One day as you check your mailbox you notice a yellow smear on the entrance to your house (for example a wooden gate). After retrieving your mail, you take a closer look and see that it’s a yellow gelatinous lobed blob – Witch’s Butter! Oh no, you think, I’ve been hexed by a witch! Knowing just what to do, you run back to the house, collect a few straight pins, and stab them through the offending substance to drain its juices and kill the spell. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t work very well for two reasons. First, this blob is actually the jelly fungus Tremella mesenterica. Like all jelly fungi, it is specifically designed to survive repeated dehydration and rehydration. Second, the main body of the fungus is still living inside the wood; unless you replace the wood, the mushroom will probably reappear in the same place!
with caution, you can eat these mushrooms
The most readily observable features of Gyroporus castaneus are its brown cap and small size. As any mushroom hunter knows, mushrooms with this combination of features are very hard to identify… unless your mushroom is a bolete. Only a handful of boletes are small when fully grown and most of those have a reddish cap. G. castaneus – commonly called the “Chestnut Bolete” because of its chestnut brown colors – is easy to identify thanks to its small size, light brown colors, and brittle hollow stipe. Once you’ve found a small brownish bolete, the classic test to identify it as the Chestnut Bolete is gently squeezing the stipe, which should feel hollow.
Entoloma abortivum is a fascinating mushroom. The mushroom produces two forms of fruitbody: an agaric form that is an umbrella-like gilled mushroom and a “carpophoroid” (mycology-speak for “aborted”) form that looks like an oddly-shaped puffball. Both of these forms are usually found near honey mushrooms (Armillaria spp.) or in places honey mushrooms are known to grow. It turns out that E. abortivum is parasitic or partially parasitic on honey mushrooms; the aborted forms are actually the mycelium of E. abortivum attacking Armillaria mushrooms. Both the agaric and aborted forms are edible, although you need to be cautious when collecting Entoloma species.
Armillaria tabescens, the “Ringless Honey Mushroom,” is out in force in my area, a sure sign that summer is drawing to a close. Field guides often note that A. tabescens is the easiest honey mushroom to identify. That is true, but it relies on you accurately identifying it as a honey mushroom. Honey mushrooms (Armillaria spp.) are typically medium-sized to large agarics that grow in dense clusters, have a partial veil that leaves a ring, produce thick black rhizomorphs, and fruit from dead or dying wood. Of those features, the only one A. tabescens displays reliably is dense clustered growth. This makes it very difficult to identify if you’re unfamiliar with honey mushrooms. Fortunately, there are not many large mushrooms that grow in dense clusters, so it’s always worth checking the Armillaria section of your field guide when you find some.
Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca is a bright orange mushroom that appears on rotting wood and forest debris in the summer and fall. It is not a particularly interesting mushroom on its own, but it is worth knowing to make sure you don’t confuse it with other orange mushrooms like golden chanterelles. H. aurantiaca is called the “False Chanterelle” precisely for that reason; if you’re not paying attention, it would be easy to drop one of these into your chanterelle collection.
Boletinellus merulioides is an odd mushroom, both in appearance and ecology. The Ash Tree Bolete can be readily identified by its tube surface – which is only a few millimeters thick and looks more like a network of ridges – and by the fact that it fruits under only ash trees. B. merulioides appears under ash because it has a unique symbiotic relationship with a pest of ash trees: the Leafcurl Ash Aphid.
Many mushrooms like growing in mulch, but none enjoy that life more than Stropharia rugosoannulata. Commonly known as “the Wine Cap” or “the King Stropharia,” S. rugosoannulata is easily recognized by its habitat and wine-red cap – at least when young. The mushrooms quickly lose their color, so identifying older mushrooms hinges on other features, like the cogwheeled ring and dark purplish spore print. This mushroom is considered edible; mushroom hunters often collect and eat the Wine Cap and some even cultivate it.
Coprinellus micaceus, commonly known as “The Mica Cap” or “The Glistening Inkcap” is one of the rare inky caps (FFF#177) that is easy to identify. These medium-sized mushrooms appear in dense clusters on dead wood and feature brown caps coated with a distinctive dusting of salt-like or mica-like granules (hence the scientific and common names). Mica Caps are beautiful when young, since the shiny granules make it look like fairy dust was lightly sprinkled over the mushrooms. The unique combination of size, habitat, and fairy dust makes C. micaceus instantly recognizable.
For some reason, the internet lacks a good description of Laetiporus persicinus. I seek to remedy that in this post. Laetiporus persicinus does not resemble Chicken of the Woods (L. sulphureus and allies, FFF#102), despite the fact that they belong to the same genus. Instead, it is closer in appearance to Inonotus hispidus or Phaeolus schweinitzii. To me, the only part of this mushroom that resembles Chicken of the Woods is the way its surface ripples. Laetiporus persicinus, sometimes called the “White Chicken Mushroom” or “Spring Chicken,”1 is a medium to very large fleshy polypore that grows on dead trees and logs. The surface of the mushroom is light orange-brown with tones of red, white, and purple, while the pores underneath are white and instantly stain dark brown when handled.
Stinkhorns love humans. These mushrooms can eke out a living in natural habitats, but they really thrive in artificial ones like mulch beds. Unfortunately, humans don’t feel the same way about stinkhorns. We tend to find them offensive, thanks to their foul odors and phallic shapes. Perhaps no one disliked stinkhorns more than Etty Darwin (Charles Darwin’s granddaughter); legend has it that she would diligently remove stinkhorns from her property and burn them to discourage impure thoughts in her servants.1 Appropriately (or perhaps inappropriately), the most common mulch stinkhorns belong to two genera named for these mushrooms’ offensive shapes: Phallus and Mutinus.* Of those mushrooms, Phallus rubicundus and Mutinus elegans are the most frequently encountered in North American gardens.