Mushroom Foraging

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Craterellus Cornucopioides, the Black Trumpet

Australian Edible Mushrooms and Fungi

This Page will be a record of the edible Mushrooms and interesting fungi I find within about 100km of Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia. The coast has a subtropical climate with high rainfall while in the hinterland we have a plateau with mountains that reach up to 1500m with the odd snow fall in winter. the range of climate zones and micro climates along with the multitude of vegetation types makes this area a fascinating place for mushroom hunting. To date I have found over twenty varieties of edible fungi in the area.

In Australia the eating of foraged mushrooms is regarded as dangerous. This is the result of a lack of a foraging culture, the loss of indigenous knowledge of fungi and fear based on  misinformation.

Identifying mushrooms is a learned skill, anyone who is prepared to spend the time can become competent and therefor safe. Without the required skills and knowledge mushroom foraging is risky and can result in misadventure, in fact the risks are real. Fortunately most mushrooms are benign and some are delicious. There is no standard test for myco toxins, and many of the rules only apply to certain genus.

I will provide details and photos of the different mushrooms i have eaten, however the onus is on the individual to always do your own due diligence before consuming any wild food. the first question should always be “What is it?” and not “is it edible?”  Most mushrooms are not edible and many that are have look alikes with unknown edibility.

Unfortunately researching edibility of Australian mushrooms is likely to leave you with more questions then answers. We have to use a variety of different sources. A Field Guide to Australian Fungi by Bruce Fuhrer is our best field guide. There are some other blogs with information about edibility the two best are Tall Trees and Mushrooms and Mushroaming. The Australian Wild Mushroom Hunters Facebook page is good. Mushroomexpert.com is a North american website that is helpful. Fungi map, wikipeadia and a google image search once you have a name are also useful. In short, we have a great tool at our disposal, its called the interweb, so use it but don’t expect to always get a clear cut answer on edibility.

That’s enough for now, Happy Foraging!

Jonas

Macrocybe crassa: A giant mystery solved?

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Probably Macrocybe crassa

I first found these mushrooms a few years back, a whole bunch of these fricken enormous clumps of mushrooms appeared in my neighbors pile of compost. Having never seen anything even close to these giant clumps before I was impressed and excited by the find but unable to get an ID that I was happy with, in my field guide the only genus that looked close was lylophyllum. Every year since they have fruited again over summer in the same spot, I would stop and admire them, take a few photos, take a few home, one time I even fried a few slices up just for a taste. They tasted pretty good but I spat them out unwilling to swallow a mushroom that I wasn’t able to ID.

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The second location I found Macrocybe crassa

Earlier this year (2017) we were driving around near Coramba and my partner said she saw some kinda big white mushroom, I turned around and found the second patch of these giants, the were growing from piles of soil mixed with gravel and organic matter that had been dumped by the road crew. Some of the clumps were rotten, others just emerging from the soil, over the back I found some with caps over 200 mm across standing over 300 mm above the ground, the biggest mushrooms I’ve ever seen. Not long after this I saw a post on the internet, local legend Darcey Browning from Darkwood had found his own patch and true to form gone straight to the press. He wasn’t having to much luck IDing them either.

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Macrocybe crassa

Finally the other day I emailed my pictures to the Queensland mycological society and got a prompt reply from one of the head honchos, he said that he was 95 percent sure that they are Macrycybe crassa, and that he has found them in his own yard further north. Macrocybe crassa are eaten in some parts of Asia, most of the pictures and info I have found so far are from Thailand. There have also been a few attempts to cultivate them. Where to now with these novel giants? First i will send away a sample for dna analysis and if it comes back as Macrocybe crassa I will have a bit more of a taste next time I cross paths with these noble giants. I’m also keen to clone them and see if they can be domesticated. Stay tuned.

lentinus sajor caju

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lentinus sajor caju

This tropical species is a distant relative of oyster mushrooms, it is often mistakenly called Pleurotus sajor-caju. Lentinus sajor caju Grows with Large leaf privet (ligustrum lucidum) in some of our lower sub tropical valleys. It is probably getting less common because privet is considered a weed and is targeted by landcare groups for eradication, so many areas of privet have been destroyed, however like most weeds it can still be found in abundance in places. I think the Coffs coast is getting near to the southern edge of the lentinus sajor caju range, the mushroom is probably more abundant further north. Having said that I know of at least one spot where they grow in abundance locally. Fruiting in the warm weather after rain on dead wood. I am not sure if they will fruit on other wood besides privet but it is likely. It is sometimes hard to ID a dead tree!

