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All that glitters… The Glistening Inkcap

These mushrooms love to be in a crowd! They are one of the first to see in the year, fruiting from mid to late spring all the way through to late autumn/early winter.

Coprinus micaceusThe Glistening Inkcap (Coprinellus micaceus) or should I say Inkcaps (plural) in this case, are extremely common; always found in small to large (sometimes very large) and tightly packed groups (caespitose) on or around broad leaf stumps/wood and buried wood. You really can’t miss them.

The best time to find them is when they are young and still with an ovate shaped cap and hopefully haven’t been blasted by wind or rain. You will see the fresh caps are covered in a fine white powder that appears glittery or glistening, hence the common name. This coating, more often than not, will eventually disappear with age and with the interaction of the elements etc.

Each small cap is around 1-4cm in size and generally ochre coloured with a darker cinnamon brown centre. Over time they will expand to produce a bell-like shape; their colour will fade or become dull, often with a greying (blackening) margin.  Also note that, as with many similar of the smaller inkcaps, there are very noticeable grooved markings on the surface, especially nearer to the margin.

The gills are free from the stem and are initially white, maturing to date-brown and eventually black as they turn into an inky liquid (deliquescing) – another common trait of the aptly named Inkcaps.

They are said to be edible, but they don’t seem to be much of a meal to me – or even appealing for that matter! So I haven’t tried to cook and eat any. Please leave a comment on this post if you have indulged – but I can’t imagine there are many recipes out there for them – or maybe there is!

Glistening Inkcap(Coprinellus micaceus)

Glistening Inkcap (Coprinellus micaceus) growing in large, densely packed groups feeing off old stumps and dead wood which is sometimes buried beneath the surface.

QUICK ID TABLE: GLISTENING INKCAP Coprinellus micaceus

CAP / FLESH

Ovate (becoming bell-shaped over time). Ochre coloured; darker brown at the centre. Becoming duller with age.

STEM

4-10cm x 0.2-0.5cm. White.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free from stem; initially white, maturing to date-brown, then to black (deliquescing)
Spore Print: Date brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On or around broad-leaved tree stumps, dead and/or buried wood. In large groups.
Late spring to early winter.

EDIBILITY

Edible.

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

• Most species gills dissolve into an inky black liquid as the black spores ripen.
• Grow on the ground, wood or dung.
• Often grow in groups (esp. smaller species)
• Smaller species have distinct radial grooved markings on the cap.

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
.

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.

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.

Large as life – The Giant Puffball

There is no danger in mistaking this fungus with any other. Nothing comes close to its unique size and appearance. Everyone should feel lucky if they ever find any of these beauties in their prime. I only have the occasional luck here and there. They’re either too young, too old or vandalized! Late summer and autumn is the best time to go hunting for them.

PuffballsThe pictures of these magnificent Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) were kindly supplied by Brian Friend (excluding the header & bottom right image) taken in his garden in Stickney, Lincolnshire. My discoveries to date haven’t been particularly photogenic, so many thanks again Brian.

So here were not just one, but several Giant Puffballs in a long line – or so it seems. They are actually part of a large partial ring. The averge puffball size I would say would be approximately 20-23cm in diametre (around 4kg). They could also still be in the process of growing even larger. Mature specimens can reach up to 80cm across (approx. 20kg) or even larger in some exceptional cases.

Apart from hedgerows and woodland edges, it is gardens and pasture land that are the most common habitat for this fungus, often found in full or partial fairy rings (as in this case).

The outer skin is white or creamy white and is firm and leathery to the touch. The inner flesh contains a dense white spore mass, known as gleba. These young reproductive spores amount in excess to around 7-8 trillion – and sometimes more. That’s one determined fungus keen on reproduction! However, only a couple of the spores may find purchase and reproduce elsewhere. Maybe this is not a bad thing, otherwise we’d be knee deep in them every autumn.

With age, the skin rots away and peels, leaving the now mature olive-brown spores to be released. This is further helped when the whole fruiting body becomes detached from it’s relatively small mycelial attachment (small white root-like appendage) and is free to roll ‘not-so-gracefully’ over the surrounding grassland.

