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The notorious Magic Mushroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Magic Mushroom

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

QUICK ID TABLE: MAGIC MUSHROOM / LIBERTY CAP Psilocybe semilanceata

CAP / FLESH

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

STEM

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

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

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

HABITAT / SEASON

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

EDIBILITY

Hallucinogenic. Illegal to be in possession of.

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.

February Forage – Tawny Funnel

It may seem a little strange to feature this mushroom in February when it’s actually an autumn species. Well, mainly! 


Lepista flaccida

But year after year I often come across the Tawny Funnel (Lepista flaccida) in January or early February, as in this case. At first I thought I had an unfamiliar species to identify – but I have read (and heard) from fellow foragers and field mycologists that this is not so uncommon.

After all, the Tawny Funnel is usually one of late fruiting autumn species. Maybe it has unfinished business -waits until milder times at the start of the year to carry on. Who knows?

When young, the cap is flattish and convex but soon develops its distinctive ‘funnel’ shape which causes some confusion, as you would think that you’re dealing with a true Funnel mushroom – i.e. a Clitocybe species. In fact this mushroom has been formally known C. flaccida and some mycologists have named it C.inversa, or consider it to be a different species entirely. One reason it has been moved to this genus is because of its warty spores and moveable gills, features the same as the other common Lepistas (or Blewits) such as the Wood Blewit and Field Blewit.

The real confusion starts when you compare it to the Common Funnel (Clitocybe gibba) which looks like its identical twin! However it is only situated in broad-leaved woods and heaths, whereas L.flaccida appears in both deciduous and coniferous woodland, especially nutrient rich soil.

I’ve been experimenting over the years to see if I can recognise any macro features while out in the field to distinguish between the two. I’m still not 100% sure if you can, and I think true ID will be from looking at the microscopic spores. However, not everyone has access to a microscope so I’ll go on to mention what to look out for. Here goes…

This mushroom is often found in clustered groups and full or partial fairy rings in the soil and leaf litter. Average cap sizes of mature specimens are around 5 to 9cm across.

There are many changes throughout its life cycle, so expect to see variable colour variations of this mushroom. The young flattened-convex cap is pale ochre and is strongly hygrophanous (unlike C.gibba) and you will see pale/darker areas depending on the moisture in the cap. Also look out for water marks around the edge of the cap. With age, it becomes darker orange-brown (shades vary) as the distinctive funnel becomes more apparent. There may also be several darker spotted areas scattered across the surface.

The whitish-yellow gills are crowded (more so than the Common Funnel) and heavily integrated with the stem (decurrent) which is paler in colour than the cap. It is often curved slightly towards the white woolly base.

Take a whiff!

Smell is also an important factor here, as the Common Funnel and Tawny Funnel differ. The Common Funnel has a faintish odour of almonds (also described as new-mown hay!) whereas the Tawny Funnel is more or less non descriptive, but there may be a faint spicy odour.

This mushroom is a great challenge, so good luck in identification and your spring forages in general. Enjoy.

Tawny Funnel images

Notice the varied shades from light ochre to tawny and the very crowded decurrent gills.

QUICK ID TABLE: TAWNY FUNNEL Lepista flaccida

CAP / FLESH

2-9cm across. Initially flattish to convex then funnel shaped. Pale ochre, darkening tawny brown with age. Often darker spots. Thin flesh, pale to tan.

STEM

3-5cm x 0.5-1cm. Paler than cap. Becomes hollow. White woolly base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Very decurrent, narrow & crowded. Whitish to yellowish.
Spore Print: Creamy white (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On soil and in leaf litter of coniferous & broadleaved woods. Autumn. Sometimes in January & February.

EDIBILITY

Edible, but flesh is too thin & has an unpleasant taste.

The Genus LEPISTA (Blewits): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small to medium size. Pale to brownish caps. Some feature lilac/purple colouring on cap and stem.
• Pale pink spore print (see how to take a spore print here).

Tawny Funnel Diagram

Scurfy Twiglet

This is another species I often find in urban locations as well out in woodland or the countryside, especially at this time of year in mild January or February months. The Tubaria species are often overlooked due to their small size and colour which helps them blend into their surroundings.

Young Scurfy Twiglet mushroomsThe Scurfy Twiglet (Tubaria furfuracea) is one of, if not, the most common of all the Tubaria (Twiglet) species. Typically small, reddish brown, found in scattered groups on twigs in and around wood debris. These particular ones were just in front of a hedgerow amongst the damp twigs and leaf litter. I was particularly proud in spotting them as I was riding by on my bicycle at the time! They can also appear on chippings and deciduous woodland floors.

The ‘Scurfy’ term relates to the fine flaky texture on the cap where velar remnants can be found on the surface. This often produces a dotted area around the margin (edge) of the younger cap, which is an attractive and useful identification feature.

