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Beware the Fool’s Funnel

Experienced foragers often say, if you want to familiarise yourself with only a few mushrooms, it’s always best to recognise the deadly ones! Wise words indeed.

The Fool’s Funnel (Clitocybe rivulosa aka C.dealbata) is one of the more common poisonous species to be found in the UK, as well as in Europe and North America. It appears, alarmingly enough, in some very ‘people orientated’ places such as lawns, parks, road sides etc; in sandy soil, during late summer to late autumn.

The toxic culprit here is muscarine (found in many other poisonous fungi), and with a good dose it can cause some very unpleasant symptoms, and in some cases – death. So it goes without saying, don’t be too hasty in picking these innocent looking mushrooms. Here’s what to look out for:

Although not that large (around 4-6cm when mature), they often grow in small to medium groups and sometimes partial or full rings in grass. One of the largest partial rings I found were right in the middle of a local park.

The cap is powdered white often with concentric rings or blotch marks which show the darker buff coloured flesh beneath (or even cracking, depending on condition). This is a good identification marker to note. The shape is initially rounded but it soon flattens out, usually developing the common ‘funnel shape’ and the margin remains slightly inrolled.

I stipulated on my mushroom identification page that there are no ‘golden rules’ or ‘one tip fits all’ in identifying different species, but  if you want a good rule, then always be extremely wary of white gilled mushrooms. Several deadly species have white gills, but then again they can also have different coloured gills! So I guess what I’m trying to say is – ‘If you don’t know it, then don’t eat it‘ – simple. (I’m not sure if that was pointless and wasted paragraph! But there you go…)

In this case (typical for a funnel mushroom) the white/whitish-buff gills run decurrently down the stem (which share the same colour as the cap). They are quite crowded and turn more buff coloured as the fungi ages.

Last but not least; the flesh, if crushed between the fingers, will deliver a ‘sweetish’ smell, but I’d advise you wash or wipe your hands afterwards, and make sure you’re not tempted to a little nibble!

Fools Funnel

Clitocybe rivulosa where the white powder surface has faded to reveal the darker flesh beneath. In this case, it has a ‘cracked’ appearance.

QUICK ID TABLE: FOOLS FUNNEL Clitocybe rivulosa / C.dealbata

CAP / FLESH

3-6cm diameter. Initially convex, then flattened out, often funnel shaped. Powdered white, often with concentric or buff flesh markings. Flesh is buff; smells sweet.

STEM

2-4 x 0.5-1cm; similar colouring as cap. Often slightly woolly at the base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White/Whitish-buff, decurrent and crowded.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In small-medium groups, full or partial rings in grass of gardens, parks, roadsides, path edges (sandy soil). Summer – autumn.

EDIBILITY

Deadly poisonous. Contains muscarine.

Of Cups and Morels…

Sometimes some species of fungi grow nearby others. For example, Ceps (Boletus edulis) have an association with the Miller mushroom (Clitopilus prunulus), and it’s always good to know while you’re out and about as it will help you find more of what you want.

Disciotis venosa PicturesIn this case I’m talking about two types of Cup fungus found on a recent foray, namely the Bleach Cup (Disciotis venosa) and the Vinegar Cup (Helvella acetabulum) both of which occasionally can be seen during spring time on soil in sheltered woodland areas (in this case beech woodland) and sometimes even on lawns too if it’s the Bleach Cup.

I would avoid both of these cup fungi for my pot as there are mixed reports from several sources claiming they are edible, while others refer to it as inedible or poisonous. Plus there’s the added confusion with other ‘unknown’ edible but similar looking species. Best avoided then, eh!?

But one thing they are, and that’s interesting looking. I love finding cup fungi. They’re a bit weird but always interesting. The Bleach Cup’s English common name comes from the smell of a fresh specimen (It is also commonly known as the Veiny Cup Fungus or Cup Morel (in North America) Morchellaceae family). Have a good sniff and you’ll instantly recognise the chemical like odour of bleach. It’s like it’s just been cleaned! The Vinegar Cup is very ‘goblet-like’ in shape with distinctive veiny ribs coming up around the tan coloured cup itself. This has been described as cabbage-like, hence the usage of another common name ‘Cabbage Leaf Helvella’. ‘Brown Ribbed Elfin Cup’ is another term used but you could go on forever with this. Sometimes it’s best to stick with the latin names.

The main point I’m trying to make about these interesting fungi is that they share common fruiting ground (and season) with Morels, in this case the Semifree Morel (Morchella semilibera). After all, they are in the same order of fungi. I’m not sure of other Morels association with cup fungi or all the science involved in why. I just know they do.

My luck was in when I stumbled across both these cup fungi. Literally a minute or two later I found Morels close by. The system works! And the Semifree Morel found was actually one of the largest I have ever seen, with a very long cap. It was hiding in masses of leaf litter and was almost missed. Perhaps I stepped on a few others too without realising. Shame!

To find out further identification/edibility details on the Semifree Morel and other Morels on this website, see the related item links after the ID tables below. Happy hunting…

Cup fungus close up pictures

The distinctive smelling Bleach Cup Fungus (Disciotis venosa). Examples shown here were approximately 6cm in diametre but they can grow up to 15cm across.

