In one of my recent posts I featured the lovely Poplar Fieldcap mushroom, where I mentioned I had come across another Agrocybe just a few weeks before. I had actually discovered these right at the end of May and have had emails and Tweets from people finding them right around the same time. But you can still keep a look out as their season is from spring to summer (up until September).
Summer is nearly at an end and the mushroom season in autumn is nearly upon us, but I had to feature this particular species before then. It is commonly known as the Bearded Fieldcap (Agrocybe molesta or A.dura) and can be found in a range of similar-ish environments, such as grassland, grassy verges, meadows, scrubland, grassy/green woodland areas, gardens, and as in this case, newly prepared crop field (sweetcorn) with rich soil and some very happy weed greenery.
It’s because of this location that I had an issue with identification. Does it actually grow here? Is this normal? or has it been documented? Questions, questions. On close examination (non-microscopic) all evidence was pointing to what is definitely a Fieldcap (Agrocybe).
But I have since discovered from colleagues and research that, yes, this is quite an acceptable abode for our bearded buddies. In fact, the mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus) could quite have happily been transferred via the nutrient rich, composted soil, to end up on this stretch of land. I’m guessing the unwanted greenery and collection of weeds were unwelcome too, but in no way have they halted the development of the corn (which by now is in good form as I saw the other day).
So, unburdened by legions of corn at this time, this fine scattered colony of Fieldcaps were ripe for the picking. Right of way through this filed is allowed I may point out, just in case you’re thinking I’m a forager gone naughty!
The cap when young is very convex, eventually spreading out to a flattish shape – smooth in texture. The margin (edge) remains slightly inrolled, often showing hanging white veil remnants – hence the common ‘bearded’ name. The colour is very pale ivory white to creamy tan with a smooth surface that often cracks when dry and old. The margin usually splits in places too. At first glance, the general appearance is that of a typical Field Mushroom (Agaricus campestris), they even smell similar – but there are subtle differences, more noticeable when you study the gills and stem.
The gills when young are pale but soon mature to a darker clay brown, unlike Field mushrooms that are initially pink, maturing to chocolate brown. The solid stem is cylindrical and concolourous with the cap. The ring is high up near the apex and often leaves a smooth fibrous, white veil covering from here to where it meets the cap.
Apart from our Poplar Fieldcap (which grows in association with willow/poplar trees) there is an extremely similar and more common species known as the Spring Filedcap (A. praecox), which shares the same season as the Bearded Fieldcap but has a smooth darker cap which rarely cracks or breaks up on the surface – and also has no ‘bearded’ appearance at the cap margin. It prefers grassy locations in parks and woodland edges.
Either way, these species are all edible, and I knew Agrocybe molesta was going to be a ‘taste and see’ exercise as there are mixed reports on taste etc, and no-one I know has actually eaten any. Just like the Poplar Fieldcap, I was pleasantly surprised with the younger specimens which were nice and fleshy with a mild mushroomy flavour. Some others, mainly the larger/older ones were quite bland though. A little watery and pretty tasteless (even very slightly bitter).
There may be some still about at this time. At least now you know what to look out for. Happy hunting.
QUICK ID TABLE: BEARDED FIELDCAP Agrocybe molesta
CAP / FLESH
3-9cm across. Whitish – tan. Convex then flat, often crazed pattern when much older. Margin inrolled often with white veil remnants.
4-8cm x 0.3-1cm. Creamy white when young, darker with age. Felty and firm with ring near the apex.
GILLS / SPORE PRINT
Adnate. Pale then dirty clay brown with age.
HABITAT / SEASON
In scattered tufts in meadows, grassy verges, sometimes in scrubland, in rich soil of fields. Late spring – autumn.
Edible. Ranging from mild to bitter. Younger ones taste nice; very ‘fleshy’.