Fungal growths

Amanita muscaria - Fly Agaric

So, the long-awaited post on fungi. As I mentioned a few days ago, while out hiking the woods on our numerous excursions to the park I encountered quite a number of interesting fungus species. I dutifully took photos of everything, making sure I got a nice clear photo (as best as I could, anyway, given the low light conditions), checked the underside when I remembered to, and then came home to try to identify them.

It didn’t take me long to realize just how unhelpful a photo can be for many mushroom species. There are several that are very distinct and easy to recognize, of course, such as the above. The bright colour of the cap, covered in white spots, makes it an Amanita sp., but how to tell Amanita muscaria from Amanita flavoconia? I think this is the former, also known as Fly Agaric, which is supposed to be very common. There are different colour varieties, yellow, orange-red and bright red, with the latter being absent around the Great Lakes, but common in the west. A few species of Amanita are edible, but this brightly coloured one is poisonous. They contain amatoxins, a group that can destroy liver and kidney function in even the tiniest quantities, resulting in a relatively quick and painful death.

Scleroderma areolatum, maybe?

If I’m correct in my ID, this is another poisonous mushroom, Scleroderma sp., probably S. areolatum. This large, globular puffball was found growing on a ravine slope. The puffballs, at least the mushrooms I think of as puffballs, are spherical masses, lacking a stem and growing right on the ground. Growing up, there were Giant Puffballs in the woods behind my parents’ house, but I haven’t seen them for years. I thought they were the coolest things. I’m not sure if they get their name because they’re all puffed up and swollen, or because when you poke them (or they’re hit by falling raindrops, twigs, or other items) they release a big puff of spores, but either way, they’re unusual.

Lycoperdon pyriforme - Pear-shaped Puffball

There are actually edible puffballs, and this is one of them (as is the Giant Puffball). Although much tinier than the previous species, no more than an inch or two, they function in much the same manner to release their spores, except that there is a pore at the top that the spores are released through. This species is Pear-shaped Puffball, Lycoperdon pyriforme. According to the Lone Pine field guide, this is the most common puffball species in the northeast, though this is the first time I’ve encountered it. It characteristically fruits in dense clusters on rotting wood; the ones I found were at the base of a tree, so I wonder what that says about the tree. The guide notes, “Edible, but lacks flavour.”

Suillus americanus - White Pine Bolete

I believe these are White Pine Boletes, Suillus americanus. The boletes are a group halfway between the stalked, gilled mushrooms and the pored bracket fungi – they have a stalk and cap but have pores like bracket fungi. As the name suggests, this species is usually found fruiting in the soil under White Pines. There were certainly a few of them in the area, though I can’t recall now if I specifically found this one at the foot of a White Pine or not. It’s listed as edible.

Russula paludosa

My best guess on this one is that it’s Russula paludosa. This is where I realized how much easier it would be to identify these mushrooms in the field, with the book in hand, or otherwise by bringing a sample back. First, I’m not completely certain about the underside, though I think it’s gilled. Second, the genus Russula has the characteristic of brittle gills, instead of the spongey texture I tend to associate with mushrooms. It’s hard to run your finger along the gills in a photo to see if they break, though. I suppose part of my problem is that I don’t like the idea of breaking or picking something unnecessarily, so if I can check the underside without doing so I will, and if I can’t then I don’t tend to check. The cap on this one has been munched on by something, which didn’t help with trying to narrow down an ID, either. This species is supposed to be widespread and common, though, usually in moist soil under conifers, which would fit the bill.

Clitocybe gibba - Funnel Clitocybe, and Hygrocybe miniata - Vermilion Waxcap

Two species in this photo, both tricky to identify without the specimens in hand, but I think they’re Funnel Clitocybe, Clitocybe gibba, and Vermilion Waxcap, Hygrocybe miniata. A lot of narrowing down the potential species for a mushroom depends on the colour of the spores, which is generally determined by taking the mushroom cap, sitting it on a piece of white paper for a few hours to allow some of the spores to be released and fall onto the paper, and then looking at the “spore print” that’s left when you pick the cap up again. Since I don’t have that luxury, I do the best I can with visual IDs and comparing habitat info. I’m fairly certain about the waxcap, but the clitocybe (or whatever it is) could easily be misidentified. Both species are listed as fairly common, so I figure my chances are good…

Marasmius capillaris

This one, Marasmius capillaris, was a slightly easier identification because of the daintiness of the mushrooms. There are really only two groups that produce such tiny caps on thin, delicate stems: Marasmius sp. and Mycena sp. (the latter of which I mentioned back in the winter). The ID for this species was aided by the fact that there was a photo in the Lone Pine book that almost exactly resembled my photo, right down to the leaf litter the mushrooms were growing out of. Also widspread and relatively common, it apparently comes up quickly in periods of extended rain, but will shrivel quickly so is often missed.

Hericium sp, maybe?

