Volvopluteus gloiocephala – a common roadside species

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.

eggs

Emerging mushroom beside a boiled egg

As it grows, it begins to take on some shape.  You can clearly see the sac or volva at the base.

volvariella5

Beginning to grow, showing volva

 

 

At maturity, it takes on a classic shape.

two volvariellas

Typical Volvopluteus gloiocephala at maturity

 

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.

vovariella pair

Mature specimens, showing gills

 

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.

 

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Clitocybe (Lepista) nuda – The Wood Blewit – a surprise

Someone who is enthusiastic about mushrooms like I am will let their friends know about it and when they spot something that you might be interested in, they will tell you about it.  So it was the other day when we were looking at a house for sale in Bridgetown.  My friends were in a small section of yard where someone had dumped some grass clippings.  Spotting some mushrooms, they called me over.   To my amazement, there was a cluster of Clitocybe nuda, perhaps more widely known as Lepista nuda, or the Wood Blewit.  This is a very cosmopolitan and widely eaten mushroom, that requires cooking before consumption.

This mushroom is an introduction to Australia and is quite common on the east coast where I frequently see pictures of specimens that others have found, but having never seen it in Western Australia, I assumed that it did not occur here, like several other species more common in the east. Edit: I have subsequently found that there is a single record from the Perth region from 1981, but I cannot access the record for some reason. Too old perhaps.

The particular specimens that were growing from the grass clippings were rather aged, though there were some new buttons starting up.   In the image below you can see both.

Clitocybe nuda in grass clippings.

Clitocybe nuda in grass clippings.

I have overturned the mature specimens to show the purple colour of the gills.   You can just see a purple button emerging at about 5:30. (sort of, sorry about the image quality, I had to use my phone). Here is a close-up of one of the buttons in the pile.

Button of Clitocybe nuda

Because these specimens were too old, it was not possible to consider eating them.   I am currently in the process if trying to get a clone going from one of those little buttons though.

Edit.  I visited the site about a week later and the little button had grown into a small but fully formed mushroom.   I think that these are some of the prettiest mushrooms around.  When cut, the stem showed a purple colour similar to the gills.

image

There are some other purple mushrooms around that one might easily mistake for this one.   These belong to the genus Cortinarius and it would be most unwise to eat any of them.   The one the springs immediately to mind is Cortinarius archeri. There are two main differences between Cortinarius and this mushroom.  The first is that Cortinarius always grows in association with a tree.  It is mycorrhizal.  These specimens are quite clearly growing from the grass clippings where the mycelium could be seen reaching down into the pile, however.  The second is that Cortinarius has a rusty orange spore print (see below).  These had a rather pale spore print (it was a very faint print because of the age) but is was clearly not rusty orange.  The orange colour of Cortinarius can also be seen in the gills as they mature and as a deposit on the stem, where the remains of a membrane is evident.  Prue also talks about this type of confusion on her blog. She is possibly referring to Cortinarius austroviolaceus which is the Australian version of C. violaceus.

archerii

Cortinarius archeri

Another couple of purple capped mushrooms are Leucopaxillus lilacinus and Russula clelandii.

Though I haven’t eaten this one, my friend Fiona  over at WhereFishSing has reported her experience with it, which anyone interested might like to read.

Now that I know that these are around, I am hoping to find more of them.  And if anyone comes across some little purple button mushrooms growing in their compost or grass clippings, keep and eye on them and please let me know about it.

If I manage to get this into culture, I will post some further images.

As a footnote, there are several other species related to this one growing on the east coast though they are smaller.

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Amanita muscaria – just for the hell of it

nibble

This mushroom needs no introduction, although most people in Western Australia will not have encountered it in the wild.   In fact, the first confirmed occurrence of this mushroom in WA was only comparatively recently in 2009.  See First record of Amanita muscaria in Western Australia.

That paper expresses some concern about this spreading to pine plantations in WA, where I in fact first encountered it.  Unlike the situation in other states, this fungus was not purposely introduced into pine plantations.   It has been demonstrated to be capable of transferring to many of our native trees in SW WA under laboratory conditions, which is of some concern to mycologists it seems. Since the initial sighting, it has been recorded in many places from Perth to Augusta.


Note: May 2016

I am watching this spread through the pine forest where I first encountered it and I have found it invading one section of the pines in the local arboretum.  It is apparently common around Margaret River

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I have known for some time that this mushroom was edible if treated appropriately, so with some specimens in my hand, I decided to research the topic.   My research yielded a paper by Rubel and Arora.

