The recent rains have brought out the mushrooms! I was out in the woods with my dogs today north of the city, and took pictures of some of the mushrooms I came across. I’ve attached a bunch of pictures (files are labelled) and I’ll give you a little info about them as well.
Giant puffballs – Calvatia gigantica
When I was growing up, I always associated giant puffballs with fields because that’s where us kids would find them. When they mature, they change from pure white throughout to a dun colour, and if you touch one at that stage, they will, as the name suggests, emit a puff of smoky-looking material, which is how they spread their spores. When they are pure white, they are a good edible, which can be cooked in many ways. They remind me a little of tofu, both in their texture and in that they take on the flavour of the things you cook them with. Giant puffballs are early this year. Friends found some in Caledon over a week ago, and they are still going strong. Most years, they are just starting in mid-August. The ones I found today were in a mixed forest near a sub-division.
Lobster Mushrooms – Hypomyces Lactifluorum
The curious mushroom we call the Lobster is actually the result when a parasitic ascomycete or sac fungus attacks a host mushroom. As far as I know, there are only two acceptable hosts – Russula brevipes and Lactarius piperatus, two very similar looking white mushrooms. When the sac fungus attacks the host, it contorts the host body and covers it with many tiny sacs, making it look a bright red-orange, reminiscent of the colour of cooked lobster shells. Both hosts are edible but not palatable at all – that is until they are attacked by the sac fungus. At that point they become choice edibles. Lobsters grow in such quantities in BC they are sold commercially. Here in Ontario, I find them in mixed forests with plenty of oak and hemlock. Often they are partially hidden by the forest duff.
There are hundreds of species of Russulas, and many of them look just like the ones in the picture. Some of the Russulas are edible and others are sickeners. Many people who pick them tell them apart by tasting a bit – if it’s bitter they don’t eat it (this method of figuring out which ones are poisonous scares me some). These are very common in Southern Ontario forests, and I’ve observed they like to grow near paths.
Hedgehogs – Hydnum repandum and Hydnum umbilicatum
There are two similar toothed mushrooms we call hedgehogs. They are unique in that they disperse their spores through teeth rather than gills or pores. The Hydnum repandum tend to have more of a convex cap and the Hydnum umbilicatum have a flatter cap, with – as the name suggests – a belly button. As well the Hydnum umbilicatum often appears with more of an orangy-tan cap rather than the paler tan of the Hydnum repandum. I believe the samples I photographed today are Hydnum repandum. Both species are choice edibles. I know only a couple forests where I find hedgehogs regularly throughout August.
There are a variety of coral mushrooms around our forests. They usually start in August and we see them right into the fall. Some species are edible. Others promote gastrointestinal distress so best know your corals if you’re foraging for the table. I haven’t looked at coral identification in detail yet.
Ash boletes – Boletinellus merulioides
Boletes distribute their spores via pores or tubes located in a layer on the underside of the cap. Ash boletes are one of the easiest of the boletes to identify to species, because they sit low to the ground and have an irregularly shaped cap as well as a stem that is off-centre. They are common in many forests where there are some ash trees. I’ve read there is some kind of symbiosis going going on between this mushroom and the leafcurl ash aphid. These are edible boletes, but far from choice.
Boletes with red pores
A lot of boletes are challenging to identify to species (although there are some people who have taken up that challenge and are good at it). It’s a rule for those who forage for the table that the ones with the red pores are sickeners.
More from Eugene: August 2018
Lots of mushrooms out at Lambton Woods right now, including quite a few I’ve never seen before (trying to figure out what they are). Also found upwards of 15 giant puffballs of various sizes in their prime – I left most of them where I saw them but couldn’t resist a couple for the table.
There were quite a few Amanitas around and I snapped a picture helpful in identification. Amanitas grow from an egg-like structure and as they mature, the egg breaks, leaving a ring on the stalk and a wrapper, or volva around the base, which is generally bulb-like. You will likely have seen Amanitas in the woods, in particular the ones with the red or yellow cap with the white splotches – the Amanita muscaria group, which are quite common (those ones are both sickeners and hallucinogenic). Also fairly common are a group of white species, known collectively by the scary name, Destroying Angels. I believe the mushroom I snapped a photo of is one of these, likely Amanita bisporigera. They have white gills which are “free” – not attached to the stalk. Along with their sister mushrooms, yellowish ones known ominously as Death Caps, they are among the most deadly mushrooms in the woods, containing a nasty substance called amatoxin. Eating even one of these mushrooms can be fatal. People have died mistaking destroying angels for field mushrooms and horse mushrooms. The one I photographed is a pretty big mushroom – maybe 15+ cm high. When you see the distinctive wrapper around the base of the mushroom (on some varieties it looks more like a series of scales than a full-fledged wrapper), think Amanita. It’s the tell-tale identifier. There are some species of Amanitas which do not contain toxins, but for safety’s sake I avoid the whole group anytime I pick mushrooms for dinner (there is a saying….there are old foragers and bold foragers but no old, bold foragers).