If you’re lucky enough to find these magnificent white balls in their prime, the young white flesh is excellent for eating, and there’s a wealth of recipes out there for it. Here’s just a choice few:

Happy Hunting…

Giant Puffball image identification

The Giant Puffball can reach up to 80cm across. Older examples peel open and release the mature brown spores within (bottom right).

 

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.

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

Winter white tips of the Candlesnuff Fungus

Those winter walks through the countryside and woodlands as we know, can be very enjoyable and enjoyable. Cold and crisp yet invigorating and refreshing…

Candlesnuff FungusAnd at this time of year, several fungi will become more conspicuous. You should especially look out for the lovely and edible Oyster Mushrooms, Velvet Shanks and Wood Blewits. But there are many still out there with a mention, even if they are not destined for the cooking pot…

The Candle snuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) is one of these common and intriguing specimens. This member of the ‘flask’ fungi goes by several other common names, such as Stag’s Horn Fungus and Candlestick Fungus. I tend to avoid using the ‘Stag’s Horn’ name as it can cause confusion with the Common Yellow Staghorn, which is a completely different genus.

Widespread throughout the year and covering most of the UK, mainland Europe and North America, it often appears in clustered groups on dead/decaying wood such as deciduous stumps and branches (sometimes pine) and also causing root rot in hawthorn and gooseberry plants. It tends to follow on from other ‘wood rotter’ species that were previous residents of the substrate, such as the larger Honey Fungus and Sulphur Tuft mushrooms.

In late autumn and the winter months it is particularly more noticeable due to their white powdered tips. The young grey-white fruiting body initially appears as a small prong or spike growing out of the wood, standing between 2-5cm tall (up to 0.8cm in diametre). Over time it becomes flattened and twisted, developing several ‘antler like’ appendages. The base is black and finely downy.

Eventually in spring, the whole fungus becomes black as the inner sexual spore-bearing cells mature. I don’t want to get too scientific about it, but it’s just to let you know when and what changes occur throughout its life.

Glow in the dark

The mysterious ‘Candlesnuff’ name may be due to the fact that this is actually a bioluminescent fungus. The phosphorus contained in the mycelium reacts with oxygen and other chemicals in the fungus to produce a continual glow – just like the glow from a candle wick once extinguished maybe? Well that’s my theory anyway! But alas, this reaction is very weak and can only be seen in complete darkness with zero light pollution and a long photo exposure or using specialist imaging equipment. Never mind!

Keep an eye for them over the winter months – they are often in massed in glorious photogenic groups. It would be rude not to take a picture!

Candlesnuff Fungus images

The powdery white tips of the Candlesnuff Fungus are most prominent in late autumn and winter. This coating disappears to leave the antlers black as it matures in spring (bottom left image).

QUICK ID TABLE: CANDLESNUFF Xylaria hypoxylon

FRUITING BODY

Initially short and prong like, growing into antler like formations covered in fine white powder.

BASE

Black and finely felty.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

n/a

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead/decaying stumps and branches. All year. Mature & black in spring.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Tough, too small.

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

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 Agrocybe – 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.

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) 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

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

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 - youngThe 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

With a brown bump! – The Common Bonnet

Happy new year to you all. It’s a typically dull and cold(ish) January and apart from the lovely edible Wood Blewit, Velvet Shank and Oyster Mushrooms around at this time, there are other groups of mushrooms to be seen, although not as palatable.

Common Bonnet MushroomThe Common Bonnet (Mycena galericulata) is one of these mushrooms. Very common and present all year round, it is one of the larger Bonnets, growing up to 6cm across at maturity with a broad central umbo. It is often found in small or large clusters on broad-leaved stumps, branches and logs. It can be confused with the Clustered Bonnet (Mycena inclinata) which is very similar looking but only fruits from late summer to autumn, and is a much darker brown, growing exclusively on oak stumps.

It has mild brown colouring, sometimes grey-brown with a slightly darker centre, and the margin is noticeably striated. It has white adnate gills which feature a tiny decurrent tooth. With age, the gills eventually turn pale pink as the spores mature. If you hold the cap up to the light you will also notice the gills are linked with many tiny veins (cross-veins), this is typical of several Mycena species.

The stem shares the same colour as the cap but is clearly much lighter towards the apex where it meets the cap and gills and darker towards the base where it covered in fine white fibres.

