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Down in the Damp – The Birch Milkcap

As the common name states, this Milkcap is often found around Birch trees, but it can also grow with other deciduous tress, especially if the ground is mossy, rich and moist.

Lactarius tabidusThe Birch Milkcap Lacctarius tabidus is an extremely common member of the milkcap family. This group were randomly scattered about the place enjoying the damp conditions in a humble sized birch copse, just away from a grassy field footpath.

These are also one of the smaller Lactarius species, nicely formed with an all over yellowish brown (or dirty orange) colouring – they can be sometimes hard to spot! The cap grows up to 4-5cm across and forms a shallow central depression which often has a small bump in the middle. The similarly coloured stem (which becomes hollow after time) is fragile and easily breakable, and the crowded, slightly decurrent gills are again, similar in colour to the rest of the mushroom but paler.

As with all milkcaps, the gills will seep milk (latex) when handled or damaged. The Birch Milkcap doesn’t have large quantities of it, so there may not be much being produced. But when you do get your hands on some, dab a portion of the milk on a handkerchief (or similar white cloth) and it will slowly turn yellow. This will be extra proof that you are dealing with Lactarius tabidus. The taste of the milk is mild, slowly becoming slightly unpleasant and bitter. The flesh is just the same, so I wouldn’t recommend these for eating – there’s too much of an acrid taste.

Although, inedible it is indeed an interesting looking Milkcap and one to tick off your ‘found that’ list, so keep a look out when you’re around birch trees, especially if the ground is mossy and/or damp. Happy hunting.

Birch Milkcap Mushrooms

Lactarius tabidus – notice the shallow dip in the cap with a small central bump, and the seeping white milk (latex) from the crowded gills.

QUICK ID TABLE: BIRCH MILKCAP Lactarius tabidus

CAP / FLESH

4 – 5 cm across. Yellow-brown or dirty orange. Thin flesh. Shallowly convex with central depression, often with a small bump.

STEM

4 – 8cm x 0.5- 1cm. Same colour as cap. Cylindrical, often narrowing at the top.

GILLS / MILK / SPORE PRINT

Slightly decurrent, crowded. Similar colouring to rest of mushroom but paler. Producing white milk.
Spore Print: Pale cream (with a slight pinky tinge) (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Very common, on moist, mossy and/or damp ground near deciduous trees – especially birch.
Late summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Acrid taste.

The Genus LACTARIUS (Milkcaps): Characteristics to look out for:

• Gills and flesh exude milk when broken or damaged.
• Look out for different coloured milks and any changes after a while when exposed to the air.
• Granular/fragile flesh similar to Russulas (Brittlegills), breaking easily.

Dessert anyone? Plums & Custard

This is one of my favourite mushrooms, not really for eating but mainly because of it’s attractive colours and fantastic commonly used name!

Tricholomopsis rutilansSimply called Plums and Custard (Tricholomopsis rutilans) this very common mushroom almost looks good enough to eat, and even sounds good enough to eat, but before you get too excited, the general consensus is that it’s just not recommended. Too watery, unappealing with a bitter or unpleasant taste. Mind you, I’m not really much a fan of the real dish!

When you first stumble across this mushroom, the first thing you notice is it’s striking purple cap (sometimes with a reddish tinge). On closer inspection you’ll notice that purple effect is made up of many purple/reddish flecks or scales on a predominately yellow cap. They’re are usually denser at the centre, appearing darker. The same colour features on the stem are similar to the cap, but the fine purple scales are less profuse.

On the underside you’ll find the distinctive rich yellow gills, which in my opinion, actually do have an uncanny hue of custard.

The size of this mushroom varies from place to place and can grow quite large. But basically the cap dimaetre ranges from as small as 4cm up to 12cm. I also read somewhere that one specimen at an Italian mushroom show had an unusually large cap of 56cm in diametre. Now that’s big!

Next time you’re out in coniferous woodland during the usual mushroom season (September – November) keep a look out for these beauties growing on or around dead wood or old stumps. Shame we can’t actually eat them. Not for pleasure anyway!

Tricholomopsis rutilans

QUICK ID TABLE: PLUMS AND CUSTARD Tricholomopsis rutilans

CAP / FLESH

4-12cm across. Convex; sometimes bell-shaped usually with a shallow/broad umbo. Yellow flesh covered covered with purple/reddish scaly flecks.

STEM

3.5-6cm x 1-1.5cm. Colour and covering like cap but not as dense.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnate to adnexed. Custard yellow.

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

HABITAT / SEASON

In woodland on rotting coniferous wood and stumps. Late summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible but doesn’t taste good.