it can appear as early as April or early winter if the weather is favourable.

Pluteus cervinus The Deer Shield or Deer Mushroom (Pluteus cervinus) is one of the most common Shield mushrooms; and like nearly all of this genus, it is found on dead wood, stumps, logs and also wood chippings. It is a saprobe; getting nutrition from the dead wood and essentially breaking down the organism. It’s all part of life’s beautiful tapestry.

The cap of this particular Pluteus is smooth with variable colouring; mainly shades of brown (fawny like), but it can be paler and young specimens can be quite dark, as shown in the photo below. Subtle streaks can be seen radiating around the surface. Most often there is a slightly prominent central bump (umbo).

All mushrooms in this genus have a pink spore print and their gills are ‘free’ from the stem (See my other post on the Willow Shield mushroom here). They are initially white in colour, but over time they take on a pinkish hue as the spores mature. This is a good identification characteristic, albeit dependent on its age! Look around for older specimens if you can.

The stem is white and often becomes streaked with darker yellow-brown fibres as it ages. Also take a look at the base, where it usually is slightly swollen.

Edibility-wise there’s not much going for our lovely Deer Shield, but it still is edible (although it may not agree with some). The flesh is white, delicate and thin with a slight odour and taste similar to radish. I found a great blog tackling this culinary challenge, see here for a little advice on the subject: http://foragerchef.com/the-fawndeer-mushroom-pluteus-cervinus

Why the Deer name?

When I was first aware of the common name, I assumed that ‘Deer’ was simply in reference to the colour. But apparently this is not so. Under the microscope, small cells (known as cystidia) present on the edge of the gills, show long protusions  that are crowned with two tiny ‘horn’ shapes which resemble antlers – hence the ‘deer’ reference. Cervinus is also derived form cervus which is Latin for deer. You learn something new everyday!

I hope have luck finding these handsome mushrooms some time soon, as well as any others you may find along the way. Enjoy.

Deer Shield Mushroom

Pluteus cervinus – The Deer Shield. Top middle: a Younger convex/darker example. Bottom: Giils initially white, turning pink as the spores mature.

QUICK ID TABLE: DEER SHIELD Pluteus cervinus

CAP / FLESH

4-12cm across. Initially bell shaped/convex; flattening out with age, Often with a raised central bump (umbo). Flesh is white; smells and tastes faintly of radish.

STEM

7-10cm x 05-1.5cm. White; later becoming streaked with darker brownish fibres.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free. Initially white, turning pink.
Spore Print: Pink (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Dead wood, fallen hardwood trees and sometimes woodchip. Mainly autumn but sporadic throughout the year. Very common.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Not considered particularly good.

The Genus PLUTEUS (Shield): Characteristics to look out for:

• The majority grow on wood or woodland debris/wood chippings etc.
• Gills always free, slowly mature from white/pale to pink.
• Pink spore print.

Out in the field – The Bearded Fieldcap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agrocybe molesta image collection

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

QUICK ID TABLE: BEARDED FIELDCAP Agrocybe molesta

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

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

Fieldcap mushroom sketch

Tree loving – 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

Lost in the Moss – The Collared Mosscap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUICK ID TABLE: COLLARED MOSSCAP Rickenella swartzii

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Too small to be worth eating.

Rickenella swartzii drawing

A scattering of Yellow Fieldcaps

A walk though the park today I was pleasantly surprised to find many small yellow and slightly larger pale mushrooms peppered around in the short grass. And as I suspected, these were actually all the same mushroom species, just in different stages of growth.

Bolbitius titubans

Credit: Caroline Hooper, Gloucestershire UK.

The Yellow Fieldcap (Bolbitius titubans) is a very widespread and common little mushroom, fruiting during summer to autumn, but I often see them in mid-late spring time too, as in this case. It mainly frequents well manured grassland but is also found on rotting straw, manure, dung and wood chippings.

When very young, its small cap is distinctly rounded, elliptical or sometimes ball-like and is a striking bright yellow colour. It also has a slimy surface texture which sticks to your finger after a gentle prod of the cap! As is grows, the cap opens into a bell shape and eventually spreads to almost flat. During this process, the viscosity fades as well as the chrome yellow colouring until it is nothing more than a pallid straw colour or greyish-white. Some yellow however does remain (for a while) at the very apex of the cap, and the margin becomes noticeably striated and very thin.

