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Loving the Large – Macro Mushroom

We’re at the beginning of summer and have had some decent, warm sunny days and a reliable source of showers – apparently perfect conditions for this summer/autumn Agaric which has shown itself somewhat early. Great news for all foragers who fancy a fry up!

Agaricus urinascensThis small group of Macro Mushrooms (Agaricus urinascens / A.macrosporus) were found on a grassy roadside verge, not far from some fields and a small wooded area. They’re also found in similar environments such as pastures, woodland edges and grassy woodland clearings.

My initial analysis was to rule them out as Field Mushrooms as these are strictly pasture/field bound, away from the tree line. There was no stark, chrome yellow staining as I scored the flesh, so they weren’t Yellow Stainers either. Horse Mushrooms maybe?

Horse Mushrooms and Macro Mushrooms thrive in similar habitats, although the Horse Mushroom is not linked to woodland/tree situations. But they look much the same, especially when it comes to size; with an average cap diametre of 10 – 25cm. It has been known that the Macro Mushroom can grow up to a massive 30cm across – but this humble group were averaging around the 15cm mark.

Luckily, some immediate visual differences set these mushroom heavyweights apart;

The cap of the Macro mushroom is distinctively scaly with many ochre coloured patches. The margin also tends to naturally become toothed and/or split. It rarely opens to become flat like the smooth cap of the Horse Mushroom.

The veil covering the gills on the underside (when young and unbroken) shows a similar cog wheel style pattern as the Horse Mushroom but is not as defined.

The gills are at first greyish-white which then mature to dark brown, unlike the ‘white to pink to dark brown’ colour changes of the Horse Mushroom.

The Stem is distinctly scaly towards the base, and has a delicate/fine white particle coating all over. The stem on the Horse mushroom is relatively smooth.

The odour of the young Macro Mushroom is like almonds, becoming more ammonia-like with age. The Horse Mushroom has a mild aniseed-like odour.

One thing also to note though is that a variety of A.urinascens is also recognised, known a A.excellens. It’s even more of a Horse Mushroom lookalike, but is just as edible. Its cap is much smoother with only minute scales present and it does not grow as large; having only an average cap diametre of 10-15cm.

Edibility

The good news is that all of the above mentioned Agarics, with the exception of the infamous Yellow Stainer, are safe and good to eat. The Macro Mushroom has an excellent fleshy texture – and there’s lots of it. Don’t be put off by the slightly unpleasant, ammonia smell of the mature specimen, this disappears after cooking.

The taste is surprisingly mild although pleasant; similar to the button mushroom supermarket variety (a young variety of Agaricus bisporus). They’re definitely worth eating though. I always make sure I never ‘over pick’ my find and leave several behind to continue in their reproduction. Lovely.

Macro Mushrooms

Agaricus urinescens – The Macro Mushroom – Notice the yellow-brown scaling on the cap and the grainy/scaly base of the stem. The margin will become toothed or even split apart.

QUICK ID TABLE: MACRO MUSHROOM Agaricus urinascens / A.macrosporus

CAP / FLESH

8-30cm across. Initially rounded/convex. Covered in yellow-brown scales. Margin is toothed; often splitting. Smell of almonds in young specimens then has an odour of ammonia as it ages.

STEM

5-10cm x 2.5-3.5cm. Creamy white with fine white particle coating (easily removable); more scaly towards the base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Whitish-grey maturing to dark brown (no pink colouring at any stage).
Spore Print: Brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In small groups or even rings in pasture, grassy verges and grassy woodland clearings; summer to autumn

EDIBILITY

Edible. Mild & 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.

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.

Timebomb Toadstool – The Brown Roll-Rim

The words ‘Mushroom’ and ‘Toadstool’ are not truly scientific names, but general common usage describes these as edible or inedible (and poisonous) fungi respectively. But there is a grey area, (internationally speaking) regarding this mushroom or should I say toadstool?. It is still sold in eastern Europe markets, where-as here at home in the UK, it is strongly advised to be avoided. Over time, this fiendish toadstool can release it’s toxins and seriously poison you…

Brown roll-rimThe Brown Roll-Rim (Paxillus involutus) is a very common toadstool found throughout the UK and Europe. I have come across it many times in mixed woodland. If picked for eating it can lose it’s toxicity once thoroughly cooked, but over time and if eaten on a regular basis, it’s toxin will enter the bloodstream and systematically cause the destruction of the red blood cells. Not very pleasant and definitely not worth the risk. There’s no real timescale for when and if this will happen, but I think it’s best described as a ticking time-bomb!

The common name helps describe this naughty toadstool quite well. Naturally a brown toadstool, it’s rim remains ‘inrolled’ although less so when expanded as it grows – see picture on the left – excuse long fingernails!). The texture when younger is finely felted and later becomes smooth (slimy when wet).

Size-wise, it can grow from 5 – 15cm in diametre when fully mature and has a distinct hazel brown colour (tawny brown / olive when younger), often dotted with darker orange/brown blotches and the margin may become very wavy.

The crowded, decurrent gills are a reliable feature for identification also. They ‘bruise’ dark brown on handling are easily separated from the cap flesh.

Being very common in broad leaved and sometimes coniferous woodland (even parks and gardens), you will most likely stumble across these toadstools during late summer to late autumn. They have been classed as deadly poisonous and therefore, to repeat myself again, just avoid them. Several deaths have been reported from Europe. Better the devil you know – to coin a phrase!

Note: See comments boxes below. To eat or not to eat! I know I won’t be eating them!

Paxillus involutus

The Brown Roll-Rim Toadstool – Viscid when wet and brusing dark brown on the gills (top). Younger examples are more finely felted when young before becoming smoother.

PS. If you want to get scientific – check out this eco-news on the study of this very mushroom (and related species): http://www.jgi.doe.gov/sequencing/why/99182.html

QUICK ID TABLE: BROWN ROLL-RIM Paxillus involutus

CAP / FLESH

5-15cm across. Inrolled margin. Ochre – hazel-brown colour (often with darker rain post marks). Downy texture when younger, becoming smoother. Slimy when wet.

STEM

8cm x 0.8-1.2cm. Similar but lighter colour as cap. Stains darker with age.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Crowded and decurrent. Light ochre to sienna. Bruises darker.
Spore Print: Sienna brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In broadleaved woodland and on heaths. Late summer – late autumn.

EDIBILITY

Poisonous. Can be deadly. Regular consumption build up toxins within the body. Avoid.