When young, the cap is rounded or dome shaped, soon expanding with noticeable striated markings. The flesh is hygrophanous, meaning its colour changes depending on the levels of water absorbed by the mushroom. It can become pallid or creamy white as it dries and ages (see images below). Sometimes you may see the entire cap fade to cream, which makes it appear to be some other species. Very odd!

You may come across caps of older and/or larger specimens which drastically curl back on themselves, exposing their widely spaced gills outwards. Again, this is a typical feature often seen on the Scurfy Twiglet. Look closely at the gills – they have an adnate attachment (widely attached to the stem) but are also very slightly decurrent (running down the stem). The stem is coloured similar to the rest of the mushroom and is covered in fine white down at the base which tends to cling to the surrounding substrate.

Keep a look out for these guys, especially during the early months of the year. But as we’re well on the way to Spring now, there may not be many around now. Next year then!

Note: I posted an article on the Winter Twiglet (Tubaria hiemalis) in February 2011, and I still believe it is. They are practically identical and hard to distinguish between in the field. The gills were not slightly decurrent like the Scurfy Twiglet, neither did it have any velar remnants. Without going back to take a closer look, I can’t be 100% sure, but they are very much of a muchness and are visually almost identical.

Tubaria mushroom

Scurfy Twiglet (Tubaria furfuracea) Often late in the year, but also in February/March time.

QUICK ID TABLE: SCURFY TWIGLET Tubaria furfuracea

CAP / FLESH

1-4cm. Initially rounded/domed. Flattening out. Striate at edge. Margin curling upwards/central depression with age. Ochre/rust brown fading to pale ochre/cream with age. Minutely scurfy. Veil remnants.

STEM

2-5cm x 0.2-0.4cm. Similar colour to cap. Base covered in white down.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate, slightly decurrent. Yellow brown. Widely spaced.
Spore Print: Pale ochre brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On twigs, woody debris, chipping or mulch in gardens, deciduous woodland, hedgrows etc. Autumn through Winter.

EDIBILITY

Not edible.

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.

March Mottlegill – The Turf Mottlegill

Spring has arrived and the clocks have gone forward. And like most people, it tends to make me feel a whole lot more happy about things in general. Even so much so that I actually mowed my lawn since before Christmas. This is a good thing, because shorter grass will bring out those early spring mushrooms. Guaranteed.

Turf Mottlegil - Panaeolus fimicolaOK, so these little babies aren’t edible (but neither poisonous) but it’s good to see nature once again spring into life (excuse the pun!), especially when it’s literally in your own back garden. I’m talking of the common Turf Mottlegill (Panaeolus fimicola or Panaeolus ater).

The Mottlegills are a family of small to medium small mushrooms that can occur from spring or summer through to autumn and/or early winter. They get their common name from the ‘mottled’ appearance on their gills (when younger) as the black reproductive spores ‘unevenly’ mature.

These little beauties can pop up in their dozens all around in the short grass, and are initially very hard to spot. I think most of time they go unnoticed. Their caps, when young, are around 1cm in diametre and can grow up to 4.5cm. But if they’re on your own lawn they don’t really last long and get knocked down or crushed. Poor things!

As with many mushrooms, their appearance can change as they mature. In this case it is the colour of the cap and gills. When they first appear, their button small caps are a lovely dark brown (especially when wet) and their gills are a very light brown/greyish colour. After a couple of days the cap dries a paler tan colour, from the edge of the cap inwards. So you can really get some different brown colour combinations going on.

Also, to help with identification, the slender brown stem (around 2-5mm thick) is covered in a very fine white ‘frosty like’ down.

All in all, these are lovely little spring mushrooms, which carry on popping up all the way through until autumn. And as I said, don’t worry, they’re not in the least bit poisonous. They’re too cute for that!

Even though this mushroom is not edible, as always be cautious. There are very similar Panaeolus mushrooms that are poisonous. For example, the common Brown Mottlegill which appears from June to November has been known to contain psilocybin (the psychedelic ‘magic mushroom’ cocktail) which can cause unpleasant symptoms. In fact, even the famous ‘Magic Mushroom’ although not deadly has (and recently discovered) sinister twins which are very dangerous in ways of attacking the liver. It’s best to avoid all these kinds of mushrooms and stick to beer! Hoorah!

Turf Mottlegill Pictures

Young Turf Mottlegill / Drying tan brown from margin / younger pale gills & mature black gills

The Genus PANAEOLUS (Mottlegills): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small pale or brown mushrooms.
• The spores mature unevenly; giving a ‘mottled’ effect on the gills.

Small and Brown! What is it? Winter Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter Twiglet (Tubaria hiemalis)

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

Winter Twiglet Identification Chart

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.