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lentinus sajor caju

These fungi taste pretty good, similar to regular oysters tho they become quite tough and leathery soon after they form so they are best picked while in the ‘button’ stage. My main concern with these mushrooms is that they may bio-accumulate herbicides like glyphosate if they are growing on a poisoned tree. This is often the case because Landcare groups target privet. Bio-accumulation is a process where the mushroom mycelium concentrates a toxin from the substrate in the fruit body. I really don’t know how much of a problem this is and its unlikely that any studies have been done. Some mushrooms are able to break down the toxins rather then concentrating them.

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lentinus sajor caju, Note the ring on the stem, this is a key ID feature

The persistent ring on the smooth stem, their abundance on dead private and the vase shape that often holds water are helpful things to look for when IDing these mushrooms, one other thing to look for with a microscope or magnifying glass is the serrated edge of the gill. This fungi can dry out in situ and remain on the log for months after fruiting. The leatheryness of this fungi means they have a long shelf life in tropical climates where more fleshy fungi would spoil quickly. They are cultivated in parts of Asia. They grow in tropical Africa too and may be more widespread. I suspect they have been introduced to this part of Australia. They are more common in FNQ and could have hitched a ride down from there.

The Hedgehog Mushroom: Hydnum Repandum

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The Hedgehog Mushroom: Hydnum Repandum

This is another great edible that is annoyingly uncommon. It is a mycorrhizal fungi that grows with some native eucalypts, so when found it should reappear every season as long as the host tree survives. I have only found them growing twice in the Autumn, both times it was in mixed eucalypt woodlands on a ridge. With the distinctive spikes instead of gills or pores these mushrooms are hard to mistake. The caps are meaty and brittle. The spines are also brittle, they have a mild pleasant smell and a great taste and texture when sauteed. Spines are not altogether uncommon in the fungi kingdom, several other fungi that are not edible could be mistaken for Hydnum Repandum, I have seen small black capped Phellodon niger as well as an unidentified white bracket fungi with spines. I have also heard of, but never found, an edible brown morph of Hydnum Repandum. If you find Hydnum Repandum mark the date and check back the following year. I rate these as one of the better edible mushrooms around.

Saffron Milk cap, Lactarius deliciosus

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Saffron Milk cap, Lactarius deliciosus

One of the most commonly eaten mushrooms in Australia, people hunt them and restaurants have them on menus further south but just how common are they in the sub tropics? Well the short answer is they’re not. Some are known to pop up on the plateau during Autumn and they can be found in a few places near the coast in winter. The problem is two fold, the weather is probably a bit hot and we lack the huge areas of pine plantation that can be found in other areas. For those of us with a spot I would say keep it on the down low! These are an introduced species that are most commonly found with pinus radiata however they can be found under other conifers with which they form a mycorrhizal association. A symbiotic relationship where the mushroom mycelium becomes entangled with the trees root system, fluids and nutrients are transferred and everyone involved finds the agreement to be of satisfaction.

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Saffron Milk cap, Lactarius deliciosus

Lactarius deliciosus are an easy species to ID with few look alikes, they are bright orange, the gills bruise a dark green when damaged. they have a carrot coloured milky sap that oozes from the cut flesh, the stems are short with a distinct pattern of darker orange blotches. the spore print is pale yellow. They last a long time once they are up so its easy to pick old mushrooms. Mushrooms are food for plenty of different critters, some visible, some not, I think its important to pick and eat only young fresh mushrooms, picked before they become infested with tiny creepy crawlies. Always carefully inspect and clean your harvest. This is another mushroom that I’m not overly excited by, they have great texture but I find the taste not to my liking. Many others go bananas for them so maybe I’m just a bit fussy.