Although edible, I have heard this mushroom is unfortunately bland and not really worth it. The smell is sometimes rancid but the flavour can be mild. The problem is, they’re too delicate and not very substantial. Probably in a survival situation you could turn to them. Hey ho!

Notice the wide central umbo and the conical appearance of the younger specimen. Bottom right: cross veining on the gills.

Notice the wide central umbo and the conical appearance of the younger specimen. Bottom right: cross veining on the gills.

Why the Bonnet name?

Mycena or ‘Bonnets’ get their name from their appearance, which is similar to the bonnets worn by the Mycenae in ancient Greece.

QUICK ID TABLE: COMMON BONNET Mycena galericulata

CAP / FLESH

2-6cm across. Brown to grey-brown. Initially conical, expanding to a broad bell shape with noticeable umbo. Paler at margin, striated. Flesh is white.

STEM

2-10cm x 0.3×0.9cm. Base similar colour to cap. Paler at the apex. Tough and hollow. Base covered in white fibres.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate (decurrent tooth). Initially white, turning pinkish.
Spore Print: Cream (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Stumps, logs and fallen branches of broad leaved trees. All year. Very common.

EDIBILITY

Edible but not really worth it.

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 has striations.
• 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.

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.

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.

Sticky Suillus – Slippery Jack

It’s always good to venture further afield when hunting for new mushrooms, especially when you get a break or are on a holiday. I had the chance to escape way down south to Poole in Dorset at a holiday park set within mixed woodland which was brilliantly rich in fungi…

Suillus luteusIt was here I discovered Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus) and I don’t see many of them at all around the midlands. It is such gooey splendour to behold when you first find one. I’m guessing some people might dislike the slippery surface, but I just loved it, especially when it’s a key identification feature too.

Found exclusively in conifer woodland, especially with Scots pine you will be pretty sure what you have stumbled across. It is a medium to large mushroom and closely related to boletes, featuring pores instead of gills, but feature glutinous caps (to some degree or another) many of which have rings on the stem and grow along side conifers.

There were only a few I found with (I think) Larch Boletes which are very similar but lighter in colour, growing with larch – naturally. I didn’t check all trees around which I’m kicking myself about! But that’s a post for another time.

The chestnut/sepia brown sticky cap is unmistakeable. Slide your finger across, hold it for a second, then slowly pull your finger away. Nice brown glutin goo will want to come along with you. Great stuff. The small round yellow – straw yellow pores can become flushed a deeper brown colour.

And, as mentioned before, with most Suillus species, there is a ring on the stem. Depending on what age you find your Slippery Jack it can differ somewhat. Initially it is large and white/cream in colour. It will turn a deeper reddish-brown over time and maybe even fall off leaving only a memory of it’s presence! But key features to note are that ‘above’ the ring the stem is the same/similar colour to the pores underneath the cap, but below the ring is white, at least underneath sepia brown granulations and darker markings – so let’s just say darker!

There is no real distinctive smell or anything like that to make you want to pick and eat it, but it is edible and definitely worth a try. After peeling away the glooping covering they must be cooked and may shrink a little as they are very ‘watery’. OK, so you don’t have much left, but try it sliced in some omelettes or add as a pizza topping. And thanks to a recent comment (see below) it’s most common use is to dry slices of the cap (after peeling and cooking I presume) and then process into powder which is good to add to soups, casseroles and such. All good stuff.

Suillus luteus pictures

QUICK ID TABLE: SLIPPERY JACK Suillus luteus

FRUITING BODY

5 – 12cm in diametre, Chestnut or sepia colour. More rusty colour when older. Brown slimy & sticky gluten on surface. Shiny when dry. Flesh is white.

STEM

5-10cm x 2-3cm. Ring on stem. Pale straw colour above ring at apex. White but discoloured darker brown with age. Ring initially large white/cream darkening to deep brown/sepia.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

Small and round. Lemon yellow / straw colour.
Spore Print: Clay – ochre(see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

With conifers, usually Scotts pine in autumn. Common.

EDIBILITY

Edible but watery. Must peel slime off and cook before eating. Or dry and process into a powder for soups and casseroles.

The Genus SUILLUS (related to BOLETUS – the Boletes): Characteristics to look out for:

• Like Boletes, Suillus has pores on the underside instead of gills.
• Most have glutinous/slimy caps, especially when wet.
• Growing in association with conifers.

