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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.

Common as muck! The Common Earthball

It was only a couple of weeks ago whilst looking for the first signs of all the different Russulas that my attention was drawn away every two minutes only to find these little blighters. They were everywhere…

Round EarthballsWith a well deserved name, the Common Earthball (Scleroderma citrinum) is very numerous during the summer and autumn months, in and around damp woodland in rich peaty soil or moss. It is often in small scattered groups of 2 to 4 or so together, sitting there like discarded old potatoes! It is a mycorrhizal species and shares this special relationship with deciduous trees, especially oak, beech and birch.

‘Potato like’ is a good analogy I think. They can grow up to 10cm in diametre and have an irregular ovoid like shape. The colour can be dirty yellow to ochre brown with rough scales all over the surface.

The difference ends once you cut the fungus in half. In an immature specimen you will find a solid blackish spore mass (the gleba) with a subtle marbled effect. The smell is quite a strong metallic odour which I find very unpleasant. At maturity this spore mass will turn into fine power and the outer surface will rot and split wide open in a random spot, unlike the puffball trait of opening at the apex, to release it’s spores.

There are several lookalike Earthballs out there, such as the Scaly Earthball and Leopard Earthball. These have some key differences, such as the surface texture or pattern. But there is quicker way to identify between these similar fungi. Unlike these examples, the Common Earthball has no stem at all, merely mycelial white cottony cords attached to the soil and it’s outer skin is very thick in comparison (from 2 – 5mm). Simply squeeze a Scaly Earthball and you’ll easily misshape the whole thing, the Common Earthball on the other hand won’t budge. Nice and sturdy.

Anyway, it goes without saying that this Earthball along with the rest are quite inedible, and the Common Earthball has been classed as poisonous in the past (which I agree with), but one comment from Jo (below) mentioned they are eaten regularly in the Philippines where she is from. However Gareth and Deborah from UK (another comment below) had a bad experience with sickness. I don’t like the smell (or the looks of them) at all, so I’ll just be avoiding it in future – like a bad potato.

Common Puffball pictures

QUICK ID TABLE: COMMON EARTHBALL Scleroderma citrinum

FRUITING BODY

2-10cm in diametre. Almost Spherical / Irregular potato shape. Dirty yellow to ochre brown with coarse scales. Outer wall thick.

STEM

No stem. Attached to soil by fine mycelial threads.

GLEBA

Purple/Black with white veins / markings. Turns to powder when mature.

HABITAT / SEASON

Rich soil in and around deciduous woodland. Summer & autumn. Widespread & very common.

EDIBILITY

Inedible.

The PUFFBALLS/EARTHBALLS & ALLIES (Stomach fungi): Characteristics to look out for:

• Main fruting body is ball shaped, irregular or pedicel shaped. Broken or split at maturity to release spores
• Interior of fruiting body full of gleba (spores); solid when young, as a powder at maturity.
• Often small or no visible stem.

Update: 3rd October 2012. Two Fungi as One!

If you’re lucky, you may get see the Parasitic Bolete (Pseudoboletus parasiticus) that exclusively grows on older bodies of Common Earthballs and therefore easy to identify. The matt textured, olive/brown/yellow cap grows up to 4cm across. Sometimes there are several feeding off the one earthball.

They’re pretty widespread and occasional, and in-fact edible (some say not) but definitely not poisonous. The picture below was kindly sent to me from blog follower Chris Thornley. It was found in woodland near Sandringham. After rain, the cap seems to have a tacky texture. Thanks for the pic Chris.

Pseudoboletus parasiticus

© Chris Thornley 2012 – Parasitic Bolete (Pseudoboletus parasiticus)

Shy Amanita? The Blusher

There is quite a few of these babies popping up around now. It can be a confusing species to identify because of the similarities with the Panther Cap and Grey Spotted Amanita.

Aminita RubescensThe Blusher (Amanita rubescens) is one of the more common Amanita mushrooms. Summer to autumn is the best time to find them, usually solitary, in coniferous and deciduous woodland.

