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.

Field Mushrooms Agaricus Species

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An Agaricus ‘field mushroom’

What we commonly call the field mushroom or Agaricus Campestris is probably a little more complicated then we would like. In a nut shell these mushrooms are more likely a species cluster, some named others not. Having said that with a little bit of knowledge and a few ID tricks its not to hard to stay safe while picking and eating field mushrooms. Found growing in paddocks, fields, parks and lawns over summer and into autumn these are a common mushroom that tastes ok, is easy to ID and is socially exceptable! Unless of course you don’t ask permission to harvest on private property!

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A suburban coastal agraicus sp.

The cap is predominately white, dry and smooth, sometimes with fine brown scales or cracks. The gills start pale pink then become light then chocolate brown as they mature. They do not attach to the stem. There is a white vale present that soon brakes leaving in some cases a slight ring and sometimes some fragments on the edge of the cap. The spore print is always chocolate brown. The stem is short and tapers at the base, never bulbous or forming from a volva sack. The stem will brake cleanly from the cap. the flesh is white sometimes staining lightly pink, never yellow. the odor is pleasant, mushroomy, similar to store bought button mushrooms. They grow from the ground amongst grass and not from a cow pat.

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fresh picked Field mushrooms

The above description is of a white field mushroom, the agaricus family is much bigger then this and many of them are edible, some are poisonous. The Agaricus Xanthodermus section covers most of the poisonous species. They are known as the yellow stainers, the base of the stem is a good place to check, break and crush the end of the stem and watch for any colour change. At the same time smell the crushed section. Yellow staining and an unpleasant odor means that its probably a poisonous agaricus and not edible.

Below is a typical agaricus xanthodermus, the stem is long, there is an obvious ring, the base of the stem stains yellow, the odor is unpleasant, the gills are white then become a very light pink, brown much later. The cap is white and somewhat ‘boxy’. I found these growing in a dense cluster.

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Agaricus Xantodermus AKA the yellow strainer, poisonous.

Below is another common yellow stainer, again the gills start white and become pink, only turning brown much latter, long stem, yellow staining, unpleasant odor. These have a grey cap with dark grey to black scales. These were also growing in a dense cluster, more likely on a roadside or forest.

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poisonous agaricus similar to A. Moelleri

Besides the yellow stainers there are a range of small white mushrooms that can be mistaken for field mushrooms. Here is an example of an Amanita species that could be confused with agaricus. If there are any ID discrepancies with your find its best to do a spore print over night. By that time the gills will change colour and the spore colour will confirm if its an agricus sp. a black or white spore print is a warning that the mushroom in question is not an agaricus and should not be eaten unless an ID can be made. Never eat a mushroom that has not been ‘100%’ identified. An easy way to get a second opinion is to take clear close up photos of the cap, gills and stem and post it on one of the good mushroom ID pages on Facebook along with a description of the area where it was found. Them more information you post the better chance you have of getting a correct ID. Try the Australian wild mushroom hunters page.

Omphalotus Nidiformis: The ghost fungus

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Omphalotus Nidiformis The ghost fungus

Ompahlotus Nidiformis  is a common fungus fruiting from summer into winter in these parts. I’m doing this post for a couple of reasons, firstly this fungus is poisonous and i will talk more about this later, secondly its easy to confuse these guys with pleurotus species or oyster mushrooms, thirdly they glow in the dark and finally i have a shot of them glowing that I’m particularly pleased with so why not share it on the interweb, who knows maybe someone else will like it too!

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Omphalotus Nidiformis

The Ghost fungus grows in all kinds of habitats all up and down the east coast and all the way into South Australia. They form big flushes of fruit bodies that are hard to miss in the forest, they have a whole bunch of morphs and colour variations that at times can make them a challenge to ID. When i first became interested in edible fungi I started to find these and pick them, I would bring them home and try to convince myself they were oysters, on one occasion I did such a good job that I fried some up and ate a few bits. They tasted pretty good, later that night I felt a bit crook. I had a second look at them and found they were glowing ever so faintly. Thankfully I only ate a very small amount and did not need to spend the night ridding the porcelain bus.

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Omphaltus Nidiformis

Omphalotus Nidiformis Are wood decomposers, they are almost always found on dead trees or roots. They are a white rot fungus that can be found anywhere from coastal scrub to mountain rain forest, in pine plantations and eucalypt woodlands. For me a key to their ID is the way the gills attach to the stem and the stem itself which is smooth and woody, often tho not always darker coloured. Picking a mushroom and examining the stem is probably the best way to ID these guys. Another key feature is the darker spot of colour in the middle of the cap. the colour itself is changeable but the spot is present most of the time directly above where the stem attaches to the cap. Their spore print is white.

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Detail of O. Nidiformis, note the smooth woody stem.

The Bioluminescence of these fungi is variable. Often in this area it is very faint and sometimes non existent. I generally find that it is a very dull glow tho I have read that it can be very bright in some specimens. Its best to look for the glow at night in a very dark place and the glow will improve as our eyes adjust to the dark and our night visions kicks in. An explanation for the bioluminescence can be found here. its become a bucket list item for Aussie fungi enthusiasts to get that classic night shot which can improve the dull glow. The results can be spectacular. Scout your location during the day then return at night to get the shot.

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My best shot of O. nidiformis glowing.

 

The biochemistry of this fungus is interesting. They contain some novel chemicals with anti tumor and antibiotic properties. The chemical itself is called Illudin and is present in a couple of different forms. As an isolated compound Illudin shows selective toxicity for leukemia and some other types of cancer cells. A drug containing Illudin is able to react with cancer DNA inside the cells. Currently called Irofluven it is in phase two clinical trials. However Illudin in its natural form is toxic and can lead to GI distress and vomiting, which can last for several hours after ingestion. Its not deadly.

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Omphalotus Nidiformis has many faces