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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.

February Forage – Tawny Funnel

It may seem a little strange to feature this mushroom in February when it’s actually an autumn species. Well, mainly! 


Lepista flaccida

But year after year I often come across the Tawny Funnel (Lepista flaccida) in January or early February, as in this case. At first I thought I had an unfamiliar species to identify – but I have read (and heard) from fellow foragers and field mycologists that this is not so uncommon.

After all, the Tawny Funnel is usually one of late fruiting autumn species. Maybe it has unfinished business -waits until milder times at the start of the year to carry on. Who knows?

When young, the cap is flattish and convex but soon develops its distinctive ‘funnel’ shape which causes some confusion, as you would think that you’re dealing with a true Funnel mushroom – i.e. a Clitocybe species. In fact this mushroom has been formally known C. flaccida and some mycologists have named it C.inversa, or consider it to be a different species entirely. One reason it has been moved to this genus is because of its warty spores and moveable gills, features the same as the other common Lepistas (or Blewits) such as the Wood Blewit and Field Blewit.

The real confusion starts when you compare it to the Common Funnel (Clitocybe gibba) which looks like its identical twin! However it is only situated in broad-leaved woods and heaths, whereas L.flaccida appears in both deciduous and coniferous woodland, especially nutrient rich soil.

I’ve been experimenting over the years to see if I can recognise any macro features while out in the field to distinguish between the two. I’m still not 100% sure if you can, and I think true ID will be from looking at the microscopic spores. However, not everyone has access to a microscope so I’ll go on to mention what to look out for. Here goes…

This mushroom is often found in clustered groups and full or partial fairy rings in the soil and leaf litter. Average cap sizes of mature specimens are around 5 to 9cm across.

There are many changes throughout its life cycle, so expect to see variable colour variations of this mushroom. The young flattened-convex cap is pale ochre and is strongly hygrophanous (unlike C.gibba) and you will see pale/darker areas depending on the moisture in the cap. Also look out for water marks around the edge of the cap. With age, it becomes darker orange-brown (shades vary) as the distinctive funnel becomes more apparent. There may also be several darker spotted areas scattered across the surface.

The whitish-yellow gills are crowded (more so than the Common Funnel) and heavily integrated with the stem (decurrent) which is paler in colour than the cap. It is often curved slightly towards the white woolly base.

Take a whiff!

Smell is also an important factor here, as the Common Funnel and Tawny Funnel differ. The Common Funnel has a faintish odour of almonds (also described as new-mown hay!) whereas the Tawny Funnel is more or less non descriptive, but there may be a faint spicy odour.

This mushroom is a great challenge, so good luck in identification and your spring forages in general. Enjoy.

Tawny Funnel images

Notice the varied shades from light ochre to tawny and the very crowded decurrent gills.

QUICK ID TABLE: TAWNY FUNNEL Lepista flaccida

CAP / FLESH

2-9cm across. Initially flattish to convex then funnel shaped. Pale ochre, darkening tawny brown with age. Often darker spots. Thin flesh, pale to tan.

STEM

3-5cm x 0.5-1cm. Paler than cap. Becomes hollow. White woolly base.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Very decurrent, narrow & crowded. Whitish to yellowish.
Spore Print: Creamy white (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

On soil and in leaf litter of coniferous & broadleaved woods. Autumn. Sometimes in January & February.

EDIBILITY

Edible, but flesh is too thin & has an unpleasant taste.

The Genus LEPISTA (Blewits): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small to medium size. Pale to brownish caps. Some feature lilac/purple colouring on cap and stem.
• Pale pink spore print (see how to take a spore print here).

Tawny Funnel Diagram

Two Toned Treat – The Sheathed Woodtuft

Here we have a fairly common and sought after tasty mushroom for this time of the year. It likes to grow in dense clusters on stray stumps and logs of broad-leaved trees – Just like many other brown toadstools too! Hmm!?

Velvet ToughshankThe Sheathed Woodtuft (Kuehneromyces mutabilis) has also adopted other common names, such as Velvet Toughshank, Brown Stew Fungus and Two-toned Pholiota, even though it is not strictly a Pholiota species. But I have seen it named as ‘Pholiota mutabilis’ somewhere else. It just goes to show that scientific names change from time to time as the scientific knowledge of fungi continually advances.

And talking of scientific names ‘mutabilis’ literally means ‘changeable’ in latin. A good choice of name I think, because the caps of this mushroom which are ‘shiny and brown’ (even orange-brown – see last pictures below) when moist can change to paler ochre from the centre outwards as it dries. This gives them the characteristic two-toned appearance.

On discovering any type of brown mushrooms on dead wood, most people become instantly suspicious. I don’t blame them at all. Unless you are familiar with other brown woodland species, identification can be a challenge. It has been known to be confused with Honey Fungus, Velvet Shank and Sulphur Tuft all of which grow in similar numbers on dead wood and share certain visual characteristics.

