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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.

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.

A Winter Polypore in Spring

Apart from the usual (and culinary preferable) spring mushrooms out there such as the Morels and St.Georges Mushroom, there is still one pretty common woodland mushroom you may come across.

Winter Polypore MushroomThe small and beautifully formed Winter Polypore (Polyporus brumalis) is quite a common winter/spring mushroom which is actually one of the smaller polypores to discover in woods.

Polypore literally means ‘many pores’ due to the holes showing on the underside of the cap. These are the open ends of decurrent tubes growing downwards from the underside of the cap. All members of this genus come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes, but they consistently feature the typical cap and stem morphology of a regular mushroom with gills.

The common name is quite relevant, as this mushroom has an uncommon fruiting season that typically begins at the end of autumn continuing through to the end of spring. Not many mushrooms last through this seasonal time span.

I often find these mushrooms in small groups on large dead beech branches in early to mid spring. I venture out less in winter so I suspect that’s why I don’t see them often during this time!

The cap flesh is very thin and the surface is nice and smooth. It has an average cap size of around 2-8cm. Its shape is initially convex but matures flatter and appears in various shades of tawny/brown. You may often see concentric zones of light and dark brown on the surface too.

The images here show some slightly older examples. They become much more tough and leathery with age, and the cap edge becomes darker. The relatively large roundish/rectangular pores are initially white, but these too discolour to yellowish-brown over time.

They are very widespread and pretty common, so keep a look out for them this spring. Enjoy.

Polyporus brumalis mushrooms

Fruiting bodies of Polyporus brumalis live on through the winter and spring seasons.

QUICK ID TABLE: WINTER POLYPORE Polyporus brumalis

CAP / FLESH / MILK

2-8 cm across. Variable shades of brown sometimes with concentric light & dark bands. Smooth texture, thin flesh.

STEM

Up to 7cm long. Similar colour to cap. Cylindrical shape, sometimes off centre attachment.

PORES / SPORE PRINT

White when young. Turning tan with age. Roundish or sausage shaped (rectangular).
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On dead hardwood, esp. beech branches. Late autumn through to late spring.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too tough. Little flesh.

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
.

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.

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.

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.

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
.

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.

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.

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

Winter’s bounty – Velvet Shank

It’s been cold this Winter – Damn cold! And there are few pickings out there for the mushroom hunter during any winter. But hold the phone, do not despair. There’s always some foraging delights to be had.

Velvet Shank MushroomThe Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes) is quite a common mushroom who’s fruiting season is mainly from September to March. It can resist the winter frosts and low temperatures, even continuing to survive after being frozen solid. Quite a trooper!

These beauties are usually found in medium to large ‘tufted’ clusters on dead or decaying wood, favouring elm and oak. Their caps are a striking orange-brown colour (much lighter at the edges) and is quite shiny with a distinctly sticky/tacky surface texture.

Normally I wouldn’t touch any mushroom or toadstool that falls into the ‘small brown mushroom’ category! Even though Velvet Shank isn’t exactly small (3 – 10cm cap diametre) my instincts at any other time of the year would tell me to avoid as some small brown species are quite nasty! But in this case, and at this time of the year (January to be specific) there is no fear of mistaking it with much else.

The defining factor in identification of this mushroom lies in the examination of the stem. As the common name suggests, it’s ‘shank’ or stem has a smooth (and strangely satisfying) velvety feel, and the colour is a very dark brown/black – lighter at the top (closer to the cap) and darker at the base. Other identification factors regarding the tough stem is the lack of any ring, and when cut in half horizontally, it will show different coloured, thick layers with a small central hollow (see the picture below). If you’re still not sure, take a spore print. It will show up white.

After collecting a few of these, I’ve decided to dry them out and then make a powder from them for later use (or maybe slow cook them to add to a Chinese dish). I’ve heard that this is what they are best used for. You can cook them but they lack any real flavour. The caps are best chopped into strips and added to soups. The Japanese can’t get enough of them and cultivate a form of the Velvet Shank in high quantities, commercially known as Enoki-take.

Velvet Shank - Cap and Stem

Notice the dark coloured ‘velvety’ stem, sticky cap, gills and cut stem pattern

Identification table for Velvet Shank

Snow patrol – Wood Blewit

The last week or two has produced some amazing seasonal snow. The media has confirmed this is the earliest heavy snowfall since the dawn of time or some other scare-mongering weird world event! It’s Winter, it’s snow, it happens (no chips on my shoulder)! But fortunately being in the centre of the country we don’t really get the worst of it.

Wood BlewitAnyway, after some of the heavier snow had subsided and made the roads a little safer, I ventured out to Martinshaw Woods near Ratby in Leicestershire. I’ve heard from other people and from my own experience that Wood Blewits (Clitocybe nuda / Lepista nuda) are quite common there, and being persistent even during heavy frost I thought I’d take my chances.

I was pushing my luck in the snow but I did find some mushrooms clinging on to life in the clearer areas of the woods. Eventually I found this solitary Wood Blewit, nearly missing it with its white snowy hat against a white snowy background disguise!

This mushroom is quite unmistakable in appearance although there are a some Webcaps sharing similar features. Look out for web-like fibres on the stem that were initially connected to the cap edge when young. If unsure, take a spore print. The Webcaps have a dark rusty brown spore print as opposed to the pale pink of the Blewits. In fact, I had an issue with this spore print business. Although pale, the print really looked more very light brown than pink. Take a look from last years post on Wood Blewits.

The Wood Blewit is commonly called Blue Hat or Blue Cap, but some people still call it a Blue-leg (the Field Blewit)! Well, that’s understandable I guess. The Wood Blewit, when younger, has a more blue-violet tint about it’s cap (Blue-Hat), but this fades over time to a paler brown colour. The gills share this trait – they remain lilac-blue for a while until fading to buff. The fibrous stem retains it’s unmistakable blue-violet streaks, hence people choosing to call it a Blue-leg.

So Field Blewits and Wood Blewits are very similar indeed and to get them mixed up, apart from their environment they’re in, is understandable. The Field Blewits cap is always pallid to dirty brown. It’s actually tastier than our Wood dwelling friend but unfortunately less frequent. It can be found in pasture land, and most recently for me, in someones grassy garden!

One thing to remember with Blewits is that some people can have an allergic reaction to them. People recommend Par boiling them first or generally cooking them ‘thoroughly’, as I do. Fortunately I’m OK with them. They are nice to eat and they do need a longer cooking time I think because they are a little tough. I like the texture to be half way between solid and soft! But because of their texture they’re good for pickling. I haven’t tried that yet but I’ll let you know when I do.

Wood Blewit mushroom in Winter

Wood Blewit alone in the snow

Wood Blewit

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 looks 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).