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Buried Bunny? The Hare’s Foot Inkcap

This mushroom has a long fruiting season and depending on what time it is discovered, it can appear to be a different fungus altogether…

I have come across the Hare’s Foot Inkcap (Coprinopsis lagopus / Coprinus lagopus) as early as May right through to the late autumn months. It gets its common English name from the way the young ‘furry-like’ fruiting body is reminiscent of a hare’s foot – albeit poking up from the ground (hence my tasteless post title).

This Inkcap mushroom is usually found in small groups and matures into relatively tall specimens (up to 12 or 13cm in some cases). They’re usually found on soil or leaf litter in woodland (sometimes in rarer field scenarios).

But quite often, as in this case, they especially seem to enjoy taking to wherever there has been man made disturbance in woodland. There had been a huge pile of woodchip/bark mulch, left by the recent activity of forestry workers. There were dozens of them, in several groups spread across one side of the large mound.

The white(ish) veil remnants are numerous on the young caps, which are very delicate and disappear on handling. The cap expands to almost flat, thinly spreading out the fine fibres on it’s greyish and finely grooved surface. During this ‘growing’ stage, the young white gills soon turn black and deliquesce (turning to inky fluid) typical of nearly all the Inkcaps.

The long white stem is also covered in fine white fibrous scales but usually end up becoming completely smooth.

If you do find some of these Inkcaps coming to the end of their life, you’ll notice the cap curls upwards as it decays. And if you pick and hold up the mushroom to the sky (gills towards you) you will also see it is very translucent due to the very thin flesh. All interesting stuff.

Anyway, they’re pretty common throughout the UK and unfortunately inedible as they’re not really worth the time. Never mind eh!?

QUICK ID TABLE: HARE’S FOOT INKCAP Coprinopsis lagopus / Coprinus lagopus

CAP / FLESH

Young: 2-4 cm high, conical or ovate, covered in fine downy white veil remnants. Mature: Up to 6cm diametre, thin, grey. Covered in whitish veil remnants.

STEM

6-13 cm x 0.3-0.5cm. White, swollen at base. Covered in fine white down. Smooth later.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White, turning black very soon and deliquescing.
Spore Print: Violaceous black (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In groups on soil or leaf litter in woodland (less so in fields). Commonly found in disturbed woodland areas on wood chip or mulch. Early summer to late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too insubstantial.

The Genus COPRINUS & 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.

Coprinu lagopus © Mark Williams 2012.

This great picture of an older Coprinus lagopus was kindly supplied by Mark Williams at www.gallowaywildfoods.com – Notice the up curling edges and see how much of the dark inky fluid, containing the spores, has dissipated, leaving a lighter, translucent cap.

Autumn ink – The Shaggy Ink Cap (or Lawyers Wig)

Well, this weekend autumn has certainly stamped its initial authority on the land. Some leaves have already fallen in areas around the urban edges of my town. But I am a die-hard lover of fresh autumn mornings. There is still the summer warmth clinging on, but that zingy freshness of autumn is making itself known.

A call from one of my friends (literally working up the road at a school) was my waking alarm clock this morning – “We’ve got lots of white mushrooms going on here, a lot of them eliptoid shaped! Come and have a look if you can”. Well, it doesn’t take much to get me interested in a free meal, and I always love it when my friends let me know of any mushroom discoveries going on. Bless them. And as I work for myself, I wasn’t going to upset the boss by being late for work.

So, at just gone 9am, on a lovely misty autumn morn, I’d arrived at his school. Lots of grass around and lots of Shaggy Ink Caps around too (they also appear abundantly in summer). After a weekend of constant drizzle it had obviously encouraged these beauties to sprout forth. Excellent.

Shaggy Ink CapThe Shaggy Ink Cap (Coprinus comatus) – (comatus meaning ‘long haired’), is (naturally) a member of the ink cap family. As they get older, the cap opens (though not out flat) and eventually goes through a stage of dissolving and releasing an inky black fluid. It’s very similar cousin – the Common Ink Cap is similar in size and shape but has a smooth surface. It can be poisonous depending if you’ve some alcohol or not! See the Common Ink Cap (Coprinus atramentarius) post – read all the details here.

The common name alone gives a clue in identification to this edible and lovely mushroom over it’s sinister (though not deadly) cousin. Its shaggy appearance is caused by the white or pale-brown scales on its long, rugby ball shaped, cap. There is a drastic change in appearance depending on at what stage you find it. Young specimens don’t show much stem at all, in fact it can be hidden, depending on the height of the grass it’s in – and the brilliant white cap is unblemished, though sometimes showing light brown colouring at it’s tip (which persists). But as it grows older, the cap opens up and then shrinks, as it slowly dissolves into inky black oblivion! I know that sounded a bit dramatic but I thought I’d get the point across. A lot of people, on first encounters, see the younger specimen and older specimen as a different mushroom. And I really can’t blame them, they appear so different.

A spore print for identification is not needed I think though. This mushroom speaks out loud for itself, and if you find it later in life, its obviously going to have a ‘black’ feel about it! It has a good salty flavour and is definitely worth a taste, I love it. Try it out, it’s a wonderful mushroom*. Look out for it this October, not only in grassland but on roadsides and disturbed ground even at woodland edges/woodland vegetation.

And if you fancy it, also take a look at using this ink for literary purposes and make your own ink! Great stuff.

Young to old - Shaggy Ink Cap

The Shaggy Ink Cap from very young to old (as black ink starts to be produced)

Always try a little sample if you’re trying an edible mushroom for the first time, just to see if it agrees with you. The first time I tried this lovely mushroom I had a mild reaction of little red bumps in my mouth and what felt to be a slight hot flush! There was no unpleasantness involved and wasn’t at all serious. It soon passed. It’s just good to check your body is OK introducing it to the new food. It’s just like eating abroad really!

ID notes - Shaggy Inkcap

The Genus COPRINUS & 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.

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.

Coprinopsis atramentariaOn 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

Coprinopsis atramentaria

Notice the varying yellowish-brown/whitish-yellow colouring, and varying levels of small brown scales which aren’t always present or noticeable.

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.