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Amanita rubescens – The Blusher – an introduced species

The early colonists of Australia were mainly of British origin and they brought with them the trees with which they were familiar.  Such trees include pines and oaks.  With these trees came the fungi that were associated with the roots of the trees.  There are quite of few of these fungi that have now become established in various areas in Australia.  One of these is the infamous Death Cap, Amanita phalloides.

Because of the lethal consequences of eating Amanita phalloides, people have a natural caution about eating anything in the Amanita genus.   This includes some of the most enthusiastic mycophagists, including myself.

I had not been aware of any edible Amanitas in Australia until I heard of Amanita rubescens.  It occurs in the Adelaide hills and in Queensland and probably in places in between.  My encounter with it was in the Adelaide hills.  It was growing in a park filled with oaks and pines and in this case I believe it was growing on the oaks.  Here is what it looks like in its various stages of growth.

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Amanita rubescens at various stages of growth.

Some important general features are the lack of a volva at the base and the presence of ‘warts’ on the surface of the mushroom.  When it is broken open or cut, the white flesh and gills take on a red/pink colour as shown in the next picture.

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Amanita rubescens showing red bruising

There are not too many mushrooms that this could be confused with.  The main one that crops up in the literature is Amanita pantherina.  A distinguishing feature of A. rubescens that sets is apart from A. pantherina is the presence of striations on the annulus.  These are shown in the picture below. You can also see the pink colour of the broken flesh of the cap there.

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Striations on annulus of Amanita rubescens

This mushroom is known to contain a toxic, haemolytic protein that is destroyed by cooking.   This in mind, I cooked some up on a barbecue until they were quite soft.  In fact they were so soft that they did not really appeal much.  This being my first taste of a new mushroom, I tasted the cooked material without swallowing it.  The taste reminded my a bit of Volvopluteus.   I have read reports that it is better cooked hard until it starts to brown.  This is the case with many other mushrooms.

It is scary eating an Amanita for the first time.  People who I know and respect regarding edible mushrooms in Australia cannot bring themselves to eat this one.  My caution was brought into sharp focus the next morning when I felt decidedly ill.  I don’t actually think that this was the mushrooms, as I had felt a little ill the night before with food from the place where I was staying.

I will try this again, next time with hard cooking.

I would like to thank my friend Kate for giving me the heads up about these.  You can see her interesting site about foraging  here. She is in South Australia and really knows her mushrooms.

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Lactarius deliciosus – Saffron milk cap – an east coast favourite.

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Laetiporus portentosus -White punk, poor tucker indeed

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.

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Fallen Laetiporus portentosus on 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.

Laetiporus portentosus cut

Laetiporus portentosus cut open

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.

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Laetiporus portentosus in situ

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.

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A piece of Laetiporus portentosus smoldering

 

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