Posts

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.

The darker side – Dark Honey Fungus

Following on from my previous post covering the Honey Fungus, I felt the need to feature this common and equally destructive Armillaria species. Again, it’s cap is variable and looks very similar to the standard Honey Fungus, but with a few distinctive visible differences.

Dark Honey FungusThe Dark Honey Fungus (Armillaria ostoyae), like A.mellea, often grows in large, clustered groups on or around deciduous and coniferous tree stumps, logs or even shrubs. It can fruit early, in the summer months and continue to do so up until early winter. Sometimes it appears as if growing on soil or grass, but they are actually fruiting from dead roots underneath the soil.

At first glance, the Dark Honey Fungus looks pretty much the same as the Honey Fungus as it has similar cap colouring, ranging from yellow-brown to dark brown, although they are more often darker brown. As mentioned, shapes are a little variable, with some rounded and others wavy and/or with a central depression or shield shaped. This is dependent on age also. Caps can also grow slightly larger; up to 15cm across.

The scales (or fibrous flecks) on the cap surface are much more prolific at the centre, and are a much darker brown. A decisive key difference when compared to the A.mellea can be seen on the bottom/edge of the ring, high up on the stem. If you look closely, there are dark brown markings at the edge whereas they would be pale yellow on A.mellea. So take a close look as this will aid in identification.

Safe to eat?

Most consider this fungus edible but must be cooked well and only a little tried first as it can cause stomach upset for some people. Because of this, some experts believe it to be poisonous and not worth trying.

Strange but true!

And just before I sign off, here’s an interesting titbit for you; A new record holder for the title of the world’s largest known organism was recently discovered in 1998. It was actually a Dark Honey Fungus (Armillaria ostoyae) covering approximately 2,384 acres of soil in Oregon’s Blue Mountains, USA. Based on its current growth rate, the fungus is estimated to be 2,400 years old but could be as ancient as 8,650 years, which would earn it a place among the oldest living organisms as well. Fancy that!

Images of Armillaria ostoyae

Dark Honey Fungus – Armillaria ostoyae. Notice the dark brown flecks covering the cap (densely packed at the centre) and the dark markings on the edge of the whitish ring.

QUICK ID TABLE: DARK HONEY FUNGUS Armillaria ostoyae

CAP / FLESH

3-15cm across. Variable shaped; rounded to shield shaped. Covered in dark brown fibrous fibres/flecks.

STEM

6-15cm x 0.5-1.5cm. Whitish/Yellowish. Darker reddish towards base. Whitish ring with dark markings at edge.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Initially white, then yellowish, then pinkish/brown with darker spotted areas.

Spore Print: Pale cream (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In clusters on or around stumps and trunks of deciduous and coniferous trees & shrubs. Summer to early winter.

EDIBILITY

Debatable. May cause gastric upset in some. Must be cooked.

The Genus ARMILLARIA (Honey Fungus): Characteristics to look out for:

• Medium to large fruiting body in large tufted groups, fused together at the base.

• Yellow-brown, Orange Brown, Dark brown colours / Round, Shallow domed to wavy shapes.

• Dark flecks or small scales on cap head, especially at the centre.

A scattering of Yellow Fieldcaps

A walk though the park today I was pleasantly surprised to find many small yellow and slightly larger pale mushrooms peppered around in the short grass. And as I suspected, these were actually all the same mushroom species, just in different stages of growth.

Bolbitius titubans - youngThe Yellow Fieldcap (Bolbitius titubans) is a very widespread and common little mushroom, fruiting during summer to autumn, but I often see them in mid-late spring time too, as in this case. It mainly frequents well manured grassland but is also found on rotting straw, manure, dung and wood chippings.

When very young, its small cap is distinctly rounded, elliptical or sometimes ball-like and is a striking bright yellow colour. It also has a slimy surface texture which sticks to your finger after a gentle prod of the cap! As is grows, the cap opens into a bell shape and eventually spreads to almost flat. During this process, the viscosity fades as well as the chrome yellow colouring until it is nothing more than a pallid straw colour or greyish-white. Some yellow however does remain (for a while) at the very apex of the cap, and the margin becomes noticeably striated and very thin.

The gills on the underside are pale yellow and quite crowded. With age these change colour too, becoming light brown and eventually rusty brown. This is a good identification feature to look out for on older specimens.

The hollow stem, just like the cap, is very fragile and is relatively long when compared to the size of the cap (this can be helpful for locating them amongst the grass to be honest). On closer inspection you’ll see it is covered in fine white powder and more downy at the base.

And as a quick sign off, it’s interesting (albeit a little confusing) to know that although the common ‘Fieldcap’ name is used, the Yellow Fieldcap isn’t actually part of the Agrocybe genus, which are commonly known as Fieldcaps. So make of that what you will!

Mushroom montage

Different ages: Bottom left – Very young chrome yellow, viscous cap. Top left – Middle aged fading yellow cap. Top right – Yellow gills mature deeper brown. Bottom right – Old and faded cap with distinct striations.

QUICK ID TABLE: YELLOW FIELDCAP Bolbitius titubans

CAP / FLESH

1-5cm across. ball shaped or elliptical and chrome yellow when young. Pallid yellow to greyish white, bell shaped to almost flat when older. Striate margin. Thin, fragile flesh.