They point out the wide cultural bias against eating this mushroom and point out that the toxic components are water soluble.  They suggest a technique of boiling the thinly sliced mushroom in a saline solution for 15 minutes.

In contrast to that paper, Debbie Viess has published several papers that vehemently oppose the concept of eating this mushroom, though by her own admission, she has tried it.

After reading what was available, it seemed to me that the Viess papers really served to reinforce the cultural bias suggested by Rubel and Arora.  The suggested boiling regime did not seem overly complex as suggested by Viess, and discarding the water didn’t seem like too much of a burden.  So I decided to conduct my own investigation.

Erring on the side of caution, I cut up a single cap into slices of 3 to 4 mm thickness and boiled them for 15 minutes in salted water.  I then drained them and repeated the procedure, finally rinsing the slices in cold water.   After this treatment, there was no red colour remaining, and the slices were of limp, unappealing appearance.  However, I fried them up in a little butter/oil mix until they were slightly brown and found them to be quite tasty.

What troubled me was the lack of actual data regarding the rate of removal of the toxins, so I decided to do my own investigation.   It seemed to me that if the toxins are readily water soluble, then one might expect to see some change in the conductivity of the extraction solution.   So I sliced up a single cap, weighing 45g and placed it in 1 litre of water.   The conductivity immediately rose from 31 microSiemens to 60 microSiemens. I then began to heat the combination until it boiled and maintained it at a steady boil for 3o minutes, allowing it to rest for a further 30 minutes.   During this procedure, I took 10 ml samples with a plastic syringe and added them to 100ml of cold water, measuring the conductivity of the resultant solution.  From this  I could calculate the conductivity of the hot water solution.  I repeated this exercise with another cap of 40g weight which I pulverised with a blender for 2 minutes.  My results are shown below.

graph

The blue line shows the conductivity of the solution for the case of sliced caps and the red line shows the result for the pulverised caps.  The higher starting point for the pulverised caps shows that the finer particle size provided more rapid leaching.  This indicates that diffusion of the soluble components from the mushroom mass is rate controlling.  Hence the need for thin slicing and boiling.

I had no means of determining the actual amount of soluble toxin in the solution, but since these toxins are highly soluble, I expect that they would follow the trend with the total soluble components.  It would seem that a photometric measurement in the deep ultraviolet region at 254nm would be needed to follow the amount of ibotenic acid and muscimol in the solution.

I should note that I have not taken into account the lowering of the volume of the boiling water during the extraction process.   Because of this, my readings are higher than they should be.  Despite this, they do show that there is a fairly rapid increase in extraction in the first 15 minutes followed by a reduction in the extraction rate.

From my point of view it would be preferable for someone better equipped than myself to conduct experiments along these lines and to publish the results than to go to the extraordinary lengths that Ms. Viess has gone to in the way propagating fear of the unknown. In any case, I can report that I have consumed about 10 grams of the boiled slices without any ill effect whatever.

I wonder how the kangaroo that took the nibble out the specimen pictured above is feeling?

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PS  There is a description of what happened to some people who only boiled the mushrooms for 3 minutes at this link.

Prue in Tasmania reports pickling these. She has given a link below.

Debbie Viess has taken the time to add a comment below as well.

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Agaricus osecanus – Giant horse mushroom, giant disappointment

cropped giant horse

I found this monster growing at the base of a eucalyptus tree in Bridgetown.  It was almost buried, rather like Agaricus bitorquis.  Although I have called it Agaricus osecanus, that is a fairly loose term, referring to a group of similar mushrooms. I am using Arora as a guide.

I first found these during Spring, and then again in Autumn.  The most distinctive feature of them is the huge diameter of the stem.   As you can see, it is a handful.   In fact the specimen above appears to be three individuals fused together and it had dried out a little and cracked so that it was in danger of falling apart.   The flesh however was quite firm.

I was quite excited when I found such a large mushroom that was clearly an Agaricus of some sort and therefore likely to be edible.   I thought that I would take a culture of it as soon as a I could.   However, the smell was not like any other member of the genus that I have ever encountered.   A friend described it as ‘earthy’ but I found it simply ‘less than attractive’.