The main identification concern here though is the deadly Funeral Bell (Galerina marginata). Nature has thrown this one into the mix just to annoy and terrify the average mushroom hunter. I don’t currently have any images to show, but if you look elsewhere you’ll see what I mean. The cap can look frighteningly similar in size and shape and also dries lighter brown at the centre (again, depending on moisture level). Fortunately, one reliable comparison is that it has a ‘smooth and silvery’ stem, whereas the Sheathed Woodtuft’s brown scales (beneath the ring) are unmistakable.

Other features such as location, time of year, gills and spore print are not effectively reliable for comparison. So it goes without saying that if you intend to eat them, take extra care in the identification process. If you’re 100% happy just try a small portion first, leave it 24 hours to see how you go, just like you should with all mushrooms you eat for the first time. There’s always a small possibility of an allergic reaction, but fear not, for if it is the Sheathed Woodtuft, it won’t kill you!

I have to admit, the general appearance of this mushroom hasn’t inspired me to eat it, but apparently it is known to be very good with a pleasant nutty taste. But I’m willing to give it a go soon. I think!

Keuehneromyces mutabilis

In groups on logs and stumps in woodland the Sheathed Woodtuft (Keuehneromyces mutabilis). Notice the scales beneath the ring on the stem. This feature is NOT on the similar and deadly Funeral Bell (Galerina marginata)

A slightly younger and fresher group of Sheathed Woodtufts, much more Orange/Ochre in colour.

QUICK ID TABLE: SHEATHED WOODTUFT / BROWN STEW FUNGUS Kuehneromyces mutabilis

CAP / FLESH

3-7cm across. Initially convex shape then flattenned out; often umbonate (with a small bump). Orange-brown to brown. Becomes lighter in the centre as it dries, giving a two-toned colour effect.

STEM

3-8cm x 0.5-1cm. Whitish at the apex, darker towards the base. Smooth above the ring, finely scaly below.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Adnexed. initially pale then later cinnamon-brown.
Spore Print: Deep yellow-brown (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In dense clusters on stumps and standing/fallen trunks of deciduous trees. In many numbers. Spring to early winter

EDIBILITY

Edible and good. Take care not to confuse with Galerina marginata (The Funeral Bell) a deadly lookalike; focus on the stem differences.

Fairy Rings – Fairy Ring Champignon

This mushroom is the ‘perfect lawn’ mans worst enemy. Although I love them, my dad goes spare at the sight of them – “bloody mushrooms ruining my lawn etc…” – “Natures got no rules man” was my lame hippy reply!

Lawns are the main target ground for Fairy Ring Champignon (Marasmius oreades) – or at least where we may see them the most. It’s a very common mushroom around spring to autumn time. My recent discoveries were late summer (as shown in the pictures) and very recently in mid-september again in my dad’s garden (again)!

Fairy Ring Mushroom‘Champignon’ is the nice French word for ‘mushroom’. It’s a highly prized edible mushroom sold throughout Europe and USA in many markets. To the local wild picker, it can be found in short grass, lawns, parks and pasture land. It is often in rings, although not all the time.

What’s this ‘fairy ring’ thing all about then? We’ve got to get into underground mycology magic for that. The mushroom is the ‘fruit’ of the underground mycelium, or organism that is the fungi (a network of fine white filaments known as hyphae). Mushrooms are born to deliver their spores in the breeding process.

In short, the mycelium expands as it grows outwards from a central position. The older, central zone dies off and at the edges of this ring is where the mushroom grows. Die hard gardeners are extra miffed because the grass around the ring dehydrates and dies too (helped along by fungal cyanide toxins). The outer grass region is a nice and green affair due to the hungry, feeding mycelim.

Some of these ‘fairy ring’ organisms have lasted for hundreds of years and more (not just our Marasmius oreades) and can reach up to a mile in diametre. They are are truly wonderful organisms that seem to break all kinds of records. But that’s another story for a later date.

Recently, I have seen many Fairy Ring Champignons collections. Some were but a few, others in partial rings and only one as a giant ring in pasture land of about 4 metres in diametre. The caps (or heads) of these beauties are the best edible part. Just discard the stems as they are just too tough and not worth it. Make sure you get them when they’re young – you won’t make a mistake because the older ones just look unapetizing anyway! Check out recipes online. They’re also good for pickling as they hold their shape and don’t disintegrate. Hope you find as many as I have.

Fairy Ring Champignon - Edible Mushroom

Although not in a ring this time – here’s a few of the Champignons on a lawn

Mushroom ring in grassland

See how the ring is formed in this patch of grass. The outer edge, where the mushrooms are growing, are stimulating the grass growth. The centre of the grassy patch will eventually die off.

The Genus MARASMIUS (Parachutes): Characteristics to look out for:

• Small or tiny caps with tall, thin stems.
• Convex ‘umbrella’ or ‘parachute’ shaped caps.
• The Fairy Ring Champignon is one of the larger species in this genus