Monday, May 4, 2015

Mushroom picking in Charlottesville

Morels (Morchella sculenta), lot's of them!
It is been a too long time since my last post on this blog. In the mean time a lot has happened in my life, including changing jobs, changing careers, changing city and state, getting a second kid etc (i.e. life has been busy). In any case, I think things are finally starting to settle down and I am starting to have time again to foray and explore the woods (this time in beautiful Charlottesvile, VA). Although the mushrooms in Virginia are not very different from the ones in Maryland, I still have plenty of things to learn about the local species and Charlottesville has much more accessible trails and forests than Rockville.
Jelly ear (Auricularia auricula)

Common brown cup mushroom (Peziza badio-confusa)
This last weekend I was invited by a friend for a foray and dinner on his property (what a spectacular combination), along the Rivanna River banks. As I had forayed earlier that day with my kids and had only found two morels (after a couple hours in the woods near my home), I wasn't too optimistic. Contrary to my pessimistic expectations, the foray was very productive (the most productive I have ever had) and now I have morels for a couple more dinners (yummy). Even more exciting, I learned about another easy to identify edible mushroom that I did not know.

"Cookie mushroom' (I have no idea what they are)
Some of the mushrooms I could identify this weekend were the bright yellow Witche's butter (Tremella mesenterica),  the common brown cup mushroom (Peziza badio-confusa), the interesting looking Jelly Ear mushroom (Auricularia auricula),  Devil's urn (Urnula craterium), morels (Morchella sculenta), turkey tails (Trametes versicolor) and, finally, my new and delicious friend, Pheasant's saddle a.k.a. Dryad's saddle (Polyporus squamosus). Apart from that I found a cluster of some nice looking brown mushrooms (my kids called it the 'cookie mushroom') that I could not identify (i.e. a medium sized, gilled mushroom with light brown gills, with a convex/round, pileus that is chocolate brown in color, has a velvety surface and a stipe that is brown, inserted, fibrous, hollow and fragile, no ring or volva, gregarious and growing in soil, smell is
Devil's urn (Urnula craterium)
non-descript, taste is unknown, spore print not taken).  If you happen to know what they are let me know (I'll post some photos on mushroom observer and will change this post later - assuming this is an easy to identify mushroom).

Update: According to some users at Mushroom Observer the "cookie mushroom" could be Cortinarius distans but, in this case, the gills should not be free. I'll try going back to the site and take a photo of a cross-section to confirm the type of gills and will follow-up. Also, it seems like the American morel (Morchella americana) is now a separate species from the European morel (Morchella sculenta).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Foray at Wheaton Regional Park

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)
Yesterday I went to another excellent foray at Wheaton Regional Park. Despite the rainy day and the cold weather, the foray was a lot of fun. The group explored the area following the path to the left of Brookside Nature Center (see location here). 
The forest was full of mushrooms including many edibles. Some of them were Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa), Honey Mushroom (Armilaria mellea), Aborted Entoloma (Entoloma abortvitum),  Gem-studded Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum), the Grisette (Amanita fulva) and some old (yet still good to eat) Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius). 

Violet-branched Coral (Clavulina amethystina)
Apart from that, there were a large variety of coral mushrooms, including Smoky Worm Coral (Clavaria claviculata), Spindle-shaped Yellow Coral (C. fusiformis), Yellow Tunning Fork (Calocera viscosa), Purple Club Coral (Clavaria purpuria), Vase Telphoras (Telephora vialis) and Violet-branched Coral (Clavulina amethystina).

We also found Poison Pig-skin Puffball (Scleroderma citrinum),  False Turkey Tail (Stereum ostrea), Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor), White Cheese Polypore (Tyromyces chioneus), Thin-mazed Polypore (Daedaleopsis confragosa), Rooted Collybia (Xerula furfuracea), Gilled Bolete (Phylloporus rhodoxanthus), Yellow Unicorn Entoloma (Entoloma muraii), a variety of red russulas (Russula sp.), some Lactarius and some Waxi Caps (Hygrocybe sp.) including the Golden Waxy Cap (Hygrocybe flavescens) and the Candy-apple Waxy Cap (Hygrocybe cuspidata).
Smoky Worm Coral (Clavaria rubicundula)

Last, given the large variety and abundance of edibles we found yesterday, I am expecting that the MAW Fall Tasting event (this Tuesday, October 4th at 7 pm) at Kensington Park public library this year won't be anything but excellent. Therefore, if you are not a member of MAW yet, and you are interested in trying some wild mushrooms this week, this is a great time to join (only members are allowed on the tasting events).