It was hard to choose a category to place it in my blog, because it is a poisonous mushroom but very edible once properly cooked (with cooking water discarded). So if you intend to eat it, making sure you have the right Amanita is naturally top priority. Same goes for any other mushroom you want to consume really.

Blushers have a varied cap colour range. They are often reddish-brown with red tinted or dull grey/white spots (veil remnants), or can be paler with flesh/pinkish tones. Fortunately I have two examples in this post to show in pictures. The paler one was found in Leicestershire and the darker red-brown example was found much further north in Scotland. I don’t know if geographical location bears any relation in this difference. Interesting though.

The Blusher gets it’s common name from the way damaged or insect nibbled parts of the mushroom (including the gills) turn pink or reddish-pink. If you handle the mushroom you will notice these changes as the ‘blushing colour’ slowly appears.

Another distinctive characteristic is that the large floppy ring on the stem has grooved (striate) markings on the top side. Armed with this information you can be sure of not confusing the Blusher with the very poisonous Panther Cap (Amanita pantherina). To mention key points, the Panther Cap has ‘pure’ white scales on it’s cap and does not have striate markings on the ring at all.

Another similar looking mushroom is the Grey Spotted Amanita (Amanita excelsa) which also fruits in summer and autumn. It has a brown (sometimes greyish) cap with dull whitish scales which eventually wash off to leave a smooth surface. It also has a grooved ring but does not ‘blush’ when handled or damaged. It is said to be edible, but I think it would be best to be avoided altogether.

I haven’t cooked and eaten a Blusher, but I have read that they are very tasty indeed. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have experienced the taste (along with a good recipe if you have one)! Thanks.

Aminita mushroom

Notice the pinkish tinge on the cap and scales in this red/brown coloured Blusher.

Blusher Toadstool

A pink/flesh-coloured Blusher. Note the ‘grooved’ markings on the upper side of the ring and the reddish-pink damaged areas. Bottom-left: A young blusher

QUICK ID TABLE: THE BLUSHER Amanita rubescens

CAP / FLESH

5-15cm width. Pinkish or flesh coloured to reddish-brown. Off white/grey scales sometimes with reddish patches. Nibbled areas are flushed with pinkish-red colour.

STEM

6-14cm x 1-2.5cm. White with pinkish/reddish tints. Bulbous base. Large ring, grooved (striated) on upper side.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free & white. Spotted red where damaged.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In coniferous and deciduous woodland. Summer & autumn. Very common.

EDIBILITY

Edible. Must be boiled before cooking. Discard water.

The Genus AMANITA (Amanitas): Characteristics to look out for:

• All have some sort of Volva – a cup-like/sack-like structure at the base of the stem which is the remnant of the universal veil.
• When very young, while still in the universal veil they can look egg-like.
• Most species are often covered with ‘spotted’ veil remnants. These sometimes ‘wash off’.
• Most species have white/whitish gills.
• Be extra careful in identification (examining volva and stem ring if present) as this genus contain some deadly species.

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.

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.

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.

What a rotter! – The Willow Shield

This is the first in my posts aimed at the Pluteus genera of mushrooms. Nearly always found on rotting wood including logs, stumps and general wood debris, hence the savvy title. The common name used for this group is ”Shield”, and a very apt name it is too because they always remind me of actual shields – fancy that!

Pluteus salicinusFeatured this time is the Willow Shield (Pluteus salicinous). I almost missed several of these on a walk through the woods. The upper canopy had drained quite a lot of the natural light. It was also still dry out there as the recent weather hadn’t delivered much rain – but plenty of sticky warm days!

Perhaps the warmth and dryness had taken the moisture out of these beauties, the wrinkled edges in the photos aren’t usually a common feature of a healthy young specimen.

Imperfections aside, the Willow Shield is a pretty dull mushroom anyway – but on closer inspection really quite distinct. The first thing that struck me was the colour of the cap. Although it appears a mundane grey in these photos (better captured in image below) there is an overall tint of blue (sometimes green) but very subtle, and that really caught my attention. It’s sometimes hard to capture in a photograph, but part of that may be a trick of light and what angle you view it from – or do I need another camera!?

