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Beware the Fool’s Funnel

Experienced foragers often say, if you want to familiarise yourself with only a few mushrooms, it’s always best to recognise the deadly ones! Wise words indeed.

The Fool’s Funnel (Clitocybe rivulosa aka C.dealbata) is one of the more common poisonous species to be found in the UK, as well as in Europe and North America. It appears, alarmingly enough, in some very ‘people orientated’ places such as lawns, parks, road sides etc; in sandy soil, during late summer to late autumn.

The toxic culprit here is muscarine (found in many other poisonous fungi), and with a good dose it can cause some very unpleasant symptoms, and in some cases – death. So it goes without saying, don’t be too hasty in picking these innocent looking mushrooms. Here’s what to look out for:

Although not that large (around 4-6cm when mature), they often grow in small to medium groups and sometimes partial or full rings in grass. One of the largest partial rings I found were right in the middle of a local park.

The cap is powdered white often with concentric rings or blotch marks which show the darker buff coloured flesh beneath (or even cracking, depending on condition). This is a good identification marker to note. The shape is initially rounded but it soon flattens out, usually developing the common ‘funnel shape’ and the margin remains slightly inrolled.

I stipulated on my mushroom identification page that there are no ‘golden rules’ or ‘one tip fits all’ in identifying different species, but  if you want a good rule, then always be extremely wary of white gilled mushrooms. Several deadly species have white gills, but then again they can also have different coloured gills! So I guess what I’m trying to say is – ‘If you don’t know it, then don’t eat it‘ – simple. (I’m not sure if that was pointless and wasted paragraph! But there you go…)

In this case (typical for a funnel mushroom) the white/whitish-buff gills run decurrently down the stem (which share the same colour as the cap). They are quite crowded and turn more buff coloured as the fungi ages.

Last but not least; the flesh, if crushed between the fingers, will deliver a ‘sweetish’ smell, but I’d advise you wash or wipe your hands afterwards, and make sure you’re not tempted to a little nibble!

Fools Funnel

Clitocybe rivulosa where the white powder surface has faded to reveal the darker flesh beneath. In this case, it has a ‘cracked’ appearance.

QUICK ID TABLE: FOOLS FUNNEL Clitocybe rivulosa / C.dealbata

CAP / FLESH

3-6cm diameter. Initially convex, then flattened out, often funnel shaped. Powdered white, often with concentric or buff flesh markings. Flesh is buff; smells sweet.

STEM

2-4 x 0.5-1cm; similar colouring as cap. Often slightly woolly at the base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

White/Whitish-buff, decurrent and crowded.
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In small-medium groups, full or partial rings in grass of gardens, parks, roadsides, path edges (sandy soil). Summer – autumn.

EDIBILITY

Deadly poisonous. Contains muscarine.

Liquorice on a log – The Black Bulgar

For one reason or another I didn’t get the chance to get out much over winter, but a recent visit to some nearby woodland turned up these little black beauties.

As they were well camouflaged, I nearly walked by this mass of Black Bulgar (Bulgaria inquinans) on a fallen trunk (possibly Ash). There were many dozens of these small black jelly-like buttons scattered across the bark. They genuinely look and feel like a typical jelly fungus, but they’re actually not jelly fungi at all – scientifically speaking, as they are in the class/division of Ascomycetes, instead of the real ‘Jelly fungi’ (heterobasidiomycetes) which are in the division Basidiomycetes. So there you go – lesson over!

They grow in large clusters on deciduous fallen/felled trunks and branches, especially oak, beech and less often, on ash. But with the recent Ash Dieback disease and many felled trees as a result, they may well become more of a common sight.

When young, the margin is tightly enrolled, giving the fruiting body a tiny cup like appearance with a brown/dark drown outer surface which has a rough, scurfy texture. As they mature they spread out flat exposing their smooth ‘spore bearing’ top side in a distinctive disc shape. The ‘gummie bear’ flesh inside is dark ochre-brown which is more rubbery and gelatinous in damp conditions. It becomes much tougher as it begins to dry out.