Monday, September 26, 2011

When in doubt, throw it out!

Some Amanitas growing near where I live
I read yesterday on that three people in the DC region recently got poisoned by wild mushrooms (supposedly by A. virosa a.k.a. Destroying Angel) and that doctors at Georgetown are recommending people not to eat any wild mushrooms. I understand doctors trying to be as comprehensive as possible on their recommendations in order to reach the largest number of people. After all, promoting health is one of the major tenets of medicine (and it should be). On the other hand, I don't think that it is fair to blame all wild mushrooms for these poisonings and to generate more mycophobia because of these unfortunate events. Many plants, as well as fish, molluscs, insects, reptiles and fungi could cause poisoning (try eating puffer fish or making a salad out of poison ivy ;-). I believe that the problem here was not mushroom picking itself but reckless mushroom picking. Indeed, I know more than a dozen people that have been eating wild mushrooms for decades and that are still around and never had to be hospitalized for their mushroom picking habits. Quite the opposite, they have free access to some of the best edible fungi around! Not only that, these people have found a great excuse to go outside, meet people and to keep their brains active (there are more than 50.000 known species of macrofungi and learning how to identify some of them can be quite challenging). In any case, the role of this blog post is to, perhaps, fix some of the prejudices about mushrooms picking by attacking some myths.

The Myths
1) Mushroom picking is very dangerous
Like driving a car, mushroom picking and identification are skills that are acquired by education and training. Mushroom picking skills are usually learned from other mushroom pickers like family and friends, and from good guide books. The same way I wouldn't recommend anyone to buy a car and go driving without getting a license first, I wouldn't recommend anyone to start picking whatever fungi is growing on their yard or woods and cooking them. On the other hand, if you take the time to learn it properly, both driving and mushroom picking can be very fun and useful.

2) Most wild mushrooms are poisonous.
The minority of wild mushrooms are poisonous (it is estimated by some than less than 5% are). That doesn't mean that one should approach mushroom picking without respect! One should always remember that poisonous mushrooms can be very deadly poisonous.

3) One can easily mistake a deadly mushroom for an edible one
This is usually not the case (if you take proper care) but it is what probably scares most people and makes some ask "why bother with a hobby that could be so dangerous?". The answer is, in my opinion, somewhat technical.
There are many types of mushrooms, which are broadly divided based on their reproductive organs (usually, but not necessarily, the surface under the cap). Most dangerous mushrooms have reproductive organs organized in the form of gills (like the white button mushroom you buy at the supermarket). The gills are a nice adaptation to increase surface area so that mushrooms can produce the maximum amount of spores without having to resort to gigantic caps.  Unfortunately, mushrooms that looks the least dangerous (i.e. looks similar to the ones most people are used to eat) are exactly the ones beginners should avoid. Indeed, the whole idea of mushroom picking  for the table is learning how to pick species that you are 100% confident about their identification (or that you can deal with the risk of mistaken it for a lookalike). This is summarized by the mushroom pickers adage "when in doubt, throw it out". 
For beginners, the best strategy is to stick with species that don't have deadly lookalikes or, in other words - don't be bold (this can be summarized by the second adage "there are old or bold mushroom pickers but not bold and old mushroom pickers". For instance, if one starts with mushrooms like morels, chanterelles and puff balls (and the mushroom are properly cooked), even if a mistake is made, chances are that one is not going to die (gastrointestinal upset may happen). On the other hand if one is looking for nice looking white gilled mushrooms (or even small brown gilled mushrooms) and a mistake is made (for instance, an Agaricus is swapped for an Amanita or a Psilocybes is swapped for a Galerina), serious hepatic and renal damage (and potentially death in 10-15% of the cases) could happen. 
One last note: mushroom identification is region dependent and, therefore, it is recommended that one learns how to identify the local mushrooms and that one sticks to them. Many cases of mushroom poisoning happen with immigrants because they try to apply their local knowledge/culture to other regions.

