In October of 2016, I stepped out into my back yard and found it carpeted with medium-sized brown mushrooms. Apparently, I had nothing better to do that day than attempt to identify these boring nondescript mushrooms, so I sat down with a field guide and managed to key them out to Inocybe rimosa. This was a surprising result; most of the boring brown mushrooms that pop up in yards are saprobic, but Inocybe is a mycorrhizal genus. Since I. rimosa is mycorrhizal, there is only a very limited area in my yard that it can grow. This made me wonder, “Will it grow in the same place next year?” There was only one way to answer that question: keep track of where mushrooms appear in my yard. I logged all 227 I. rimosa mushrooms and waited eagerly for 2017, when I would map all the mycorrhizal mushrooms that appeared.
This is a beautiful little waxcap that displays one of the most striking color changes of all mushrooms. Gliophorus psittacinus is easily identified by its slimy texture and bright green color that becomes yellow as the mushroom matures. Because the color fades, older specimens are easily confused with the many other yellowish waxcaps. For easy identification of this mushroom, you really need to find young specimens that are still green and slimy. As with other waxcaps, the flesh has a texture reminiscent of candle wax. However, you’re more likely to notice the substantial slimy coating over the cap and stalk, which obscures the texture of the thin flesh. Because of its initial bright green color (which one might term “parrot green”), G. psittacinus is commonly called the “Parrot Mushroom” or “Parrot Waxcap.” Indeed, the root word in its specific epithet means ‘parrot’ in both Latin and Greek.
Pleurotus ostreatus, the “Oyster Mushroom,” is the quintessential pleurotoid mushroom: it is a gilled mushroom with a very short stalk that fruits from the sides of logs. Oyster Mushrooms are some of the best edible wild mushrooms; they are fairly easy to identify, they are meaty, and they appear in large numbers. Additionally, you find them in late fall and winter, when the woods are otherwise boring places for mushroom hunters. Although it grows on hardwood logs in nature, P. ostreatus will decompose pretty much any plant material, which makes it very easy to cultivate. As an added bonus, the Oyster Mushroom attacks nematodes. That’s one cool mushroom, right?
You are undoubtedly familiar with this mushroom, even if you recognize neither its scientific name, Amanita muscaria, nor its common name, “The Fly Agaric.” If the word “mushroom” does not immediately bring this fungus to mind, then the word “toadstool” probably does. You have certainly encountered A. muscaria’s distinctive red cap with white spots in a variety of visual art forms. This toadstool frequently pops up in paintings, cartoons, video games, movies, and decorations. Essentially, A. muscaria is the default mushroom that people (in Western societies, anyway) think of when they hear the word “mushroom” – the type specimen for mushrooms, if you will. This is probably best illustrated by the Wikipedia page for “Mushroom,” which features a prominent picture of the photogenic Fly Agaric. Morphology Amanita muscaria produces large, umbrella-shaped agaric mushrooms with a circular, brightly colored pileus and a central, white stipe. The pileus ranges in size from...
If the spirit of Halloween were a mushroom, it would be Omphalotus illudens. This agaric is commonly known as the “Jack-O-Lantern mushroom” for a few good reasons. First, it is bright orange, like the pumpkins that decorate doorsteps all over the United States in October. Not only is the cap orange, but so are the gills, the stipe, and the interior. Second, the mushroom’s gills glow in the dark, especially when they are young and fresh. Furthermore, the mushroom often has a sweet smell and is poisonous. Nothing says Halloween like something that is orange, glows in the dark, smells sweet, and has a sinister side.
Welcome back to creepy fungus month! I’m starting off this month with a mushroom that has a creepy name but is always fun to find: The Witch’s Hat. Hygrocybe conica gets its common name from the conic shape of its cap, its orange to red color, and its tendency to bruise strongly black. Actually, this last feature is probably the most important; when the mushrooms turn completely black they really do look like tiny hats for witches! The Witch’s Hat grows on the ground in a variety of habitats and mycologists are not sure what its ecological role is.
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.
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.