Helvella acetabulum

The Vinegar Cup (Helvella acetabulum) was also found near more Morels in Beech and Ash woodland. Many beech leaves tend to hide the Morels from view so take a good look around.

Morchella semilibera

Found a Bleach Cup? There’s a good chance there will be Morels growing nearby.

QUICK ID TABLE: BLEACH CUP Disciotis venosa

FRUITING BODY

3-15cm across. Saucer shaped. Inner surface dark brown. Outer surface is whitish with darker scurfy scales.

STEM

Short, thick stork often buried in soil.

HABITAT / SEASON

In soil in woodland and on lawns. Occasional. Spring.

EDIBILITY

Poisonous but not deadly.

QUICK ID TABLE: VINEGAR CUP Helvella acetabulum

FRUITING BODY

4-6cm across. Deep cup shape. Inner surface darker brown. Outer surface pale with fine downy texture.

STEM

1-4cm x 2-4cm. Whitish. Continues up the base of the cup. Strongly ribbed.

HABITAT / SEASON

In soil amongst leaf litter in woods. Spring to summer.

EDIBILITY

Poisonous unless cooked well.

Timebomb Toadstool – The Brown Roll-Rim

The words ‘Mushroom’ and ‘Toadstool’ are not truly scientific names, but general common usage describes these as edible or inedible (and poisonous) fungi respectively. But there is a grey area, (internationally speaking) regarding this mushroom or should I say toadstool?. It is still sold in eastern Europe markets, where-as here at home in the UK, it is strongly advised to be avoided. Over time, this fiendish toadstool can release it’s toxins and seriously poison you…

Brown roll-rimThe Brown Roll-Rim (Paxillus involutus) is a very common toadstool found throughout the UK and Europe. I have come across it many times in mixed woodland. If picked for eating it can lose it’s toxicity once thoroughly cooked, but over time and if eaten on a regular basis, it’s toxin will enter the bloodstream and systematically cause the destruction of the red blood cells. Not very pleasant and definitely not worth the risk. There’s no real timescale for when and if this will happen, but I think it’s best described as a ticking time-bomb!

The common name helps describe this naughty toadstool quite well. Naturally a brown toadstool, it’s rim remains ‘inrolled’ although less so when expanded as it grows – see picture on the left – excuse long fingernails!). The texture when younger is finely felted and later becomes smooth (slimy when wet).

Size-wise, it can grow from 5 – 15cm in diametre when fully mature and has a distinct hazel brown colour (tawny brown / olive when younger), often dotted with darker orange/brown blotches and the margin may become very wavy.

The crowded, decurrent gills are a reliable feature for identification also. They ‘bruise’ dark brown on handling are easily separated from the cap flesh.

Being very common in broad leaved and sometimes coniferous woodland (even parks and gardens), you will most likely stumble across these toadstools during late summer to late autumn. They have been classed as deadly poisonous and therefore, to repeat myself again, just avoid them. Several deaths have been reported from Europe. Better the devil you know – to coin a phrase!

Note: See comments boxes below. To eat or not to eat! I know I won’t be eating them!

Paxillus involutus

The Brown Roll-Rim Toadstool – Viscid when wet and brusing dark brown on the gills (top). Younger examples are more finely felted when young before becoming smoother.

PS. If you want to get scientific – check out this eco-news on the study of this very mushroom (and related species): http://www.jgi.doe.gov/sequencing/why/99182.html

QUICK ID TABLE: BROWN ROLL-RIM Paxillus involutus

CAP / FLESH

5-15cm across. Inrolled margin. Ochre – hazel-brown colour (often with darker rain post marks). Downy texture when younger, becoming smoother. Slimy when wet.

STEM

8cm x 0.8-1.2cm. Similar but lighter colour as cap. Stains darker with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Crowded and decurrent. Light ochre to sienna. Bruises darker.
Spore Print: Sienna brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In broadleaved woodland and on heaths. Late summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Poisonous. Can be deadly. Regular consumption build up toxins within the body. Avoid.

Horse & Field Mushroom Imposter! – The Yellow Stainer

It’s a Sunday afternoon and I pass by a grass verge near my house. My heart jumps at the sight of a huge cluster of (what seem to be) Horse mushrooms or possibly Field mushrooms, but this is no field, just a grassy verge near trees at the side of the road! I was without a basket or bag so like a kid in a sweet shop I scooped up a good share, leaving some to drop their spores.

But my dreams of a nice fry up or even a creamy mushroom soup are soon quaffed because I suddenly realise these mushrooms are not what they appear to be. I wait until I get home around the corner to double check. Read on…

Image of yellow marking on Agaricus xanthodermus

Chrome yellow staining on cap edge. Bulbous base.

I’m not surprised at all that the Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthodermus) is responsible for the most cases of mushroom poisoning in this country. Although this evil twin of our favourite field, wood and Horse mushrooms is not deadly it can keep you in the loo for longer than you normally do! Gastric symptoms can persist for up to 24 hours. Fortunately I have not been caught out yet, but some people after consumption usually get away with only mild upset or sometimes have no reaction at all. My Uncle once told me “Ooh, I don’t get along with those Yellow Stainers – don’t like ’em” . Let’s hope that it was only his palette they offended – I didn’t ask!

