A Very Strange Mushroom: Eugene Knapik

I was out in a Simcoe County forest this morning and came across many examples of one of the strangest mushrooms you are likely to come across. They are called Entoloma abortivum or the abortive entoloma, a name which we now know is incorrect. You might find some in your travels through the fall.

The abortive entoloma occurs as a result of an interaction between Entoloma mushrooms and Armillaria. Armillaria are nasty mushrooms. You don’t, for instance, want to have them in your backyard. They kill trees by sending up “shoe-strings” under the bark of trees, a condition arborists call Shoe-string Root Rot. Armillaria also form the largest living organisms on the planet. Check out this article: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/strange-but-true-largest-organism-is-fungus/.

There is a variety of Armillaria, Armillaria mallea that is a popular edible, known as the honey mushroom. They fruit on the trees they have killed (or are in the process of killing) in huge numbers. These are very popular in Eastern Europe where they are fall favourites. Often they are pickled or used in soups and stews. I don’t much like them for 2 reasons. The first is that they make some people sick. Apparently if you boil them prior to frying they are fine. However, they also have a texture I would describe as slimy, and aren’t nearly as enjoyable to eat as many other species.

It was thought that when Armillaria came into contact with certain Entoloma mushrooms, the Armillaria would attack the Entoloma and cause it’s development to malfunction. In other words, instead of regular mushrooms, they come out as these strange white blobs. It used to be said that the only Entolomas that you can be sure are safe to eat are the abortive ones. Some other Entolomas are sickeners. It is now known that scientists got it backwards. It’s apparently the Entoloma that attacks the Armillaria, so the name really should be Armillaria abortivum (send your complaints to the Department of Confusing Taxonomy).

In any case, these strange white blogs are considered by some to be a choice ebible. I cooked some once and was not very impressed with their strange texture and so have never harvested any since. Today I was in a forest in the south part of Simcoe County, hoping to find some lobster mushrooms for dinner. I didn’t find any but did find some edible milk caps, which I think are Lactarius thyinos. There are two species that look similar, Latarius thyinos and Lactarius deliciosis. Both are edible. However, the L.deliciosis turns greenish when bruised but the L. thyinos does not (orange mushroom pictured below).

Eugene Knapik

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