Lycoperdon Puff Balls

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Lycoperdon Pyriforme growing with introduced pines

Lycoperdon Pyriforme and Lycoperdon Perlatum

Puff balls are quite common in the area, with one of the larger genus being lycoperdon. Lycoperdon puff balls can be distinguished by their upside down pear shape and the fine spines that cover their surface. The spines get darker as the fruit ages and can be rubbed off. They are safe to eat while they are young and fresh, its good to check the firmness of the fruit before picking. Slice them in half, the flesh should be firm and pure white. They start to go soft as the spore mass matures and edibility quickly declines. Never eat them after the flesh changes colour to yellow or brown and be careful of breathing the spore dust once they are fully mature.

Most white fleshed puff balls are considered safe to eat while young. Puff balls that have dark flesh should not be eaten, most of the ones I see have black flesh and don’t smell very appetizing. Its also important to remember that some mushrooms and stink horns start out as eggs that can look exactly like a puffball. Slicing them in half will show the mushroom to be or the dark gelatinous interior of the often bizarre stink horn. Many mushroom in the genus Amanita start out as volva eggs and some can be deadly including the infamous death camp, amanita phalloides.

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Lycoperdon Perlatum growing in native forest

I am not a huge fan of the flavour of cooked lycoperdon puff balls, I have tried both species fried in butter with a little salt, they are not bad just not great either. However like most new foods an appreciation may develop over time or with the right recipe.

 

Pioppino: Agrocybe Aegerita

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The black poplar mushroom or Pioppino: Agrocybe Aegerita

Under a big old poplar (Populus Nigra) in a park this winter i found a whole bunch of black poplar mushrooms, Agrocybe Aegerita, some of which were huge, unfortunately the rain had got them and but for one or two they were all soggy and turning to mush. The Pioppino is considered a choice edible in Europe and is widely cultivated as a gourmet mushroom. I find it interesting that they grow with just a few varieties of trees like poplars and willows, but do not appear to be mycorrhizal. Its also fascinates me how they made it half way round the world, mushrooms are after all great travelers, hitching a ride in this case in the roots and soil of a poplar seedling, probably all they way from Europe. Perhaps they grew tired of the cold winters in their native clime.

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Agrocybe Aegerita

The mushroom caps of Agrocybe Aegerita are quite distinct, cream coloured margins with the rust brown flush in the center when young, they also have these interesting little dimples and folds that seem quite common in this species. They can get quite large, some of the specimens I found were more then 150mm across. They have long thin woody stems and light grey gills. The spores are tobacco brown. Fried in butter with a bit of salt the flavor and texture were excellent. I have cloned the wild specimens that I found and hopefully I can get them to fruit in the future. Agrocybe Aegerita are high on my list of quality edible fungi, if only I can find more Poplars!

In Australia we have a few species of Agrocybe mushrooms, Agrocybe parastica grows on some rain forest trees in the area though is not very common. The agrocybe praecox cluster is also present but again is not very common, I have only found one member growing on a grassy bank in my front yard. I have also found what looks like another agrocybe species, edibility unknown, growing at the north coast botanic gardens in Coffs Harbour. Photo below. Not all the members of the agrocybe family are edible and it can be hard to distinguish the different species. As Agrocybe Aegerita is found growing with poplars and willows it is reasonably easy to ID.

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Agrocybe species i found at the botanic gardens.

Cantharellus concinnus: The apricot chanterelle

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Cantharellus concinnus: The apricot chanterelle

We found these bright orange mushrooms in the rain forest, near a stream growing in sandy soil under palms and water gums, basically where i find all the good mushrooms! Being a chef for about 14 years trained my nose well, when I picked one of these tiny mushrooms and gave it a sniff I almost swooned with pleasure. The smell is really something special, a rich mushroom meets apricot at sunset on a tropical shore kinda perfume. I’ve been looking for Chanterelles in Australia for years with no luck, finally this season I found heaps with my only complaint being that they are to bloody small to eat!!

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Cantharellus concinnus

Apart from the odor these fungi can be distinguished by their folds or fake gills. They look a bit more like forking veins then true gills. Locally we have a larger Smooth Chanterelle that has more potential as an edible, Australia also has a handful of other Chanterelle species and morphs that are larger then these tiny apricot chants. Some grow down south others in southern Queensland and FNQ so here’s hoping we find them locally. For more varieties check out the Mushroaming blog.

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A more successful harvest of Chanterelles from a few years ago, picked on an island in Finland!