Before going to the trouble of culturing it, I decided to do a small taste test.  To this end, I cut some small slices (no colour change) and fried them in a little butter/oil.   My friend and I both tasted it and though the initial taste seemed ok, we had both spat it out within 5 seconds.   It tasted terrible.  Hard to describe exactly, but I found it to have a floury taste.  Certainly not something that you would want to swallow.

So, for me this represents a fourth grouping within Agaricus, based mainly on the smell.  The other three categories are mushroom (octenol) smell, almond smell and phenol smell.  I can’t put a description to this smell, but it does not fit into any of the other three categories.   `

Such a shame.  It was massive and had lovely white firm flesh.

Ah well.

Note: May 2016

I had hoped to get another specimen of this and send it off for dna testing, but this year someone came along and not only smashed them up, but ripped off all the loose bark of the tree whose base it was growing at.  Such a senseless act and now we may never know what this was.

 

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Fistulina hepatica – Beefsteak in name only

Fistulina hepatica is a cosmopolitan fungus that is known in Europe as growing on oak trees.   In Western Australia it favours Jarrah, though I have one next to my house that grows on a Blackbutt.  Though it could not be classed as common, it is widespread.   I have seen it growing in Kings Park in Perth.  It probably grows right throughout the range of the Jarrah tree.  As a young fungus, it is quite soft and dense, but as it ages it can become quite tough, like many other bracket fungi.   Here is a small specimen that is around 120 mm across.

Fistulina hepatica

Fistulina hepatica

Note the ribbed upper surface.  The underside is yellow pores.  There really isn’t anything else that you could confuse this with unless you really tried. Though the specimens I have seen do show signs of insect attack, they  do seem to be quite resistant to that attack and the fungus makes it through to old age without being reduced to a mush, if I may use that term

When cut into slices, it displays quite a pleasant pattern:

Fistulina slices

Fistulina slices

With some exposure to the air, the cut surfaces can take on a liver red colour, which is where the ‘hepatica’ part of the name comes from.  This colour may be due to the phenolic compounds that are reported to occur in it.  It is also reported to contain vitamin C, which is unusual for a fungus in my experience.

Fistulina_red

The name ‘Beefsteak fungus’ is perhaps unfortunate as it tends to make one think that it should be treated like a piece of meat.  The taste, however is nothing like meat, or any of the mushrooms that you might normally serve with meat.  Raw, it is rather bland, but with a light frying it takes on a slightly acidic taste that most closely resembles some sort of fruit.  So much so that I think it might reasonably be incorporated into a sweet dish.  I have given a sample to a friend who is a cooking guru to see what she comes up with.  In the meantime, I have left some in the fridge while I wait for a response.

This fungus has been brought into culture and I will see if I can persuade any of my friends with expertise in that field to attempt the same.

I will add to this post when I have investigated further.

19 June 2013

I cut the mushroom into thin slices and poached them in a sugar solution.   The resultant pieces were similar to apple which has undergone the same treatment.  With enough of these, one could perhaps make a sweet mushroom pie.

23 June 2013

Thus fungus is responsible for an effect known as black fleck in jarrah timber.  I have been told by a local tree faller that timber with black fleck  does not bend and warp in the same way that normal timber does.

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Vascellum pratense – an edible puffball

A very common sight in lawns in autumn in WA is Vascellum pratense, a small white puffball that grows no more than about 50 mm across.  If you pick one of these when it is new, the interior is white and is has a mushroom smell.   Later on the inside becomes a mass of brown spores that emerge through a hole in the top.  The sheer quantity of spores released by these mushrooms is so vast that one can only imagine the success rate of germination and formation of a new colony is extremely small.   Investigations of other puffballs support this conclusion.

As it is rather difficult to photograph this mushroom in situ, I have taken a few pictures of one that I have picked.  Here it is as it has been freshly picked from a lawn:

Vascellum pratense as picked

Vascellum pratense as picked

When cut in half, the mushroom shows two distinct zones:

Sectioned specimen showing two zones

Sectioned specimen showing two zones

The upper surface has a fine warty texture:

Texture of upper surface

Texture of upper surface

Examining a specimen day after picking, the outer surface takes on a slightly gold colour if it is rubbed hard with a finger.  The inside flesh also shows a very faint yellow when bruised.

To eat these, it is recommended that they be picked before the top zone begins to turn into a spore mass.   In other words, while the flesh is all white.  They are not considered to be a particularly desirable edible.   I fried some up in oil, where they browned very quickly, and then incorporated them in an omlette.  The taste was not unpleasant.  There did appear to be an after taste that suggested a flavour enhancing effect.