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…

Savouring the Centre of the Stinkhorn!

It was two years ago at the end of October 2010 that I first featured a post on the Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) – or Witches Egg as it appears when in it’s young ‘egg form’…

Since then I have seen (and involuntarily smelled) many in mixed woodland and even gardens. They are pretty much revered as being horrible, disgusting, offensive and a unwelcome garden addition. This is a fair point of view, especially when they’ve found a way into your rose beds.

They are often first discovered in their ‘preparation’ egg stage of development and have no offensive smell at all. For some reason I had never cut one in half to examine the inner contents – well, there are obvious reasons for the normal average person, but as a regular mycophile finding a young and perfect stinkhorn egg like this, you’ve got to take a look… and a taste maybe…

Around the world I believe they are eaten it in most forms. Whole eggs are prepared for eating but I’m not sure I want to go there! I do know for sure they sell dried (mature) Nettled Stinkhorns for the pan (see link here). Don’t ask me what to do with them (beyond re-hydrating them) or if I have any recipe tips!

But I was encouraged to give the ‘white’ centre a raw tasting by an experienced mushroom guide one day. “It tastes like a nut” he claimed. I couldn’t refuse, and you know, it wasn’t that bad at all. It had the texture and consistency of a water chestnut but with the mild after taste of a raw peanut. Mind you – how many eggs would you need to get a few decent portions for a posh and weird ‘organic natures delights’ party. Quite a few I think.

I’d recommend you give it a go only if you know for sure you’re dealing with a young Stinkhorn egg. Please be sure or don’t try at all, as you may be dealing with a young ‘Deathcap Egg’ or other ‘young stage’ Amanita which is definitely bad news (and potentially deadly).

Oh, and one more thing which could put you off is (as legend has it) that you should never eat, or even pick Stinkhorns in New Guinea, where the Iban people (former headhunters) call it ghost penis fungus. It’s the member of a warrior who was decapitated in battle, and the twice-mutilated fighter will rise from the ground and pursue you until he cuts off your head with his headhunting sword! Fair warning…

Witches Egg

See the picture below showing a developing/opening Stinkhorn egg and the mature specimen. Note that the head is initially covered in a blackish gloopy goo giving off the offensive chemical-like/rotting meat smell which attracts flies. The spores are dispersed as the flies move on. Very clever really…

To see my write up for more information (including comments and blog feedback) see my previous Stinkhorn post, click here.

Phallus impudictus - Witches Egg - Stinkhorn Fungus

Fool me once… The False Chanterelle

I love to feature all the lovely wild edible mushrooms I find (when I get the precious time), but every so often I have to include those annoying ‘look-a-likes’ so that we can all be aware of and be prepared for such party poopers!

Hygrophoropsis aurantiacaThe False Chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca) is a very common and strikingly colourful mushroom, predominantly found in small to large groups, mainly in coniferous woodland. They can also be found on heathland too.

Although this mushroom is mainly an autumn species, I have often found it during late summer (just like the true Chanterelle) around early August, hence the reason I’m featuring it now at the end of July.

Myself and many other people have made the same mistake in thinking their luck was in – “Chanterelles – Fantastic”. Oh, how wrong we were. The Chanterelle (Chantharellus cibarius) has the same fruiting season (including late summer), habitat (as well as deciduous woods) and general size and appearance.

And as always, the devil is in the detail when distinguishing between the two. Size-wise, they can be very close, but other feature differences would seem quite obvious if you had either species side by side. But if you’re unfamiliar with both, then here’s what to look out for:

1. The Colour: The False Chanterelle tends to be a deeper Orange-Yellow compared to lighter egg yoke yellow of the True Chanterelle.

2. The Cap: The False Chanterelle has a fine ‘downy’ surface texture (esp. when younger). The True Chanterelle has a more distinctive ‘irregular’ wavy and lobed shape all round the edge.

3. The Gills: Although they both extend down the stem, The True Chanterelle has ‘false’ gills which are thicker and more fleshy.

4. The Smell: The False Chanterelle has a ‘mushroomy’ smell while the True Chanterelle has a very distinctive fruity, apricot-like odour.