Volvariella volvacea: The Paddy straw mushroom

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Volvariella volvacea

After driving past a massive pile of camphor laurel wood chips for more then a year I finally stopped to see just what the massive mushrooms that always seemed to be fruiting actually were. To my surprise they turned out to be the paddy straw mushroom, Volvariella volvacea, I was aware of them growing in southern Queensland but this was my first and so far only encounter with them locally. How exactly they got themselves established is anyone’s guess. They are the only edible fungi i have found that will grow on camphor chips to date. Paddy straw mushrooms are widely eaten in Asia and can be found in cans at most Asian food shops. They are canned because they do not have a long shelf life when fresh.

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Volvariella volvacea, best eaten at this ‘egg’ stage.

These musrooms need to be carefully identified as some of the potentially deadly Amanita family also form in these volva sacks or eggs. Volvariella volvacea are saprobic, growing in wood chips, rich soil, compost and gardens. They grow in clusters starting out as a dark brown to almost black egg quickly shooting up to become a large supple mushroom. The gills start out very light pink almost white before darkening, the spore print is salmon pink. The amanita section that forms from a volva includes the infamous death cap so it is very important to know the difference, death caps grow with introduced trees, mostly oaks, they have a pale to olive green cap, white gills and a white spore print, they do not to my knowledge grow from wood chip piles or much further north then around Canberra.

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An Amanita species, not a death cap, at three stages of growth, starting from a volva sack

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Volvariella volvacea, pink to brown gills at maturity, pink spore print.

In the upper right corner of the Photo below are two mushrooms that are not Volvariella volvacea. They look superficially similar but they have white gills and do not grow from an egg. This is an important point because different species of mushroom often grow next to each other and can easily be picked along with the edible mushrooms. In this case I’m not a hundred percent sure what those two odd mushrooms are, they do look a lot like a lepiota species which means they could be poisonous. Volvariella volvacea are only good to eat at the egg stage so here it should be easy to stay safe. As a general rule I never eat a mushroom unless I am sure of its ID and I have verified it as best I can with multiple sources of quality information. if in doubt don’t eat them. Here I would google Volvariella volvacea and look at wikipedia, mushroomexpert and then do a google image search. That way I get multiple photos and written descriptions to compare.

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Volvariella volvacea with two mushrooms from a different species top right

The Horn of Plenty

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Craterellus Cornucopioides, black trumpets or the horn of plenty

This Autumn i found my first and probably only patch of Black trumpets, Craterellus Cornucopioides. They were fruiting on a river bank in sand and gravel under water gums, Tristaniopsis sp. (I think). They had popped up after a wet period and a small flood had submerged the area. They fruited well for about a month. Black trumpets are right up there with morels and chanterelles as one of the worlds best gourmet mushrooms. freshly picked they smell amazing, fried in butter they taste even better. They can also be found growing with Antarctic beech or under Casuarina sp. and are usually associated with moss.

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The horn of plenty!

The problem with these guys is that they are almost impossible to see, they blend in with their surroundings and are easy to walk past. As someone who knows this I walk slowly scanning the ground in front of me for any signs of fungi stopping to look closer at any prime habitat. To most people this seems crazy. Having a camera and taking shots of my finds means that I can keep a record for future reference and i don’t need to take the fungi away from their home. It also gives purpose to the slow wanderings thru the bush! I say all this because anyone who is serious about finding this fungi will need luck, time and commitment on their side! Bonne Chance!

Australian Morels

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A sub-tropical morel species, Probably from the esculenta group.

Its not widely know that Australia has a handful of native and introduced morels (Morchella) species. I am fortunate to have found a yellow morel Probably a member of the Morchella esculenta cluster. I found them locally growing by a river under small leaf privet, ferns and rain forest regen, they fruit from sandy loam. I’ve found them two years in a row after a wet period in September or early October. Recently i have seen some photos of a similar species from a bit further north. I think its likely that the yellow morels are reasonably common in this part of the country.

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Morchella species ready to fry

Morels are one of the worlds most sought after gourmet mushroom. I was well pleased that my find has great taste and texture when cooked, in my opinion this rules out M. rufobrunnea as a possibility. We sent some away for DNA analysis but unfortunately we were unable to get a result. I am hopeful to find some more this season so I can try again. A quick search on the Atlas of living Australia yields over twenty records from Australia from the esculenta group. Some in southern Queensland, others further south in NSW and Victoria.