Mushroom of the Month, Hygrocybe ‘conica’ (witch’s waxy cap)

Hygrocybe_conica_0600

by Danny Miller

Just in time for Hallowe’en but a day early for the November mushroom of the month, we have the classic Hallowe’en mushroom – Hygrocybe ‘conica’, the witch’s hat. I thought it would be fun to follow up last month’s colourful Leptonias with my other favourite group of colourful mushrooms., the waxy caps. Just like in Leptonia, there is something extra magical about these colourful little beauties. Not only do different species come in different bright colours like red, orange, yellow, pink, green and blue, but the texture is often like a fake mushroom made out of wax. And you will soon have success if go looking for them, as they can be very common and are much easier to find than Leptonia.

Of the dozens of common colourful waxy caps around here, I want to talk in particular about Hygrocybe ‘conica’ (perhaps more accurately called Hygrocybe singeri). Not only is it a bright red-orange-yellow that looks like it is made of wax, it is the only one that will turn black after it is touched. Wait long enough, and it might turn entirely black! Plus, it has one of the most sharply pointed caps, like a witch’s hat. This definitely qualifies it for the nickname of Hallowe’en mushroom. And when are you most likely to find it? You guessed it… right around Hallowe’en!

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Mushroom of the Month, Leptonia spp.

Leptonia2

by Danny Miller

Last month we talked about Pluteus, one of the two families of pink spored (actually salmon-pinkish brown spored) mushrooms. This month we will talk about the other, and in particular, some of my favourite mushrooms of all time!

Unlike Pluteus, with free gills that do NOT attach to the stem and mostly found growing on wood, Entoloma has gills that DO attach to the stem and is found mostly on the ground. They also have a unique spore shape, usually like little stop signs under a microscope instead of the usual round shape. No other mushrooms have angular spores like that, making them easy to spot.

Most mushrooms in the Entoloma family, in particular the Entolomas themselves and Nolanea are very boring. They are almost completely non-descript watery brown mushrooms of little interest. But then there are the magical Leptonias which have special pigments making them almost metallic blue or orange (and sometimes pink and the related Alboleptonia are a radiant white colour). Leptonias are usually small and graceful. Unfortunately, they are not found that often, but keep your eyes open because it will be a truly special day when you finally do find one.

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Mushroom of the Month, Pluteus ‘cervinus’ (Deer Mushroom)

Pluteus

by Danny Miller

I hope everybody had a wonderful summer. Usually there is not much happening in the Pacific Northwest mushroom-wise during this time, due to the long dry spells, but we had a good amount of rain in June! This led to a nice flush of some fall species of mushrooms in July, including a whole lot of chanterelles! I hope you were among the lucky ones to find some. If not, they and all your other favourites should be back later this month, with any luck!

So it’s almost time to think about wild mushrooms again! If you’ve read any books or taken any courses on identifying mushrooms, you’ve probably heard that although we typically think of a mushroom as something that has a cap, stem and gills, they actually come in many different shapes and forms (see May’s mushroom of the month, the Morel, for a good example). In fact, there are so many different kinds of them, that the “regular” gilled mushrooms are the hardest to identify. It is suggested that beginners learn some of the non-gilled mushrooms first. But if you do want to learn the gilled mushrooms, you’ll need help. There are two pieces of information you will almost always need to get – the spore print colour and the way the gills attach to the stem.

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Mushroom of the Month – Morchella sp. (Morels)

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Morcella tomentosa

by Danny Miller

This month’s Mushroom of the Month is one that is probably already on everybody’s mind… the Morel!

Mushroom hunting comes in two seasons here in the Pacific Northwest, spring and fall. Most of our mushrooms prefer the fall, it is the bigger of the two seasons, but spring is the time to hunt for many people’s favourite mushroom, the morel!

Morels are great to hunt for, because they are pretty easy to learn to identify, unlike the hundreds of common gilled mushrooms that all seem to look alike. Make sure you learn the colour and shape of the true morel, though, as some people confuse them with the deadly poisonous Gyromitra esculenta and G. infula, which usually look more like a brain or a saddle on a stick, respectively. Even closer looking is Verpa bohemica. A Verpa, however, does not have the bottom of its cap attached to the stem, but a true morel does. A Verpa also has a stuffed stem, but a morel stem is hollow.

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Learning to identify candy caps

Our mushroom of the month this April is the candy cap! Danny Miller has already written an extensive post full of interesting facts and useful info for identifying. Here, I just wanted to share a couple of images that should make identifying a lot easier. As Danny mentioned, there are a lot of candy cap look-alikes in the PNW, and it can be hard to tell them apart at first. You can always take them home and dry them to confirm a positive ID, but that can be time consuming, and you might end up with a bag full of duds.

One macroscopic characteristic you really want to pay attention to is the latex, the liquid substance that oozes from any lactarius when it is broken. Candy caps have a murky clear latex, kind of like saliva or another bodily fluid. The most common look-alikes, in contrast, have a much whiter, more opaque latex. Take a look:

(These photos came from PSMS member Josh Powell (left) and Tim Sage via mushroom observer (right))

As you start to find candy caps with any regularity, you’ll get really good at identifying the real thing, even without the latex. Some of us (including me!) can actually distinguish their smell when they’re fresh!

Finally, I’d like to leave you with one last tip: dry your candy caps SLOWLY. For most mushrooms, it doesn’t matter a whole lot how quickly you dry them, or the temperature you use, but I’ve found that candy caps that are dried too quickly don’t develop as strong a smell, and often have a much stronger mushroom-y flavor instead.

Happy hunting! (or rather — happy future hunting. we still have several months before the season starts!)

Mushroom of the Month – Lactarius rubidus

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by Danny Miller

Welcome to the Mushroom of the Month, a new regular feature showcasing a different interesting Pacific Northwest mushroom every month. Our first mushroom has everything you might want: an unusual species, lots of tantalizing look-alikes, relatively common occurance and a delicious reward for finding it.

The most interesting thing about this mushroom can be told by its common name, the “Candy Cap”. It is a dessert mushroom. That’s right, you don’t use this one to make savory dishes or flavour your main course, you eat it for dessert! When it is dried, its odor and flavor become that of maple syrup. Unfortunately, that only happens when it is dried which means when you find it fresh, you usually won’t be able to tell that you found it (although some large patches create a vague maple odor in the air). Sure enough, at least a half dozen species look very much like it. But don’t despair, there are ways for a clever sleuth to figure it out.
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