3. Spore Print: To double check, you can take a spore print – False Chanterelle = white / True Chanterelle = Yellow/ochre.

Unfortunately, I don’t currently have any (True) Chanterelle images to show in comparison. I will add when I can at a later date of course.

The False Chanterelle has been known to be edible just like the True Chanterelle, but obviously not as superior in flavour etc. Some reference books have labelled it as harmless, but even though it isn’t deadly there have been reports from some people suffering unpleasant or alarming hallucinations. So I would recommend that nobody eat this mushroom.

And to finish, by adding confusion to the confusion, there’s are ‘look-a-like’ to this ‘look-a-like’ which I think most people in Southern Europe should be concerned about. The Jack o’ Lantern Mushroom (Omphalotus olearius) has patchy distribution throughout Southern Europe (with rare sightings in UK and Northern Europe). Again, it looks very similar to the True and False Chanterelles but is definitely posionous. Have no fear though, these guys usually grow in tight groups on living or dead wood of deciduous trees (from the underground roots) so that rules out the others and the major feature the Jack o’ Lantern has is that it’s (mature) gills have an amazing phosphorescent property and glow very bright green in the dark. This I know only from research and I would love to find some and see the effect in action. So that’s a good excuse for a holiday in Southern Europe then aye!?

Keep your eyes out this Late summer/autumn time and I hope your Chanterelle hunting moments don’t get ruined by this naughty twin.

Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca

QUICK ID TABLE: FALSE CHANTERELLE Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca

CAP / FLESH

2 -8 cm diametrre. Convex to funnel shaped. Often inrolled at the edge (margin). Orange-Yellow.

STEM

3 – 5 cm x 0.5 – 1cm. Often curved. Same colour or darker than cap.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Decurrent, forked. Orange, thin and crowded.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Coniferous woods, heaths. Very common. Late summer – autumn.

EDIBILITY

Said to be edible but reports of hallucinations recorded.

Halloween Special – The Witch’s Hat

This mushroom is one of, if not ‘the‘ most common of all the Waxcaps (known as the Hygrocybes) which I recently discovered on the 30th October. By posting on the first day of November I realise I’ve missed the Halloween deadline (excuse the pun) and I’m sorry. But Halloween ‘is’ the eve of ‘All Saints Day’ – making my error simply forgiven! Or something like that…

Hygrocybe conicaAlthough it has been a relatively bad season for mushrooms and fungi alike due to the dry weather, this last week has proved fruitful, especially in relation to Waxcaps.

Because of the excellent timing, I had to feature the ‘Witch’s Hat’ or ‘Blackening Waxcap’ (Hygrocybe conica) to be my latest post.

As the common and scientific name suggests, the cap of this very common grassland mushroom is ‘conical’ in shape, usually broadly conical or bell-shaped (often irregularly lobed). The texture, common with all Waxcaps, is slimy and waxy and although quite small, is very noticeable in the grass due to it’s bright and striking colours. In this case, the colour can vary somewhat, but mainly you can see yellow/orange (sometimes with scarlet shades) – even hints of green can be present.

But the main feature you will recognise (again, shared with some other Waxcaps), is the ‘blackening’ effect (sounds very seasonal and horrific!). The older the mushroom is – the blacker it will get – although it does not auto-digest and turn to ink like the gills of the Inkcap genus.

Very old specimens turn completely black and appear to be decayed or burnt out. If picked, you will also notice it will bruise black upon handling. But if left alone, the blackening process will slowly take effect, starting mainly from the cap edge (see image above).

Keep a look out this (late) autumn and you may find some along with it’s more colourful friends. It can be found mainly in grassland in fields and woods, but is also common in ornamental lawns, waysides and even plant pots (as my mother discovered!) due to it being less sensitive to nitrogen enriched soil.

It is classed as edible and sometimes as inedible or poisonous from different references. But it is not deadly, and I’m guessing – not very palatable. It’s just best for looking at, which is good because it’s so good looking…

Witches hat

Very common Waxcap, found in field or woodland grass. Bright orange/yellow (sometimes with red or green hues) that blackens with age (see far left).

QUICK ID TABLE: BLACKENING WAXCAP / WITCH’S HAT Hygrocybe conica

CAP / FLESH

3-5.5cm accross. Conical or bell-shaped. Often irregularly lobed. Waxy. Yellow/ Orange colours. Blackens with age.