The gills on the underside are pale yellow and quite crowded. With age these change colour too, becoming light brown and eventually rusty brown. This is a good identification feature to look out for on older specimens.

The hollow stem, just like the cap, is very fragile and is relatively long when compared to the size of the cap (this can be helpful for locating them amongst the grass to be honest). On closer inspection you’ll see it is covered in fine white powder and more downy at the base.

And as a quick sign off, it’s interesting (albeit a little confusing) to know that although the common ‘Fieldcap’ name is used, the Yellow Fieldcap isn’t actually part of the Agrocybe genus, which are commonly known as Fieldcaps. So make of that what you will!

Mushroom montage

Different ages: Bottom left – Very young chrome yellow, viscous cap. Top left – Middle aged fading yellow cap. Top right – Yellow gills mature deeper brown. Bottom right – Old and faded cap with distinct striations.

QUICK ID TABLE: YELLOW FIELDCAP Bolbitius titubans

CAP / FLESH

1-5cm across. ball shaped or elliptical and chrome yellow when young. Pallid yellow to greyish white, bell shaped to almost flat when older. Striate margin. Thin, fragile flesh.

STEM

3-10cm x 0.2-0.4cm. Pale yellow or whitish. Hollow. Covered in fine white powder. Downy base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate to free. Crowded. Pale yellow maturing to light brown, then rusty brown.
Spore Print: Rust brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Manured grassland, rotting straw, dung, wood chip. Mid spring through to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Not edible.

Mushroom sketch - Bolbitius species

More more Morels! – A Grey Morel…

Well, this UK drought we’re having this April has got to be the wettest on record! But the morels are enjoying it and they’re still out there.

The pictures of the following were kindly submitted by Thalia Kenton when she was asking about them earlier this April – thanks again for the pics Thalia.

As you know, what we have here is a Morel (Morille) (Morchella esculenta) but it’s looking a little off colour than it normally would! Strange stuff indeed.

What we have to understand is that there are many variants of the delightful Morel out there to be discovered. Size, shape and colour can vary so much from Morel to Morel, but are typically light brown/ochre in colour. Caps can be round, oval or conical-like (but not so much as the Black Morel).

I might go as far as to say this could possibly be the recognised variant Morchella vulgaris because of the grey colours in the cap – but the shape is described as being more ovoid in shape. Hmm! tricky. Another contender could be Morchella esculenta var. umbrina, a smallish Morel with grey/dark colours. Again I can’t be certain exactly…

One thing is for sure though is that this is a Morel and not the poisonous False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta) which is darker red/brown with twisted lobes in an irregular ‘brain-like’ shape. It is found mainly with conifers at the same time of year, particularly favouring sandy soil.

I’ve had so many pictures lately from several website visitors and I’ve had at least 3 people finding similar looking Morels. It’s all good stuff. And they’re exceptionally make for good eating. Just cross-check you’ve find the right thing first before cooking.

Enjoy…

Grey Morel

Morchella esculenta variant – Pictures courtesy of Thalia Kenton

More Morels! The Semifree Morel

As you may know or not I recently got lucky finding some Black Morels this April 2012, and as luck would have it I actually stumbled across another species of Morel a couple of days afterwards! Marvellous…

Semifree Morel Picture

I had a foray at Cloud wood (NW Leicestershire. Note: Cloud Wood is access by permit only and no digging up or removal of fungi is allowed) in which I found a reasonably good bunch of wild fungi, some even first timers for me. The most distinctive discovery though was the Semifree Morel (Morchella semilibera / Mitrophora semilibera). You can read more of my lucky find of the tasty Black Morel here featuring useful information very similar to this Semifree species…

The distinctive vertical ridges and pits on the cap are almost the same as our lovely Black Morel, but when compared, the main difference is the smaller pointy cap and longer stem. The bottom part of the cap is free from the stem and attaches higher up, hence the English name ‘Semifree’.

Although it’s a great looking species of Morel, found in it’s native habitat in damp woodland (luckily there was rain a day or so before), it is unfortunately not as worthy as it’s tastier cousins. It is said to be edible (after cooking) but apparently not worth the effort. It has been known to cause stomach upset in some people. Well, you can’t win ’em all!

Hope you all get some luck finding some of the tastier Morels out there real soon…

Morchella semilibera

The Semifree Morel with it’s smaller pointy cap. The lower part of the cap is free from the stem, hence the English name. Not worth cooking though!

And to finish:

The first morel the shepherds did see
In the springtime beneath a dying elm tree:
Morel, morel,
Morel, morel!
Where we find them we never will tell,
Morel!