Comment, May 2016

I think it is important to cook them while they are very fresh.  I left some overnight and they softened slightly and the taste took on a slightly bitter edge.

These are quite a distinctive species.  The main thing to be careful of is not to confuse them with the genus Scleroderma.   There is one suggestion that the skin should be removed prior to cooking.   I didn’t do this however.

These can be a problem for greenkeepers when they colonise bowling greens or golf greens.  Here is an example of such an invasion on the bowling green at Nannup in May 2016.

circle of pratense

Fairy rings of Vascellum pratense on the bowling green at Nannup

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Dictyophora indusiata – an edible stinkhorn

There are quite a few mushrooms that are classified as stinkhorns.  Many of these are said to be edible in the  egg stage.  Dictyophora indusiata is however edible as the mature mushroom and it is cultivated in significant quantities in China.  It is an attractive looking mushroom as shown below.

Dictyophora_indusiata

Dictyophora indusiata, Cairns, Queensland, by Steve Fitzgerald

The name refers to the net-like skirt or indusium which is a transient feature, soon falling away to reveal the stem.  The mushroom is also known as Phallus indusiatus, for obvious reasons but for the purposes of this post I have retained the earlier name.  This is a mushroom of tropical areas.  I have not encountered it in the wild personally, though I have seen the very similar Dictyophora multicolor in Cairns.  I have however encountered it in canned form in an Asian food shop in Perth.

 

When opened up, the contents of the can were almost pure white, odourless and contained the entire mushroom, including the cap, cut into pieces, in brine.

 

Like other stinkhorns, when encountered in the wild,  it has a disgusting smell.  Rather remarkably, this repulsive smell has been claimed to cause spontaneous female orgasms in the case of a Hawaian species!  Whether that is the case or not (and I have my doubts) the canned product does not have any hint of this smell.  From what I have been able to determine, the fungus is washed to remove the spore material that contains the odour components.

I cooked up some of the pieces, which contained quite a lot of water, in a frying pan with a little olive oil and then added them to an omlette.   I found that the taste was best in the pieces that had been slightly browned.  This may be due to the considerable amount of glucose contained in the structure of the cell walls.

I should note that one Chinese site (that is a translation) indicates that species that have a yellow veil (indusium) are toxic.  That would include Dictyophora multicolor.

I report this mushroom because it does occur in Australia and it is edible.  However, it might be an adventurous person who attempts to eat it.   I would be interested if anyone finds this or any of the other stinkhorns, and can let me know if the smell can be removed by washing.  Meanwhile, it is readily available in canned form.  And if you want a genuine Chinese recipe, you might like to try this one from the site above:

“Casserole in disposable full of water and put it into the old hen, add ginger fluff block a, a teaspoon of cooking wine first and bring to a boil over high heat, low heat slowly stew. 炖鸡时,为了防止汤水溢出,可以在砂锅上架两根竹筷,再盖上锅盖。 Stewed chicken, in order to prevent the soup overflow in the casserole shelves two bamboo chopsticks, then cover the pot. 大约三小时后,鸡汤已经呈现金黄色。 After about three hours, the chicken soup has a golden yellow. 这时可以将已经用水发过的竹荪切段,投入鸡汤中,再炖,等竹荪充分浸润了鸡汤的味道后,根据个人口味加盐,关火,撒一点点葱花增香,就可上桌了。 Then you can the segment of the water has hair Dictyophora cut, put into chicken soup, then boiled, etc. Dictyophora fully infiltrating the taste of chicken soup, according to personal taste with salt, and turn off the heat, sprinkle a little chopped green onion flavoring, can be serve.

【要点】给鸡焯水时不要弄破鸡皮;水发竹荪要多浸泡一会儿,才会去除那股怪味儿,竹荪不要放多,否则会夺鸡汤的鲜味;如果老母鸡肚子里油很多,要挖出来扔掉一点,尤其是在夏天对于喜欢清淡的人来讲。 [Points to the chicken boiled water not to break the chicken skin; The the water hair Dictyophora to soak for a while, before removal of the sense of smell children Dictyophora Do not put too much, otherwise it will seize the flavor of the chicken soup; old hen stomach where oil is a lot to be dug up and threw it away a bit, especially in the summer for people like light.].
(I think that was written by the person who did the instructions for my portable router table   🙂

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