4) Mushroom picking is very hard and complex
Again, a common misconception. Mushroom picking is a very popular hobby in many parts of our planet and it is enjoyed by millions of people of all ages. Indeed, in eastern Europe and the Nordic countries, mushroom picking is probably the most popular hobby.  Most of my Finnish friends know how to pick Morels and Chanterelles. Because so many people pick mushrooms, in the countries where this is a popular hobby, a culture is developed, and this is passed from generation to generation. People learn how to pick mushrooms from their parents and grand parents, and when time come, they pass it to their kids.

5) The only way to learn mushroom picking is from your family members
False again. You can join a Mycological Association near your home (that's what I did). Alternatively you can try to learn about mushroom picking by reading books (I suggest doing this very carefully if doing it exclusively) or by tagging along friends that know how to do it. Mushroom clubs exist in most capitals around the US and in many countries. They usually organize forays, seminars and other events to educate members and the general public about mushroom identification and other aspects of amateur mycology.

A non comprehensive list is below:

Mycological Associations 
International Mycological Associations (IMA)
European Mycological Association (EMA)
African Mycological Association (AMA)
Latin American Mycological Association (ALM)
Canadian Mycological Associations
Gulf States Mycological Association (GSMYCO)
Australasian Mycological Society
British Mycological Society (BMS)

North American Mycological Association (NAMA)
Mycological Association of Washington DC (MAW)
Mycological Association of New Jersey (MANJ)
Minnesota Mycological Society (MMS)
The Connecticut-Westchester Mycological Association (COMA)
Illinois Mycological Association (IMA)
Sonoma County Mycological Association (SOMA)
Maine Mycological Association (MMA)
Western Montana Mycological Association (WMMA)
Mycological Society of San Francisco (MSSF)
Wisconsin Mycological Association (WMA)
New York Mycological Society (NYMS)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chicken-fat Suillus

A couple of weeks ago, after hurricane Irene, I picked a large variety of pored mushrooms from the lawns around where I live and promised here that I would try to post something about them once a week. Actually, with a newborn at home now, I was lucky to find some time today to write this little post.

The mushroom I'll describe in detail below was specially interesting to me since it had a variety of peculiar phenotypic characteristics (i.e. apressed patches, glandular stipe, sticky surface etc) that made it easily stand out from the crowd.

Date: 09/05/2011
Location: Rollins Park, MD
Habitat: Solitary, growing on grass/moss, near pine trees

Pileus diameter - 5.0 cm
Pileus height - 15 mm
Stipe length - 37.7 mm
Stipe diameter at apex - 8.7 mm
Stipe diameter at middle - 7.1 mm
Stipe diameter at base - 7.1 mm

Pileus - yellow with brown appressed patches, flat with umbo and depression around it, round, margin is entire, smell is fragrant, somethwat citric. Context is light yellow, doesn't stain, flavor is somewhat acidic.
Hymenium - with large (~1mm) pores, beige with orange tone, does not stain when bruised, tubes are 5-6 mm long
Stipe - central, solid, equal, slender, with red/orange spots, sticky on the outside (resinous), color is similar to hymenium, does not stain when bruised, with glandular dots, without ring.
Spore print - ochre/brown

This is a member of the Suillus genus, most probably Suillus americanus, an edible (some consider it choice, most consider it mediocre) mushroom that grows under white pine in eastern North America. Some of the characteristics of the specimen I found don't fit with the description from the key in North American Boletes. For instance, the mushroom did not stain my fingers, flavor was a bit acid (it should have mild non-distinctive taste) and the context did not stain purplish-brown when cut (I did not notice any staining at all). Despite the differences, I would still call it S. americanus given that all the other characteristics fit the key and it looks a lot like the photos from all my guide books. According to Roody's Mushrooms of West Virginia, there are reports that this mushroom can cause allergic contact dermatitis in some individuals and, according to Kuo's 100 Edible Mushrooms, it causes gastrointestinal irritation in some individuals. Some lookalikes are S. subaureus, which grows in broad-leaved woods, and S. sibiricus which has brown spots on the pileus, is darker or more dingy yellow, has a thicker stipe and is also associated with pine. To my knowledge there aren't any poisonous Suillus mushrooms.