All together now…

Wonders in the Woodchip! The Black Morel

They always say ‘ keep your favourite edible mushroom sites a big secret’, but it’s even better to prize this information out of other people! Hoo ha ha! (my best evil laugh)

Picture of Black Morel (Morchella elata)A Gardener/ landscaper, while in the area, overheard my mushroom ravings while at my local watering hole. He wanted me to identify a mushroom found in one of his new clients’ gardens. After a quick glance on his iPhone I immediately knew it was a Black Morel (Morchella elata).

After badgering the poor chap and discovering the exact location of these beauties (literally up the road!) I went onwards to then bother the owner of the said garden. Luckily he was very accommodating and allowed me to take pictures and take them all if I wanted. I only took a few and left the rest to do their thing.

This is the season for Morels, which is early spring (april/may) and they were in abundance amongst the woodchip of this side street front garden. They were a little past their prime and were very large specimens (up to 15cm). Most of the older and blacker ones had split open at the top, but a few were salvageable and I took these home.

The Black Morel is similar to the more common Yellow Morel (Morchella esculenta) but it is darker reddish brown (getting blacker as it ages). The cap is more conical in shape with almost parallel ridges and pits flowing vertically upwards. And like the Yellow Morel it is also completely hollow inside both the cap and stem. Take a closer look at the stem which is whitish/brown – you’ll also see mini granules on it’s surface which have a mildly rough texture.

A totally natural environment for the Black Morel is on Chalky soil within coniferous woodland (esp. Scotland), but in recent years these fungi have appeared more often in urban environments such as roadsides or wasteland, and especially in gardens amongst the woodchip. The mycelium itself remains in the wood throughout transport and when scattered on a soil it likes it tends to fruit in numbers.

As a much sought after, excellent edible mushroom it’s best to grab these when they are younger, and also remember they are not out for long as they have a short fruiting season.

I’m no top chef but I do know you shouldn’t eat these raw, they must be cooked well before consumption. Their hollow body acts as a natural dish when cut in half. Filling them with a savoury stuffing to put in the oven is a great idea. They also go well with in sauces accompanying meat dishes due to their strong robust flavour.

For now I’m going to dry my specimens as this is the best method for storage, and I’ll come back to them later when I have a few recipe ideas. A good tip is to make sure you clean them thoroughly before storing as insects can tend be missed when hidden in the hidey holes!

Hope you all find some soon. Enjoy.

Black mushroom with honeycomb pattern

The Black Morel (Morchella elata). Note the granular surface on the stem and hollow body when cut in half.

And to end, I’d like to finish with this popular carol:

The first morel the shepherds did see
In the springtime beneath a dying elm tree:
Morel, morel,
Morel, morel!
Where we find them we never will tell,
Morel!

All together now…

Jelly and Ice (no cream) – Jelly Ear or Jews Ear

I’m still out there in the freezing cold, treading on the ice crusted mud and woodland grass in search of any of those winter treats still hanging around on the old dead wood. And I also need a change from mince pies, turkey, wine etc… and pretend I’m losing a few pounds in the process.

I was oJelley Ear Fungus on the side of a treeut in one of the National Forest woods, closest to where I live. It had to be close as I was on the motorbike and had to make the journey short. After all, it was ‘zero’ degrees celcius!

Initially I was looking for any signs of Oyster mushrooms. I know they’re around pretty much all year, but I need to find out more of where that is!

Instead I stumbled across (nearly literally) a modest collection of Jelly Ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) or Jew’s Ear. They are genuinely funky in appearance, and absolutely great to touch, almost like a mixture between silk and rubber! However, it was so cold that some had completely frozen solid with some only half frozen. I quickly took some snaps to show the ice and ear together.

They’re around most of the year and grow on living and dead wood, mainly elder but also with beech and sycamore.

They are edible but not full of flavour. I didn’t pick any of them at this time, but I’m interested to know if anyone has any interesting recipes to use with them. I believe they are used extensively in Chinese cooking – broths and soups etc. generally to add substance rather than for added taste.

Update Feb 2014:
Since I received a recent comment from a blog follower mentioning the health benefits of this particular fungus, I had to check it out. It’s fascinating to see how many vitamins and minerals it possesses. It really is a super food! To see the health benefits of the Jelly Ear, click here.

Jelly Ear Fungas

Jelly Ear feeling the ice cold of January