Archive for Fungi
While driving around in April, I noticed for the first time this year some rather large puffballs growing around the place. Here is what they looked like.
When cut open, these revealed a firm white flesh with a pleasant mushroom smell. They lacked a ‘sterile base’ which is the bit at the bottom close to the attachment point to the ground. The lizard skin pattern was also distinctive. On standing, they developed a purple spore mass. All of these factors together led me to identify them as Calvatia fragilis, which was subsequently confirmed by DNA analysis (97% AJ684871).
The picture below shows the specimen torn open. There is a slight yellowing when it is bruised. It has a distinct skin.
The next picture shows another view of the surface of the puffball.
Some people say that all white puffballs in Australia are edible. This is not true as many years ago I found a massive white puffball growing next to a mulga tree in Hopetoun that had an extremely unpleasant smell. When I heated some up it caused us to evacuate the kitchen!
Calvatia fragilis is edible though and I sliced this one and fried it in butter. The taste reminded me a little of eggs.
A walk in a pine plantation in WA during winter will often reveal a truffle-like fungus lying on the top of the ground or sometimes almost buried.
This is Rhizopogon, introduced with the pine trees and a very effective fungus for assisting the pines to grow. The mycelium from fungi such as these acts as an extension of the roots of the trees, drawing in nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable to the trees.
Many sources report that the species occurring here are Rhizopogon luteolus but DNA results on the specimen pictured above match R. pseudoroseolus (GQ267483). This species, an introduction from the USA is also very common in New Zealand, though the appearance does not appear to match either the image nor the key published by Jerry Cooper of the Fungal Network of New Zealand. There are many different species, lots of variability and many published revisions of this genus so it does make identification difficult.
In Japan, a member of this genus, Rhizopogon roseolus is much prized as a food where is it known as Shoro. The Kiwis, always much more proactive on these matters than we are, have done some comparisons on the species growing in New Zealand with those in Japan and have gone so far as introducing the Japanese species into NZ as a potential agricultural product.
This is not an easy fungus to identify visually and there is sparse information about edibility. My friend Jsun has eaten a species that grows in Queensland and while visiting here he pickled some that I had collected. These are shown in the picture below. He has selected specimens that were firm and had a white interior when cut in half. When pickled, the outside became quite distinctly reddish.
I have eaten small quantities of these and must say that they are rather bland. Jsun reports that he likes to add them to stews and so forth and that they soak up the flavor of the dish.
There have been many reports from the times of early European settlement, all from Tasmania, of the Aboriginal people eating a white’ punk’ growing on trees. It has been widely assumed that this is Laetiporus portentosus, formerly known as Piptoporus portentosus.
This June I chanced upon a specimen of this lying on the ground in Bridgetown. It was quite a massive thing, weighing several kilos and it was saturated with water. That is why I assume was on the ground, having fallen from its position because of its weight. Here it is sitting on my dining room table.
Here is another shot of it, this time showing the inside after I had cut it open with great difficulty. I don’t think this would have been possible with primitive tools.
You can see that the inside looks sort of cottony. In fact it more closely resembles polystyrene in texture. An attempt to eat a small piece of it revealed that it was about as edible as polystyrene too. Not even in an emergency could anyone possibly eat and digest this fungus. Perhaps the story is different with very small specimens but I am doubtful.
It is quite difficult to get a picture of one of these in-situ on a tree because they tend to grow quite high up. I was lucky enough to spot one by a road cutting near Donnybrook that enabled me to scramble up and take a picture with my phone. Here it is.
The fact that these are relatively few and far between and so high up on the trees is further evidence against them being used as food.
It is however widely reported that they were used as tinder and to carry fire. Some experiments revealed that a dried specimen could be ignited very readily and that it would smolder for a long time. By judicious control of the fire front on a smoldering specimen it could easily be kept aglow for hours. Uncontrolled burning of half a specimen lasted about 40 minutes. I made a short video of a small piece smoldering after it had been ignited. A still from that video is shown below.
This is a common mushroom around the karri forest and other places during the early part of the rainy season. It used to be listed as Macrolepiota konradii in guides until quite recently until Else Vellinga renamed the group in 2002. Almost all sources list this as edible, except for Tony Young who says that this Australian species is of unknown toxicity.