Bessette AE, Roody WC and Bessette AR. North American Boletes, A Color Guide to the Fleshy Pored Mushrooms, Pages 227 and 332.
Kuo M.  100 Edible Mushrooms. Pages 215-6.
Lincoff GH. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mushrooms, Page 581.
Roody WC. Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians, Page 335.

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Bolete with Reticulated Stipe

This year my block has been pretty giving in regards to boletes (and other mushrooms). Perhaps this is due to the fact that there is a good amount of oak, maple and pine trees planted around here and that they are all quite old (I would guess at least 50 years old). Perhaps is just luck or, maybe, this happened everywhere in the DC region and I am just not aware of it. In any case, I've been trying to pick some different boletes everyday I go out to see if I get a chance to play with the identification keys from "North American Boletes: A Color Guide to the Fleshy Pored Mushrooms" by  Bessete and colleagues. Obviously I haven't had the time to post all the boletes I found, but I'll try to post something once a week (let's see how it is going to be once my second son is born next week ;-). As a last comment, today was a perfect day for picking mushrooms around here and there were hundreds of mushrooms growing in the lawns around here (Rollins Park, Rockville, MD). On a first look, I could easily identify A. volvata, A. amerimuscariaA. panterina, A. campestris, C. craniformis/C. cyathiformis, P. tinctorius, some Tylopilus sp., and various Russulas (red and yellow). There were also a few other species that I could not identify and that I'll try to post about later this week. Today I am going to post something about a bolete I found a few days ago.

Date: 08/28/2011
Location: Rollins Park, Rockville, MD
Habitat: Growing on grass, under oak, solitary

Pileus - Orange/brown, velvety, somewhat flat with depressed center, ovoid, margin is incurved, context, context is light salmon color, flavor and taste are non-distinctive
Hymenium - yellow, with pores, pores are irregular and polygonal, surface does not stain when bruised, tubes are approximately 5 mm long
Stipe - solid, equal, eccentric, surface is coarsely reticulated, color is light beige, context is white and it turns light pink fast upon cutting, no ring or partial veil observed.
Spore print - not obtained

This seems to be a specimen of Boletus illudens, an edible mushroom that usually grows between July-October, under oak, on the East Coast. Is is also known as Xerocomus illudens.

Update (09/06/2011)
I have posted some photos and the description on to see what other people think and I'll update this page later to include this information.

Update (09/06/2011)
Dave W from has suggested this specimen looks more like B. tenax. According to Roy Halling (also at both mushrooms are very similar but the context is pale yellow in B. illudens and white in B. tenax. Also the stipe color is yellow in B. illudens and whitish in B. tenax.

Bessette AE, Roody WC, Bessette AR. North American Boletes: A  Color Guide to the Flesh Pored Mushrooms, Page 121

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Two edible puffballs

On late summer/early fall, with a little bit of luck, it is possible to find some pretty large edible puffballs. Although I wasn't too lucky this summer, last week my mother in law brought me three large puffballs, two of which were in great shape for the pan. Also, when walking to work this Friday, I found a golf ball shaped (and sized) mushroom growing on the lawn near the Twinbrook Metro Station. The mushroom was easy to spot due to its bright white color that was contrasting with the green. Although I've found these two types of mushrooms before, I had never found such fresh and young specimens and therefore I never had a good chance to taste them. The fact that it is so easy to identify them tempts me to try them later today. Indeed, because of its characteristic shape, size and the lack of dangerous lookalikes, large puffballs like Calvatia craniformis, Calvatia gigantea and Calvatia cyathiformis are considered by some 'good mushrooms for beginners'.