The cap holds further details for inspection. It is noticeably darker at the centre, and after flattening out as it matures it usually leaves a slight umbo (or bump). This central point is very finely velvety to the touch where subtle coloured streaks radiate outwards from it’s centre. The stem itself is a good old ‘uncomplicated’ smooth white (although sometimes with a darker tinge at it’s base).

As with all Pluteus mushrooms, their gills are free from the stem and the spore print will be pink. As this mushroom ages, it’s gills will turn from white to pink as the spores mature.

And last but not least you’ve probably noticed I have categorised this post in ‘What’s your Poison?’ and ‘Tales of Toadstools / The Inedibles!’ because this mushroom is generally classed as inedible. But I have read elsewhere that unlike other Pluteus species, this mushroom (or now should I say toadstool!?) contains small amounts of psilocybin (compound psilocin). This is the same substance found in Magic Mushrooms (or Liberty Caps). So it’s advisable to leave this toadstool alone.

Pluteus salicinus

Notice the cap has a slight blue colouring and a distinctive bump (or umbo) at the centre which is darker in colour

QUICK ID TABLE: WILLOW SHIELD Pluteus salicinous

CAP / FLESH

2-6cm across. Convex the flat with a slight bump (umbo). Bluish or greenish grey. Darker radiating streaks. Darker at centre.

STEM

3-5cm x 0.2-0.7cm. White. Tinged with cap colour at base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free. White then pink
Spore Print: Pink (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On deciduous rotting wood, especially willow. Spring – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Not edible. Contains some psilocybin (psilocin). Avoid.

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

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

Common in a crowd – The Sulphur Tuft toadstool

There’s a extremely good chance of you finding a large group of Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare) at just about anytime of the year (especially from April to December). These beauties are extremely common in the UK and populate all types of woods and forests.

Sulphur Tuft Toadstool/MushroomThey are Saprotrophs (feeding off decaying matter) and appear in small tufts or large groups on dead/rotting wood (deciduous or coniferous), tree stumps or underground buried decaying wood or roots. The Hypholoma group of fungi like these are commonly known as ‘Brownie’.

When found in great numbers they are indeed a great sight to behold. When in their prime, the convex cap has an amazing bright sulphur-yellow colour with darker orange tones towards the centre. Remnants of the pale yellow veil (initially covering the gills) can be found at the edge (margin). The stem, which is often curved, share a similar yellow-brown colour (sometimes greenish) though dirty brown towards the base with a fibrous appearance. The gills , when younger, appear green-yellow which act as a good indicator in identification.

They almost look good enough to eat (and do have that ‘mushroomy’ smell), but unfortunately are not edible and will most likely give you stomach ache, vomiting and similar gastrointestinal symptoms. But the almost identical Conifer Tuft (Hypholoma capnodes) on the other hand – is edible – but less common throughout the year. As the name suggests, this species only grows in coniferous woods, in fact only always found on rotting tree stumps.

There is a ‘taste test’ you can make to identify between the two. Simply taste a small sample from the cap, making sure you don’t swallow! If it is bitter in taste, it is a Sulphur Tuft but if it is mild, then it is a Conifer Tuft.

Please note that you shouldn’t try this taste test with other mushrooms or toadstools you find (unless you know exactly what you’re dealing with. ie. Russula or Lactarius) as nasty results can come from tasting unknown species!

And if you do find some Conifer Tuft, I’ve heard they’re best steamed or used in a soup. I have no idea what they taste like!

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare)

Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare). Note the slight yellow green of the gills which age to an olive colour, and then finally to dark brown.

Hypholoma fasiculare

Sulphur Tuft – Grouped clusters on a fallen log and a group of young/small specimens.

Toadstool ID Chart - Sulphur Tuft

The Genus HYPHOLOMA (Brownies): Characteristics to look out for:

• Often yellow/orangy brown caps.
• Dark brown spore print.

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.

On 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

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.