Its edibility seems to be based on the fact that is was thought to be the same as the edible M. konradii from Europe. Since this is now thrown into doubt, if not thrown out completely, I think it a wise precaution to avoid it. Besides which, I have a general aversion to Chlorophyllum and Macrolepiota due to the fact that they sometimes cause inexplicable gastric distress. I am sure that some people do eat or have eaten these though, so I list it here for completeness.
Here is a picture of the top surface.It is a rather pretty and delicate mushroom that will sometimes spring up in the oddest places. I had one come up once half way down a post hole that I had left open. The specimen pictured is about 150mm high with a cap 100mm across. That is a typical size. They don’t occur as a small mushroom. In fact, there are some small Lepiootas that look rather similar and some Lepiotas are deadly.
So I will abstain for the moment.
Update: August 2016
My fellow blogger Jsun and I picked some of these during July and he was able to confirm that they were the same as those he had eaten in the east. I watched him cook and eat some and being thus encouraged I had a small portion myself. I am now much more confident about these. One thing he pointed out to me was the ‘snakeskin’ pattern on the stem which also flares out at the base.
The ring or annulus is quite distinctive also, breaking up in radial splits and being attached at first, but moveable with some encouragement.
Leucoagaricus leucothites was formerly called Leucoagaricus naucinus and with the state of flux in taxonomy at present, it might have another name next year. It is a mushroom of worldwide distribution, widely known as an edible species but often recommended as a species to be avoided because it shares so many features with a couple of deadly Amanitas. For this reason nobody should attempt to eat these unless they are completely confident in being able to distinguish an Amanita.
I spotted the specimens above by the side of the road, which is a common place to find them. The caps are bright white with a satin texture. The shape of the large specimen in the picture is characteristic of this species. The underside features a hollow stem that widens a little at the base, but does not have a sac or volva like Amanita or Volvopluteus. The gills are at first white but darken a little at maturity. The spore print is bright white.
It is always a little scary eating something new but even more so when it is something with white gills and a white spore print. Nevertheless, after much checking and re-checking I fried some up and did a taste test. From descriptions elsewhere I had expected something more; it tasted just like Volvopluteus gloiocephalus. The mature specimen even looks a little like Volvopluteus.
One can only wonder how species like this manage to spread so far and wide. Apparently the spores of this one germinate very readily in a wide range of media so perhaps that has something to do with it. Anyway, another of our introduced species that is edible for what it is worth.
I was doing some research and maintenance today when I realised that I didn’t have a blog entry for this mushroom, though it is a very common one that I have been eating for 30 years. Perhaps I accidentally deleted it. It used to be known as Volvariella speciosa until quite recently when some DNA studies indicated that it should be placed in a new grouping.
If you are driving around Perth in wintertime, you will see this everywhere growing on roadside woodchip mulch. It also occurs on waste ground. It is not generally a good idea to eat mushrooms that grow by roadsides as they can accumulate various toxins. However, these are so widespread that it should be possible locate some that are growing in a safe spot.
One of the important things to know about this species is that it looks very similar to an Amanita. On the east coast, people have died after picking and eating the deadly Amanita phalloides, mistaking them for Volvariella volvaceae, the paddy straw mushroom of Southeast Asia and Queensland. It would be very easy to make a similar fatal mistake here in the West, confusing Volvopluteus with other species of Amanita. I have seen the two growing very close together and they are nearly impossible to tell apart. It is only when the mushroom reaches maturity and the rusty orange gills become evident that Volvopluteus becomes easy to identify.
Now for some pictures. I had to recover these from an old computer in the shed that I first bought in 2003. That was an interesting exercise in itself, requiring removal of the hard drive and taking it to the computer shop.
This first picture shows the mushroom just as it is emerging. It looks just like the hard boiled egg that I have placed beside it.
As it grows, it begins to take on some shape. You can clearly see the sac or volva at the base.
At maturity, it takes on a classic shape.
The gills, which are white at first, take on a rusty orange colour at maturity. It is at this stage that identification is most accurate.
This mushroom has an unusual and distinctive taste. I often cook it in a sauce that I add to silverbeet and serve it with roast chicken.
All of my numerous attempts to cultivate this mushroom have failed, resulting in a slimy bacterial looking mess. It is possible, as others have done it, so I will give it another go next time I find it, with my more recently installed laminar flow hood.