The other day I drove up to a forest about an hour from my home to see what mushrooms were fruiting. I figured we’ve had plenty of rain so I expected to find some things fruiting. As it turned out, there were two particularly interesting species fruiting abundantly, both of which are also choice edibles.
Lobster mushrooms, or Hypomyces lactifluorum are what you get when a sac fungus, called a Hypomyces attacks a host mushroom. There are two particular mushrooms that are the only hosts – one is a Russula and the other is a Lactarius or milk cap. Curiously, both of these mushrooms are edible but unpalatable – that is until they are attacked by the Hypomyces. After that, the hosts get contorted, become quite dense, they turn bright red-orange and they become a choice edible. In the woods, these mushrooms are often partially obscured by leaves on the forest floor. I usually find them in forests that have lots of both hemlock and oak.
The other species I found we call hedgehog mushrooms. Some people also call them Sweet Tooth mushrooms. Hedgehogs have teeth instead of gills or pores to spread their spores (there are two other ways – deliquescence in the ink caps and the puffs of spores given off by puffballs). These mushrooms come in two similar species, Hydnum umbilicatum and Hydmum repandum. The Hydnum unbilicatum are the ones I found the other day – they have more or less flat caps and usually have, as you might expect, a dimple or belly button in the cap. The other ones (in my experience) tend to have rounded caps and are a paler tan colour.