And finally, what I thought would be the easiest ID but turned out not to be. This is obviously a tooth fungus of some sort, much like the Shelving Tooth of this post, but growing in a clump instead of as a stalked mushroom or bracket. Easy, right? There’s only a few such species listed in the book. However, none of them seemed to match quite right. I’m thinking it’s maybe not shown, but could be a member of the genus Hericium. These fruit in clumps on the sides of logs or snags, and both the ones listed in the guide are indicated to be widespread and fairly common. Also edible, though I’m not sure how you’d fry this one up.

Edit: Jennifer (see below) just wrote about Hericium; based on her post I think this might be H. erinaceus.

For more neat fungi check out the stuff Jennifer of A Passion for Nature found on a walk back in August. Perhaps I just wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I sure haven’t seen anything that colourful around here!


Author: Seabrooke

Author of Peterson Field Guide to Moths. #WriteOnCon Mastermind. Writer of action/thriller SF/F YA. Story junkie. Nature nut. Tea addict. Mother. Finding happiness in the little things. Twitter: @SeabrookeN / @SeabrookeLeckie

12 thoughts on “Fungal growths”

  1. I’ve recently found your blog and really enjoy it. I was looking for info on milk snakes and when I googled it, there was your post – thanks!
    So now I’ve added you to my favourites and enjoy learning.

    Re: the puff balls – I know some people who eat these, or at least something really close to it…they slice them and fry them up in butter.

  2. I’ve had puffball before. Tastes fine, but you have to either have a large family/lots of friends at the table, or a hobbit’s love of mushrooms to do it justice.

  3. Oh, golly! Just came across your lovely blog while trying to ID some grey-capped marasmias.

    I can’t be absolutely sure from a photo, as I’m sure you understand, but I can probably improve a few of your guesses.

    The first photo is definitely of Amanita muscaria, not A. flaviconia. In fact, it’s A. muscaria v. formosa (the “pretty” fly agaric!), because of it’s yellow cap (instead of the more famous red). The yellow ones grow all over the Northeastern US, as well. A small point: although they do contain trace amounts of amanitan poison, it’s only trace amounts. No one has died from these in the last 100 years. They are known for having powerful psychodelic components; unfortunately they tend to induce severe nausea during the experience, so “trippers” are best advised to look elsewhere…

    Your second photo doesn’t look like a Scleroderma (poison puffball) to me at all; instead, it looks like a perfect Calvatia gigantea (giant puffball), which are quite edible! The test is in the cutting: edible puffballs are rubbery-soft, pure white throughout (they turn yellow-grey as they mature, and this ruins their flavor), without *any* chambers inside! (Very young Amanita “death caps” can look like puffballs, but they look like button mushrooms when cut open – and obviously death caps aren’t edible!) Scleroderma are tough, with dark grey interiors.

    The puffballs on the tree (3rd pic) might be Lycoperdon pyriforme, the pear-shaped puffball.

    Pic #4 doesn’t look like the Suillus americanus (chicken fat mushrooms) I see around here. Never heard them called “white pine boletes” before, either – but that’s the kind of confusion taxonomic names are for! As your name indicates, they like to grow under pines, but your pic shows hardwood leaves scattered – they really prefer acidic soil. Of course, they might have been under a pine, and no needles were present in the shot… The slimy coating of S. americanus can cause stomach upset, so good to remove that before cooking.

    I’d guess Pic #5, instead of Russula paludosa as you’ve guessed, to be Russula emetica (and I’ll let you figure out from the name if it’s edible!). Of course, it’s only one pic! The nickname for this Russula is The Sickener. It has a bitter flavor – a tiny bite, sampled & spit back out, won’t hurt you, regardless of what kind of mushroom it is, so taste can be a useful field identification aid!

    Have fun! If you have more mushroom questions, you can email me: iambroom, care of Google’s email service.

    1. Whoops, forgot about the last 3 pics.

      #6: Don’t have an opinion about the one you think is the Funnel Clitocybe, Clitocybe gibba, but the red one is probably too small (judging from the leaf next to it, which I recognize but can’t name right now) to be Hygrocybe miniata. The minute size and bright color points to Mycena, but I don’t know which (and I’m too tired to look for it tonight!).

      #7 sounds right.

      #8, the last one, is also probably correctily identified. It’s nickname is “old man of the forest” (for its beard, of course!). You can actually buy these in supermarkets occasionallly! Instead of frying, think of floating pieces of it in a delicate Oriental soup… Not especially tasty, but a neat visual note to a recipe.

  4. Don’t listen to Joe (no offense, Joe)! Hericium tastes like LOBSTER! Cut into slabs, swirl in melted butter, bake for 10-15 minutes, swoon. Must be a pretty white, not turning the least bit yellow, or it will be sour.

    I keep landing on your lovely blog while hunting down ID’s and things. Keep up the great work! It’s a most excellent blog.

  5. HELP! I found a large amount of clitocybe gabba yesterday and can’t seem to find any recipes for them. they are’nt very tasty in their natural state (yuk!)

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