STEM

3-7 x 0.6-1 cm. Yellow, scarlet flush. Blackening streaks with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnexed or free. Pale yellow. Waxy.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Grass in fields or woods. Ornate gardens and plant pots too. Autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible,but best avoided.

The Genus HYGROCYBE (Waxcaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small sized caps brightly coloured in reds, yellows, oranges, greens and whites.
• Caps are often conical or domed and normally greasy or slimy.
• Gills are waxy. Some bruise blackish when damaged.

See Kew gardens conservation news on the British Waxcap family here.

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.

Common crumbler – The Common Yellow Russula / Ochre Brittlegill

Recently from late summer to round about now (mid-autumn) this is the most (extremely) common mushroom I find on my trips out. Well, this and the Sulphur Tuft, which is as common as muck but a lot prettier!

The Common Yellow Russula or Ochre Brittlegill (Russula ochroleuca) is simply everywhere. Sometimes in small groups scattered across the woodland floor (all types of woodland) and sometimes simply on their own. What a popular fellow (no tree pun intended).

Young Common Yellow BrittlegillThe Russula family of fungi is simply huge, consisting of more than two hundred species. Their commonly used name is the Brittlegills. If you run your finger across it’s white, widely spaced gills with light pressure they will buckle and break very easily. In fact the whole mushroom structure is brittle, or for want of a better word ‘crumbly’. This genetic characteristic is a useful identification tip in recognising all Russulas (Please note that the Charcoal Burner is the exception to the rule with it’s gills being quite flexible and resistant).

With so many Russula mushrooms lying about, all with their own distinctive colourings, there are (you’ve guessed it) more yellow chappies out there to add to the confusion. Mushrooms don’t ever make thing easy do they!? The most common twin is the Yellow Swamp Brittlegill (Russula Claroflava) which is definitely more tasty than our common friend here. It has a brighter yellow coloured cap and is found only in moist, damp birch woodland. The spores are ochre coloured as opposed to the white/cream spore print of the common species.

As mentioned above, the Yellow Swamp Brittlegill is a better edible find but I have no good photos of it yet to show you – that’ll be for another day in the diary I think. But none the less, I did try our common friend here – and although not highly rated – I didn’t think it was that bad. It is a little bitter, but it can be nice and fleshy and would be quite good if added to a multi-mushroom dish with good seasoning. Give it a try.

One last tip before you take these mushrooms home is take a good smell test. Just in case you have a Geraneum Scented Brittlegill (Russula felea) on your case. It is very much unpleasant and bitter to eat. So, just as you wouldn’t geraniums – don’t eat mushrooms smelling of them. Good rule!

Common Yellow Brittlegill

Not often will you find a prisitine specimen. Russulas are fragile things, and most loved to be nibbled and munched!

QUICK ID TABLE: COMMON YELLOW BRITTLEGILL / OCHRE BRITTLEGILL Russula ochroleuca

CAP / FLESH

4-10cm across. Initially convex, then flatenning out, often with a depression. Ochre, yellow or sometimes greenish-yellow. Two-thirds peeling. Flesh tastes mild to moderately hot.

STEM

4-7cm x 1.5-2.5cm. White. Turns grey-white with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnexed. Creamy white.
Spore Print: Whitish / pale cream (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

With broad-leaved trees and conifers. Late summer to late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible. OK.

The Genus RUSSULA (Brittlegills): Characteristics to look out for:

• Simple stems with no ring or volva.
• Many have bright colours in shades of red, yellow, greenish and purple (or mixtures of). A few are pallid.
• Whole fruting body is ‘brittle’ (granular and fragile) and will easily crumble, break on handling.
• All have straight (precise geometric look) gills. These crumble (on all but one species) when touched/handled; hence brittlegill.
• Note how much the cap cuticle/skin ‘peels’ from the margin upwards (.ie. 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 or none etc).
• Note smells and tastes of hot, bitter or mild from nibbling & spitting (be sure you’re dealing with Russulas!).

Rare, Medium or Well Done? – Beef Steak Fungus

It’s a comical sight and nice surprise when you first come across an oak tree sticking it’s pinky red tongue out at you! It’s happened to me a few times and I seem to be getting use to it.