So how on earth can I identify this poisonous peril when compared to a Horse mushroom? I hear you all cry!

Don’t rely on the ‘overall look’. They differ in colour from pure white to brown/grey, scaly and smooth, tall and short and so on. Horse mushrooms can display some paler yellow on the cap and stem – so if you do see some yellow it’s not always a bad thing.

Both the Horse Mushroom and Yellow Stainer ‘bruise’ yellow (There’s hardly any yellow about the Field mushroom). But the Yellow Stainer has a stronger chromium yellow once bruised. If you rub the cap with your thumb, there will be a very noticeable colour change. But the crunch test for me is at the very base. Take a knife to the very bottom of the stem (the base is more bulbous than the others) and cut in half (see picture below). If the colour changes to a vivid yellow, then you’ve got yourself a Yellow Stainer. Horse and Field mushrooms do not stain at the base like this.

Other good ID tips are:
1. The smell is an unpleasant (phenol/inky smell more apparent when being cooked)
2. The ring on the stem is large and floppy.
3. Before the veil drops it does not have the ‘cogwheel’ pattern like the Horse Mushroom.
4. Gills when very young are white unlike the Horse and Field mushrooms which are pink

In addition to point 3 – if you’re new to collecting mushrooms, avoid very young specimens as they also can be confused with much more poisonous (even deadly) young toadstools.

The Yellow Stainer - Poisonous UK mushroom

Horse and Field Mushroom lookalike – The Yellow Stainer. Notice the chrome yellow colouring at the base of a cut stem.

Large ring of Yellow Stainer mushroom

On open caps: The ring on the Yellow Stainer is noticably large and floppy. The Field Mushroom’s ring is a fine torn frill. The Horse Mushroom’s ring is formed of a double membrane. The lower part is ‘star shaped’

Quick ID checlist for Agaricus Xanthodermus.

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.

Sobriety Test! – The Common Ink Cap

This common and cheeky mushroom has a trick up it’s sleeve. If you’re a ‘tea totaller’ then there’s nothing to worry about. Just throw it in the pan, cook it up and get stuck in.

Coprinopsis atramentariaOn the other hand if you’re fond of the odd tipple – beware! The Common Ink Cap (Coprinopsis atramentaria) inhibits the breakdown of alcohol in the liver, and toxic levels will build up in the body.

Ironically, my first discovery of this mushroom was actually on a Sunday afternoon on my way home from the pub! I thought it best to leave it where it was. Had a snooze instead!

If consumed with alcohol a selection of symptoms will occur, including hot flushes, redness of the face/upper body, headaches, sweating, shortness of breath and some tingling in the limbs. These side effects, although not too serious, would be very unwelcome after lunch time. So if you’re going to try some, avoid the juice for a good 2-3 days (I’m guessing, as I haven’t tried it myself). Anyone fancy a pint?

Anyway, that’s the interesting technical part over with, now on to what our common friend looks like. One of its most striking features which it shares with it’s other family members is the cap itself, which has a distinctive ‘torpedo’ or ‘bell-like’ shape. As it matures it will open up, sometimes only slightly, and begin to lose colour and disintegrate. It’s at this stage the gills dissolve and create an inky fluid. In the past this fluid literally has been used for writing ink. Wonderful stuff.

So stay off the booze if you want a taster. Hope it’s worth it.
I’m off to the pub. Cheers…

Update 25.04.11 – Just a quick note on the habitat of the Common Ink Cap. Although most of my finds have been in grassland or gardens, this mushroom is equally at home in woodland. Recent discoveries were found at the base of a rotting tree stump and also coming through a pavement next to a wall (behind which was woodland). Their main source of nutrients is from dead rotting wood underground, hence the diverse locations. TTFN.

The Common Ink Cap in all its glory, although in a slightly phallic pose! The black fluid from the mature gills has been used in the past as a good writing ink, by boiling the inky cap with a little water and cloves.

Also see my post on it’s tasty (non-poisonous twin) The Shaggy Inkcap.

Common Ink Cap

The torpedo or bell shaped Common Ink Cap in grass

Coprinopsis atramentaria

Notice the varying yellowish-brown/whitish-yellow colouring, and varying levels of small brown scales which aren’t always present or noticeable.

QUICK ID TABLE: COMMON INKCAP Coprinopsis atramentaria

CAP / FLESH

4-8cm tall. Initially egg shaped, later bell shaped; opening up flatter with age. Grey/fawn colour. Thin fleshed.

STEM

6-17cm x 0.9-1.5cm. White, smooth and hollow. Trace of ring near the base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Crowded and grey; maturing brown; to black, eventually to inky fluid.
Spore Print: Black (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Grass, parks and gardens. Growing on buried wood. Spring – early winter.

EDIBILITY

Edible but can be poisonous if alcohol is in the body, even from days before and after.

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

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