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Sidewalk Snack – The Pavement Mushroom

Just about all of us live in a typical urban environment with pavements, roads and adjacent grassy verges. Because of this, from late spring to autumn, we may have the occasional chance of coming across one of these fellas…

Agaricus bitorquisAs the name suggests, the Pavement Mushroom (Agaricus bitorquis) chooses to flourish mainly in roadside situations and even gardens. But the interesting feature of this edible Agaricus is that it has the amazing capacity to push through the road (asphalt) itself. It’s proof that nature knows no barriers and doesn’t mind upsetting the local Council by wrecking the pavement.

I found this small group only a few centimetres away from the kerb on a street near my home. You’ll notice in the pictures that you can see how they tend to be ‘forcing’ their way out of the ground, pushing the earth aside as they go. You don’t see this with other, similar mushrooms and it’s a good first indication (along with the location) of positive identification.

The small dome shaped cap is the first thing to see, with remnants of earth clinging to the subtle flaky surface. As it grows the cap soon flattens out to around 10 – 12cm in size. Another good identification feature, especially seen when younger, are the two separate rings found on the white stocky stem (see picture: bottom right).

The gills are initially a dark pink to clay in colour and finish chocolate brown at maturity.

This mushroom really does smell ‘mushroomy’, is edible and quite nice to eat. But I have three qualms about eating this mushroom in particular. For one, this mushroom tends to be very mud loving and dirty so a thorough cleaning is required (I’m just too lazy!). The second is that they are often ‘bug munched’ to provide an unappetising visual appearance, and finally (by nature) they live near to the roadside. And depending on how busy that road is, I generally don’t want any pollution in my food.

But this all just a good moan – they are very good indeed.

Agaricus bitorquis

A group of Pavement Mushroom (Agaricus bitorquis) pushing through the tough soil next to an urban city road.

Pavement Mushroom

The Pavement Mushroom pushing through the soil next to a roadside kerb. Notice the double (separated) rings on the stem (bottom right) and the larger, flatter cap of an older specimen (bottom left).

QUICK ID TABLE: PAVEMENT MUSHROOM Agaricus bitorquis

CAP / FLESH

4-12cm across. White. Convex/dome shapes, flattening out. Very faintly flaky. Thick white flesh.

STEM

3-6cm x 1.5-2cm. White with 2 separate sheathing rings.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free. Pink, then clay then chocolate brown.
Spore Print: Brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In gardens and roadside verges, sometimes out of the road/asphalt. Late spring – autumn.

EDIBILITY

Edible and Good.

The Genus AGARICUS (Wood Mushrooms/Mushrooms): Characteristics to look out for:

• Many discolour yellowish, reddish or pinkish when cut or bruised.
• Those that discolour bright/chrome yellow should be avoided for consumption.
• Gills in young specimens are often pink (white in a few) – maturing darker brown.
• Make note of any smells, such as aniseed or a typical strong ‘supermarket’ mushroom smell.

Dry Saddle for the nymph! Dryads Saddle

Well – it’s been the driest spring we’ve had since records began! That probably explains why I haven’t had much luck in finding some good edible spring mushrooms up for offer! But I did stumble across some large edible beauties today – unfortunately I found them too late. They were past their prime and had dried out quite a bit due to old age and the dry weather. Curses!

Large Polypore mushroomEven in this condition, they were still good examples of Dryads Saddle (Cerioporus squamosus / Polyporus squamosus) – a polypore mushroom which can grow quite large indeed as you can see from the photos. All polypores (bracket fungus growing on trees) have ‘pores’ instead of gills where the spores disperse from.

This species is a parasite (and/or Saprotroph which feeds off decaying matter) on deciduous trees such as elm, beech and sycamore causing severe ‘white rot’. They burst into life in late spring/early summer and can be found on stumps as well as living trees (often 10-15ft up the trunk) growing in layered clusters (sometimes singularly). Although edible, only young specimens are worth taking as the texture and taste of the older flesh is unappetising. (See a great simple Dryads Saddle recipe here.

Apart from it’s large dimensions (cap up to 60cm across and stem up to 7cm) other identifiable characteristics are the brown scales which are spread in a semicircular pattern across the ochre-yellow cap, the flesh of which is relatively thin. As shown in these pictures, once past it’s prime, the mushroom soon deteriorates, becoming very dry (especially helped along by this hot weather!) and infested with insects! But nevertheless they are a great site to behold when in a large group like this.

There are many old folklore stories behind mushrooms describing how they acquired their common names (sometimes several stories from several countries), and this one does not disappoint in originality. The ‘Saddle’ element derives from the shape of the cap which can sometimes resemble a horses saddle. The word Dryad means ‘Tree nymph’ in Greek mythology. I find myself imagining what the Dryads horse looks like!

Cerioporus squamosus

Drying up! Once past their prime, These polypores soon dry up and waste away. How the mighty have fallen!

In contrast to these older specimens, take a look at this very young specimen I found only a few weeks later. This little beauty is only 2 inches long. I left it to grow and I’m guessing it won’t grow that large anyway due to the fact there were older, dying fruit bodies near by – around 4-6 inches in size.

Dryads Saddle - Young

A young Dryads Saddle.

See the extra ID notes below in helping identify this fine mushroom, notably how the stem is blackish towards the base. Hope you find some too soon, this is the season…

ID Notes - Dryads Saddle (Polyporus squamosus)

The Genus POLYPORUS & Related: 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. Some are softer and edible.
• Many are perennial or annual
.