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

Flaming colour – The Charcoal Burner

This is a fine and sturdy mushroom of the woods and one of my favourites, both aesthetically and palatably. Although very common indeed from summer through to autumn, I haven’t seen as many as I would have liked so far. But it’s still early autumn and I do get impatient!

The usual haunting ground for the Charcoal Burner (Russula cyanoxantha) is in broad leaved woods, mainly with beech. It is part of the very large family of Russulas (there are 200+ in Britain alone) with the majority of well known ones having yellow, blue and green variations in colour.

The Charcoal BurnerThe Charcoal Burner gets it’s common name from the range of colours visible on it’s sturdy, fleshy cap – like the colours of a charcoal flame. Sometimes it can be one colour but often it can be variable. There’s often a mixture of blue and yellow, and in this case, with strong hues of violet and a pinch of blue/grey (you can also get browns and greens going on. This mushroom likes to show off!). The latin name cyanoxantha defines the blue and yellow colours.

This Russula is from a group known as the Brittlegills, and as the name suggests, their gills are very brittle and tend to crumble and break when you touch them. But identification-wise, mushrooms always like to move the goal posts! Because in this case the white gills are not brittle, but in fact quite flexible. What can I say? It’s a rebel Russula and likes to break the rules!

Although quite large, with the cap growing up to 12cm and it’s stem a up to 8cm and 3cm thick, it’s still easy to pass by. Depending on what angle you are coming from you can easily waltz by it. The cap colour is very good camouflage against the woodland floor. So keep a sharp eye out. I always tend to find these beauties growing nearby the Common Yellow Russula (or the Common Yellow Brittlegill (Russula ochroleuca)) They are of a similar size and have an ochre yellow cap, and not as tasty as our Charcoal Burner.

One thing I have to say about Brittlegills, or more so – about slugs, is that the latter do really enjoy a nibble, and I mean a nibble. I think the slugs prefer the yellow and green species because it’s not often I find one in pristine condition. They are, at some stage or another, left mutilated by those hungry slime bugs! Still, it’s as much their find as it is mine! They do have a head start by living there though – and that’s just not fair!

Charcoal Burner

Purple/blue/yellow cap – thick white stem and white gills which are sometimes forked.

Charcoal Burner. Russula Identification.

The Genus RUSSULA (Brittlegills): Characteristics to look out for:

• Simple stems with no ring or volva.
• Many have bright colours in shades of red, yellow, greenish and purple (or mixtures of). A few are pallid.
• Whole fruting body is ‘brittle’ (granular and fragile) and will easily crumble, break on handling.
• All have straight (precise geometric look) gills. These crumble (on all but one species) when touched/handled; hence brittlegill.
• Note how much the cap cuticle/skin ‘peels’ from the margin upwards (.ie. 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 or none etc).
• Note smells and tastes of hot, bitter or mild from nibbling & spitting (be sure you’re dealing with Russulas!).