Fairytale Fungus – The Fly Agaric

It’s always nice to come across one of the most loved of all toadstools. I’m of course talking of the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria). Most probably you will recall first seeing them depicted in your favourite childhood nursery rhyme or fairytale (or even in a so called ‘Mario’ video game).

Amanita muscaria ToadstoolIt was interesting to discover that they were traditionally used as a fly killer by the people of Slovenia (also England and Sweden). Chopped up flesh chunks were placed in saucers of milk or water, which would then release psychoactive compounds, deadly to any fly or bug foolish enough to take the bait. Some consider this story debatable, but one thing for sure is that the iconic and cultural history of this famous toadstool go back a long way, having deep routes in religion, spirituality, and of course recreational use!

This mushroom is in the same genus as the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) but A.muscaria has a different make-up and is rarely fatal (many would have to be consumed). It is not, as some people think, The Magic Mushroom which most people have heard of. The actual Magic Mushroom or Liberty Cap is actually a Psilocybe species called Psilocybe semilanceata. Nevertheless, the Fly Agaric is indeed a famously noted and powerful hallucinogenic.

I’ve never felt the urge to experiment (either for culinary or recreational interest) as they do cause sickness, and in some cases produce some very alarming symptoms. However, there are some places in Europe where they still eat them, only after careful preparation (parboiling etc). Hmm! I’m still not sure.

The Fly Agaric contains a compound called ‘Muscarine’, which is one of the poisons found in other mushrooms from the Inocybe and Clitocybe genus, although they are in very small quantities here, hence the minimal reports of serious poisoning and/or deaths.

There are many active chemical compounds in the mushroom, but the main psychoactive agent is called muscimol. Its effect on the brain excites neural transmitters causing the hallucinogenic effects, which are very unpredictable and will differ from person to person.

But simply eating this mushroom out right rarely has the effect some people actually want. Yet somehow, somewhere, someone discovered how to get the results they were after – and that was to drink urine! That is, the urine of someone willing to consume the mushrooms in the first place. The psychoactive elements pass through into the urine, while all the other bad elements are all filtered out by the body. All you have to do then is take a drink! There would be minimal or no bad side effects and all the desired good effects – well, hopefully. Several cultures (past and present) have used this practice as a form of religious ritual, recreation and/or spiritually as an entheogen – meaning ‘generating the divine within’.

Whatever your stance is on the ‘use’ of this mushroom, there’s no doubt it is one of natures most interesting and beautiful species. And if you do find some this autumn (or late summer) be sure to look out for any Ceps (Boletus edulis) hanging around nearby – they sometimes will be growing in the same vicinity. Good luck.

Amanita muscaria Images

The Fly Agaric’s Red cap with white spots (veil remnants). Bottom: Notice that over time from weathering/rain etc. the cap can fade in colour and the white veil remnants can be washed off, as shown here.

Amanita muscaria

Two young Fly Agarics covered with remnants of the white veil.

Note: Bear in mind that extremely young examples of this mushroom growing up from the soil can appear like small white puffballs. There was a case of someone eating what they thought was a puffball, and experienced mild hallucinations but suffered no ill effect, just a bit of a scare!

QUICK ID TABLE: FLY AGARIC Amanita muscaria

CAP / FLESH

10-20cm across. Red with white ‘spotted’ veil remnants on the surface; these can wash off with rain and the colour fade to orange-red. Mature cap edge is grooved.

STEM

15-20cm x 1.5-2cm. With a grooved ring. Bulbous base with volva that has rings and scales.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White and free.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Woodland, mostly with birch; also pine and spruce. Late summer – early winter.

EDIBILITY

Poisonous, causing sickness. Contain hallucinogens.

The Genus AMANITA (Amanitas): Characteristics to look out for:

• All have some sort of Volva – a cup-like/sack-like structure at the base of the stem which is the remnant of the universal veil.
• When very young, while still in the universal veil they can look egg-like.
• Most species are often covered with ‘spotted’ veil remnants. These sometimes ‘wash off’.
• Most species have white/whitish gills.
• Be extra careful in identification (examining volva and stem ring if present) as this genus contain some deadly species.