STEM

3-10cm x 0.2-0.4cm. Pale yellow or whitish. Hollow. Covered in fine white powder. Downy base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate to free. Crowded. Pale yellow maturing to light brown, then rusty brown.
Spore Print: Rust brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Manured grassland, rotting straw, dung, wood chip. Mid spring through to autumn.

EDIBILITY

Not edible.

Mushroom sketch - Bolbitius species

Flaky Pholiota – The Shaggy Scalycap

It’s always a joy to find great big clumps of mushrooms while out foraging, especially when you’re not having much luck elsewhere. When you can’t find one mushroom – a bunch of them come along at the same time. Typical!

Pholiota squarossaAlways found at the base of living trees, the Shaggy Scalycap (Pholiota squarossa) is usually found in large, visually striking groups. The first time I found a particularly large gathering of 20 or so together, I was hoping they were edible. In fact I was ‘wishing’ that they were! But in fact they’re just too bitter to be enjoyed which is a great shame considering their size and abundance in which they grow.

The name Pholiota means ‘scaly’ in greek which is a very apt name for this particular genus, all of whom share the common trait of bearing scales on their cap and/or stem. But our common Shaggy Scalycap is one of the best examples at showing this feature off.

The cap, which ranges in size from 3 to 12cm, is a particularly dull or straw-like yellow covered in thick brown ‘upturned’ scales, and it doesn’t stop there! The long stem is just the same, with the scales becoming finer and smaller towards the darkening base. Apart from the crowded cinnamon brown gills (pale yellow when young) the only smooth area to be found is just above the torn ring zone – very close to where it meets the cap.

Although fairly common in the UK mainly with deciduous trees, the Shaggy Scalycap is particularly common in the Rocky Mountains with aspen and spruce trees. So that adds up to great scenery with the bonus of impressive mushrooms. It’s all good.

Other identification tips are in the ID chart below, but before you look there I thought I’d make a note about the poisonous Inocybe terrigena which can sometimes look familiar if you’re not used to the Shaggy Scalycap. But fortunately this not-so-common toadstool (one the ‘Fibrecaps’) grows on it’s own in chalky soils and not in dense clusters at the base of trees.

Pholiota squarossa

The Shaggy Scalycap grows at the base of living trees, often in large and dense clusters

Pholiota squarossa

Close up of the scaly cap and stem. Note the smooth area on the stem above the torn ring.

QUICK ID TABLE: SHAGGY SCALYCAP Pholiota squarossa

CAP / FLESH

4-12cm across. Convex; sometimes bell-shaped. Inrolled margin. Pale yellow with coarse brown scales.

STEM

5-12cm x 1-1.5cm. Like cap in colour; darker brown at the base. Smooth texture above the ring.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Subdecurrent and crowded. Initially yellow, maturing to cinammon.
Spore Print: Rusty brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

At the base of deciduous trees in clumps. Occasionally with conifers. Autumn.

EDIBILITY

Not edible.

The Genus PHOLIOTA (Scalycaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Grow on base of stumps and standing living or dead broad leaved trees, branches, wood debris.
• Most form grouped clumps.
• Spore print is rusty brown.

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.

Don’t cry for me Lacrymaria! – The Weeping Widow

The Weeping Widow (Lacrymaria lacrymabunda) has got to have one of the best common names I’ve heard of even though it has a negative vibe about it. It sounds like a toadstool you should avoid at all costs, but never fear, this mushroom is not poisonous but is in fact edible, though unfortunately a little bitter. I’ve read about a simple recipe where you can cook with butter or deep fry for a while and then serve with a sweet pickle to counteract the twinge of the bitter taste. Worth a try I think. I’ll let you know in a later post if I do…

It’s season is late spring to Autumn. Earlier in June, my father found a group of them at the edge of his garden (near soil and a paved patio). I’ve also found them growing from peoples gravel driveways! But these beauties were found on tufted grass in local park’s car park (near gravel and paving again). So this is interesting to note – as a general rule they tend to grow near (or on) paths and roadsides mainly in short grass.

It’s a medium sized yellow/ochre brown mushroom which is convex shaped which has a persistent central umbo (rounded bump) with a fine ‘fibre’ texture. As it grows older the cap flattens out and the brown coloured centre appears darker. The gills are dark brown/purple.

In it’s early development the upper part of the stem is trapped within the closed cap. Being from the Ink Cap family it has inky black spores which characteristically leave their mark here. When the cap opens the fibred/cotton-like veil remnants can remain (NOT weblike like a webcap), giving it a woolly edged appearance.

So why is it called the Weeping Widow? It’s a well earned name, because during moist/damp weather conditions it exudes droplets of water which many books term as ‘weeping’. Makes sense, but not as much as the Widow part!? See examples in the picture below (top left) of how the droplets form on the gills.

Weeping Widow (Lacrymaria velutina)

Medium ochre brown mushroom – The Weeping Widow

Weeping Widow Garden Mushroom

The Weeping Widow is common in gardens too. The top right picture shows the cotton-like veil breaking