First specimen
Date: 08/31/2011

Location: Bowie, MD

Habitat: Gregarious, growing on grass
Mushrooms are pear shaped with light-brown to beige cuticle. The top part of the mushroom has shallow cracks which give it a brain-like appearance. The crack troughs are darker than the rest of the cuticle. Context is bright white, spongy and homogeneous. Smell is non-distinctive. There is no clear stipe or hymenium.
Diameter - 10-11 cm
Height - 10 cm
This is a specimen of Calvatia, possibly C. craniformis or C. cyathiformis. Both are edible mushrooms and the only way to identify them is to look at mature specimens and compare the color of the spore mass. In C. craniformis the spore mass is yellow, while in C. cyathiformis the spore mass is purple-brown. C. cyathiformis is more common in lawns and urban settings while C. craniformis is more common in woods. Both grow to very large sizes (not as large C. gigantea) and occur on late summer-early fall.

Lycoperdon perlatum
Second specimen
Date: 09/02/2011
Location: Parking lot of Twinbrook Metro Station, Rockville, MD
Habitat: Gregarious, growing on grass
Somewhat pear shaped with tappered base, cuticle is composed of multiple polyhedral warts. Context is white, spongy and homogeneous. Smell is non-distinctive. No spore mass observed.
This is possibly a specimen of Lycoperdon perlatum (a.k.a. Gem-studded Puffball), a common summer-fall mushroom, which is edible when young. The taste is described as being inferior to Calvatias and because of it's small size, one should be careful not to mistake if for Amanita buds.

Roody, WC. Mushrooms of West Virginia and Appalachians. Pages 440 and  445.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

After Irene

Pisolithus tinctorius
Hurricane Irene has just passed through Rockville last night  and, despite the fuzz, without much destruction. To compensate for the hurricane, the weather today was just amazing. In the afternoon, when the temperatures were getting warmer and the cool breeze was still blowing, I decided to go for my usual walk around the block with my wife and daughter to see if we could spend a little bit of my daughter's endless energy and to see which mushrooms I could find. Not surprisingly, after a week of hot weather, a good amount of rain and lots of humidity, mushrooms were growing everywhere (every few steps I had to stop to look at something interesting).

Hours of entertainment
Some of the mushrooms I could easily identify were the long and slim Xerula megalospora, various Boletes (in various stages of development), a couple Tylopilus plumbeoviolaceous (described in a previous post), some very large Agaricus campestris (there were so many this year that, if people didn't spray so much herbicide around here, one could eat A. campestris for weeks in a row), the interesting puffball Pisolithus tinctorius (which I usually find around my block in the late summer), the very common lawn mushroom Panaeolus foenicecii, some red Russulas sp. (other Russulas as well), a good number of yellow mushrooms that to me looked like Amanitas (perhaps A. flavoconia), some clusters of brown mushrooms that I think were some type of Gymnopus and a couple others which I could not identify easily.

Perhaps Gymnopus sp.
All in all, I easily counted more than 15 species (except for the brown "Gymnopus", all growing on grass under oak or pine tree). This is a good evidence of how rich the urban fungal biodiversity around the DC area is. Indeed, most of the mushrooms I show on this blog are collected in an area of approximately 6 blocks around where I live, in a very urbanized area (mostly lawns and sidewalks). Later this week I am going to post detailed descriptions and discussions about some of the mushrooms I found today (I already spent enough time in front of the computer for one day). For now I am only going to share some photos.

Perhaps Amanita flavoconia
By the way, I usually post most of my mushroom photos on (MO). This is a great place to practice  identification skills, help other people, and to get educated opinions on mushrooms one is trying to identify. Some top amateur (and professional) mycologists around the country post frequently on the MO website. A couple of times I got great information about Amanitas from Rodham Tuloss (one of the top authorities on Amanitas).  If for nothing else, MO is a great place to browse beautiful photos from mushrooms around the globe and to get an idea of what is growing around the region where you live.