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Tree Hugger – The Toughshank / Spindle-Shank

It’s early June and with the recent inclement weather (or great weather for mushroom hunters!) there are plenty of different species popping up here and there. But after a local visit to a local (mixed woodland) wood, I was quite disappointed with the results. But then again, summer is usually a good mix of grassland and woodland finds. You can’t win or find them all!

Collybia fusipesAfter seeing these chaps again, I felt it was time to feature this common woodland mushroom (which I always see this time of year). As usual, they’ll be hugging the base of an oak, beech or other deciduous tree or stump.

Yes, the Toughshank / Spindle-shank (Collybia fusipes (Gymnopus fusipes)) has always been a reliable show around summer all the way through to early winter time. It can also show it’s face during the late spring months too.

Collybia (or Gymnopus) species* have the common English name of ‘Toughshanks’ for the simple reason that they have very tough, flexible and fibrous stems. In addition to this (or subtraction!) they never have any ring or volva present (see mushroom identification page for more general info).

As mentioned, they often appear at the base of broadleaved trees (especially oak) and grow in dense tufts of a dozen or more. Sometimes they can appear to be growing out of the ground, but they are in fact attached to the nearby host tree via it’s underground roots. I have only seen this a few times and I really don’t know how common that is.

When young, the numerous caps appear button like (between 1 – 3 cm in diametre) and are red/brown in colour with lighter patches here and there. You’ll also notice much darker spots on the surface due to the odd nibble from a bug or minor surface imperfection. When more mature, the cap expands up to 7cm in diametre and fades slightly in colour (see pictures below) especially as it drys out. The texture is very smooth but gooey when moist, or soon after rain.

But the main identification feature of this mushroom (or should I say mushroom group) is that the stem, as we already know, is very fibrous and tough. Just break it apart and you’ll see. It is more ‘swollen’ in the centre where the colour deepens and grows darker brown towards the thinning, tapered base. These stems often fuse together as one. Indeed, this is a common trait in many of the Toughshanks.

The gills are free but may also be attached to the stem ‘decurrently’ only very slightly (see gill attachment details). They are whitish in colour then show a reddish tinge later on.

And just like most common mushrooms that you tend to see over and over again, you’ll find they are usually inedible. Curses! They’re just too tough and spindly for a good meal! Ah well…

Toughshank or Spindleshank mushroom

Note the younger/smaller examples (top right & bottom middle) and the paler/dryer mushroom group (top left/bottom middle). These were all found at the base of oak trees in mixed woodland.

*Note: To date, some members of the Collybia family have been moved to new genera due to DNA research and some may have different names. ‘Collybia fusipes’ still seems to be currently used here and there, but technically speaking it is ‘Gymnopus fusipes

QUICK ID TABLE: SPINDLESHANK / TOUGHSHANK Gymnopus fusipes (Collybia fusipes)

CAP / FLESH

2-7 cm in diametre. Dark red/brown. Dome shaped expanding with age. Paler when dry.

STEM

4-9cm x 0.7-1.5cm. Thicker in middle. Thin and darker at base. Often fused with others.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free or faintly attached. Whiteish – Reddish tinge
Spore Print: White (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

In dense tufts at the base of deciduous trees, mainly oak and beech. Late spring to winter.

EDIBILITY

Inedible. Too tough and stringy.

The Genus GYMNOPUS (Toughshanks); COLLYBIA name often still used for some species: Characteristics to look out for:

• Tough, fibrous/flexible stems.
• No ring or volva present.
• Gills often crowded / never decurrent.

I can’t believe it’s not Butter! The Butter Cap

Sorry for the awful title, but it had to be done! I can’t believe I haven’t made a post on this mushroom before either. Next to the Brown Roll Rim, this has had to have been the most common mushroom I’ve found in great number during autumn/early winter last year (2011).

Collybia butyraceaOften found in woodland in large scattered groups or even as solitary souls, the Butter Cap (Collybia butyracea / Rhodocollybia butyracea*) is a very common edible mushroom (hence being categorised in my ‘Woodland Treats’ blog category) but does not have a particularly pleasurable texture or amazing taste (so I’ve put it in ‘Tales of Toadstools / The Inedibles’ category too).

The texture of the cap, as the common English name suggests, is very smooth, slippery and greasy – not unlike the sensation when you run your finger on some butter… As you do!

To my now ‘trained eye’ they are instantly recognisable. But as you’ll find with experience, the appearance, specifically the cap, can be a very unreliable visual marker for identification due to colour variations. These variations can also be exaggerated due to moisture level and age etc…

The unreliable cap colour can range from dark red/brown, ocherous/buff brown to pale bone-white or ivory (usually with a much darker centre) when older and dryer. Also adding to the confusion is that this species has a common ‘lighter’ variation (Collybia butyracea var. asema) which (I think) is currently under debate. It is generally lighter all round in colour, and I’m making an educated guess that the centre picture below is a good example of this variant.

The shape of the cap and the gills are fortunately more reliable, usually with a shallow dome shape and distinctive raised bump at the centre (or umbo). Sizes in width can differ from small to medium-large (3 – 8cm) and the margin (edge) is lighter than the rest of the cap, sometimes becoming irregular and even ‘wavy’, often showing a faint striated edge (see Mushroom Identifaction Page for more info on Margin/Edge ID features). The gills are crowded, free from the stem and remain white(ish).

But for best identification I always examine the stem. It shares the same brown shade shown on the cap and typically has a slightly thicker base compared to the thin tapering at the apex where it joins the cap. It becomes hollow towards the base which is darker, often covered in fine white down. A little test to confirm identification is to break apart the stem. It is very tough and stringy and you will see also where it is hollow at the base.

You can take a quick ‘smell’ test, but again, I wouldn’t fully rely on this for a good ID tip. It can be very mildly mushroomy or even slighty rancid. So there you go!

Note: As I mentioned earlier, this species is abundant in mixed Woodland throughout autumn to early winter, but while out on a recent foray that they can appear in grassland near woodland, but it doesn’t happen often. The small group I found in November 2011 were of the lighter variety, large and creakily shaped. Obviously they were going mad trying to get themselves back to the woods. Maybe!

*Note: To date, some members of the Collybia family have been moved to new genera due to DNA research and some may have different names. ‘Collybia butyracea’ still seems to be currently used here and there, but technically speaking it is ‘Rhodocollybia butyracea’.

Collybia butyracea - var.asema

Butter Caps (Collybia butyracea var.asema) abundant in leaf litter in autumn through to early winter. Note the ‘broken apart’ stem base which is covered in fine white down (bottom-left). It is stringy, tough and hollow.

QUICK ID TABLE: BUTTER CAP Collybia butyracea / Rhodocollybia butyracea

CAP / FLESH

3-7cm accross. Initially convex; flattening out, developing distinctive central bump (umbo). pale ochre – reddish brown (dependent on what variety). Drying to reveal patches of ivory white. White flesh with mushroom smell. Greasy (buttery) to touch.

STEM

2.5-5cm x 0.5-1cm. Tough. Slightly bulbous at base. Similar colouring to cap. Becoming hollow. Base when broken is stringy and fibrous.

GILLS / SPORE PRINT

Free, crowded and whitish.
Spore Print: White or very pale pink (see how to take a spore print here).

HABITAT / SEASON

Leaf litter in deciduous or coniferous woods. Autumn – early winter.

EDIBILITY

Edible but not great.

The Genus COLLYBIA (Toughshanks); RHODOCOLLYBIA taxonomy for this species: Characteristics to look out for:

• Tough, fibrous/flexible stems.
• No ring or volva present.
• Gills often crowded / never decurrent.