This is the common Beef Steak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica) found during late summer and autumn. It’s a parasitic species usually found at the base of oak trees and sometimes horse chestnut. It definitely looks freaky when younger, it’s fleshy protrusion almost exactly mimicking the tongue of an Ox!

The colour initially is pinkish then getting redder and finally brown with age. You must get touchy-feely with a younger specimen because it has a spooky ‘flesh’ like feel, maybe even a little rubbery. The surface even has the warty tongue taste buds on! The pale yellow pores on the underside which age red-brown sometimes leak a blood-red juice. This also adds to the overall wierdness of this critter. Marvellous stuff.

The common ‘Beef Steak’ definition naturally refers to the flesh which resembles raw steak. And I know what your asking, and the answer is no! It doesn’t taste like beef steak. It is edible though but can be quite bitter (younger ones more so). You can simmer it or soak it in milk for a day to help reduce this bitterness. I intend to try it very soon and will hopefully mention in a later post. There is no worry in identification. There’s nothing out there that even gets close to resembling our ‘beefy’!

Beef Steak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)

A young example of a Beef Steak Fungus resembling a pink-red tongue!

One last snippet of trivia for you – this fungus can cause ‘brown rot’ in the infected tree, which in turn makes for a very sought after kind of timber. In the furniture industry it is named ‘brown oak’ and is in much demand. It is richer brown in colour to normal uninfected oak. Sometimes only slightly infected trees can create a ‘striped’ pattern in the wood – a mixture of light and dark.

The photos shown above are of a young individual. All the other shots I have of previous encounters have been munched to pieces by the local, and very hungry insect mobs. The older the fungus gets, the tougher the consistency. Colour also changes from an orange-red through to a purple-brown.

Older Beef Steak Fungus

As the Red flesh of the Beef Steak Fungus grows older it will be deeper red in colour and may lose some of it’s surface texture due to weather and insect/animal interference.

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.

Blue Hats for Winter – The Wood Blewit

This post was inspired by overhearing a conversation at my local pub where they raved on about a local guy who knew where the ‘Blue Legs’ were at! He had bags of them for sale! I naturally assumed they meant ‘Blewits’. Only later I have realised ‘Blue Legs’ are a common name given to ‘Field Blewits’ which are much less common than our Wood Blewits in question, which has the common name of ‘Blue Cap’. Often I have seen people get them mixed up, so this makes you appreciate the relevance of scientific ‘latin’ names. The scientific names make sense overall (even though they tend to change and move around as scientific understanding evolves).

Winter was making itself felt as it’s cold arm stretched across the land. But one lazy Sunday afternoon at the end of November, I dragged myself over to the local mushroom hangouts. Being south side of a major city you’re a little stuck for local woodland. Blaby on the other hand (South Leicester) comes up with the goods. We have a collection of mini public woodland and country byways. They’re all great because at one point or another they eventually end up at the local pub! Or is that my doing?

Anyway. For a casual stroll, I was surprised to come across quite a few lovely specimens. Three of them I’m still not sure about and still checking. But today I came across a solitary ‘Wood Blewit’ (Clitocybe/Lepista nuda). You’ll maybe notice I have filed this post both under ‘Identity Crisis’ AND ‘Woodland Treats’ categories. All the identification characteristics were there: The colour, the presence of a wavy margin and also it being a stand alone species, living on dead organic matter (saprotrophs). When picking them you’ll notice the the woodland floor wants to come with them too! Another tell tale ID sign. As lloks can be deceiving, be aware of mistaking it for one of the ‘Webcaps’. A spore print (see how here) can help solve this issue.

See the pics below. I know they’re not of the best quality as I was bloody cold and didn’t have time to get the best results!

Wood Blewit, Blue Leg or Blue Hat

The blue (purple/violet) colours of the Wood Blewit mushroom

In fact, the first time I had taken a spore print of the Blewit, I was very unconvinced about the pale pink (or pale lilac) colour that was to be expected. It seemed to look like a very light brown!

But after some extra professional advice I was comforted in the fact that this was an understandable concern and that Webcaps have a very distinct ‘rust brown colour’ – which is good to know…

(Note: See my other ‘snow covered’ post on the Wood Blewit).

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