Rubbery or tough – it doesn’t really mater because this isn’t a fungus for the foragers list. However, in Northeastern China it is considered a delicacy. After careful preparation I believe it’s fine to eat – but quite poisonous otherwise. Phytochromes (photoreceptors in fruiting body pigment) can cause serious food-sensitised solar dermatitis – which sounds rather uncomfortable. I think I’ll give it a miss!

Black Bulgar Fungus

Top: Flat disc shapes of the mature fruiting bodies. Bottom left: Younger cup like examples with a scurfy brown exterior. Due to the damp conditions, this surface appears much darker.

QUICK ID TABLE: Black Bulgar Bulgaria inquinans

FRUITING BODY

Approx 1-4cm across. Jelly-like, rubbery texture. Top fertile surface is smooth, Underside scurfy brown/dark brown. Margin enrolled when young, expanding to a flat disc shape.

STEM

N/A – Minimal/small stump.

SPORE PRINT
Spore Print: Dark brown/blackish (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On fallen/felled oaks, Beech, Sweet Chestnut and Ash. September to March

LOOKALIKES

Witches’ Butter (Exidia glandulosa)

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Poisonous if not prepared properly.

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.

Snow patrol – Wood Blewit

The last week or two has produced some amazing seasonal snow. The media has confirmed this is the earliest heavy snowfall since the dawn of time or some other scare-mongering weird world event! It’s Winter, it’s snow, it happens (no chips on my shoulder)! But fortunately being in the centre of the country we don’t really get the worst of it.

Wood BlewitAnyway, after some of the heavier snow had subsided and made the roads a little safer, I ventured out to Martinshaw Woods near Ratby in Leicestershire. I’ve heard from other people and from my own experience that Wood Blewits (Clitocybe nuda / Lepista nuda) are quite common there, and being persistent even during heavy frost I thought I’d take my chances.

I was pushing my luck in the snow but I did find some mushrooms clinging on to life in the clearer areas of the woods. Eventually I found this solitary Wood Blewit, nearly missing it with its white snowy hat against a white snowy background disguise!

This mushroom is quite unmistakable in appearance although there are a some Webcaps sharing similar features. Look out for web-like fibres on the stem that were initially connected to the cap edge when young. If unsure, take a spore print. The Webcaps have a dark rusty brown spore print as opposed to the pale pink of the Blewits. In fact, I had an issue with this spore print business. Although pale, the print really looked more very light brown than pink. Take a look from last years post on Wood Blewits.

The Wood Blewit is commonly called Blue Hat or Blue Cap, but some people still call it a Blue-leg (the Field Blewit)! Well, that’s understandable I guess. The Wood Blewit, when younger, has a more blue-violet tint about it’s cap (Blue-Hat), but this fades over time to a paler brown colour. The gills share this trait – they remain lilac-blue for a while until fading to buff. The fibrous stem retains it’s unmistakable blue-violet streaks, hence people choosing to call it a Blue-leg.

So Field Blewits and Wood Blewits are very similar indeed and to get them mixed up, apart from their environment they’re in, is understandable. The Field Blewits cap is always pallid to dirty brown. It’s actually tastier than our Wood dwelling friend but unfortunately less frequent. It can be found in pasture land, and most recently for me, in someones grassy garden!

One thing to remember with Blewits is that some people can have an allergic reaction to them. People recommend Par boiling them first or generally cooking them ‘thoroughly’, as I do. Fortunately I’m OK with them. They are nice to eat and they do need a longer cooking time I think because they are a little tough. I like the texture to be half way between solid and soft! But because of their texture they’re good for pickling. I haven’t tried that yet but I’ll let you know when I do.

Wood Blewit mushroom in Winter

Wood Blewit alone in the snow

Wood Blewit