Summer Puffballs: Australian Calvatia species

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Calvatia puffballs collected in summer after a visit by the dreaded fungi wreckers

The calvatia genus comprises most of the largest puff balls in the world and in my opinion the best edible puffballs in the country. Australia has a handful of different calvatia species that range from golf ball size up to softball or bigger, over 150 mm across. They start out white, with or without a sterile base, The species in the photo above has the sterile base. As the puffball matures it becomes larger and softer and begins to change colour as the spore mass matures. The colour they change to and that of the mature spores along with the presence or absence of the sterile base are the ways the different species are differentiated visually.

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Calvatia aff. cyathiformis found in January in a sports field.

I have been unsuccessful in properly identifying the calvatia puffball I have found this season, its a bit of a odd one out. Generally calvatia species fall into two categories the ones that turn yellow or red then brown, the spores do the same ending up a mustard to olive-brown colour at maturity or the ones that turn purple then brownish, the spores end up bright or dull purple. The species I Have found turns slightly yellow then dark brown and ends up with a grey slightly woolly spore mass. I have been unable to satisfy myself as to its true identity, Its closest to c. cyathiformis but I’m not really sure. Wikipedia list 58 species globally, I can find  good reference to about 9 species in Australia tho I am skeptical about a few of them. The species are  c. craniiformis,  c. lilacina, c. rugosa, c. fragilis, c. candida and the three I’m not so sure about c. gigantea,    c. fusca and c. olba. As you can see from some of the links the details are sometimes a bit thin on the ground! All of them should be edible while they are young with firm white flesh the main factor will be their palatability. Some species are reportedly bitter while others may have a slight laxative effect.

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Calvatia aff. cythiformis maturing and the fully mature cross section, (bottom right) note the spore mass at the top and sterile base bellow, there is a slight membrane between them.

These puffballs start out white and round on top, pear shaped with the sterile base. The skin is leathery with a lizard skin sort of pattern of cracks or scales, this will vary a bit depending on weather conditions. As they mature the fruit body swells and flattens out somewhat, they also develop some folds and wrinkles. The biggest one I have seen was about 120 mm across. At maturity the skin becomes dark brown and begins to flake off exposing a second thin layer with the grey spore mass showing thru in cracks. The sterile base is quite prominent but smaller then some other species, the mature tissue is quite woolly and brown. The spore mass starts out pure white before becoming grey and powdery, it seems to have a slight woolliness to it. There is a thin membrane between the base and spore mass. I find these growing in grass in parks and roadsides some times with poorer soils. I have seen one patch forming a large fairy ring. Fruiting over summer and into early Autumn. There are a range of smaller white puff balls that grow in similar areas the most common species are Vascellum partense and some bovista species, these are also edible tho not as good. There are also the lycoperdon puffballs that grow more often in forested areas. The calvatia tastes like egg or potato when sauteed in butter. They should only be eaten while they are young and firm before they reach their full size. Once mature care should be taken not to inhale there spore dust. To see more of my puffball photos click here.

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The calvatia on the left at the perfect age to eat. On the right is a large Vascellum partense, another more common lawn puffball.

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Chlorophyllum molybdites: green-spored parasol

false parasol, green-spored parasol and vomiter

Some of the growth stages of Chlorophyllum molybdites aka the false parasol, green-spored parasol and the vomiter!

Chlorophyllum molybdites is one of the most common and widespread fungi in the warmer parts of the world. This mushroom is most often seen kicked to pieces, scattered across urban lawns and stomped onto roads. One of the most despised of all fungi and probably the cause of more mushroom poisonings then any other. Is there any redeeming features to this common toadstool or is it deserving of its fate, to be mowed to ground level then poisoned by the suburban lawn enthusiast, relegated to a blight on the emerald dream of a perfectly trimmed and manicured patch of turf, just that little bit greener and neater then those bastards across the street.

Chlorophyllum molybdites false parasol, green-spored parasol and vomiter

mature Chlorophyllum molybdites

While a chew then spit, taste test is considered safe enough for most fungi, it is generally a bad idea to swallow. Chlorophyllum molybdites if eaten raw can lead to a heroes journey, a trip to hell and back riding the porcelain bus all the way to the emergency ward. It won’t kill you but leads to severe gastrointestinal distress, vomiting, diarrhea, and colic. The symptoms can last from a few hours to a few days! In severe cases, an affected person may experience bloody diarrhea and hypovolemic shock (Berger and Guss 2005). I am unable to find what the exact toxin in this fungi is but it is probably a protein. Whatever the toxin is, it is worth noting that the effects can vary greatly from person to person and in mushrooms that grow in different climates and regions. The toxin seems to be affected by heat, and some say boiling the mushroom for 30 minutes can destroy the poison and make the mushroom edible. Cooking the mushroom will probably lessen the effects of the poisoning but is unlikely to completely prevent it. The mushroom is also likely to be toxic to dogs.

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Chlorophyllum molybdites and the classic green tinge on the gills.

This is not an easy mushroom to ID and is often mistaken for other edible fungi. It is not until the mushroom is fully mature that it gets the tell tale green gills, until that point the gills are white to cream sometimes with just a hint of grayish green. The mushroom looks and smells like it should be edible. The cap is convex, at first brown, as the mushroom expands the brown skin breaks into scales on a cream coloured second skin. At this stage it can be mistaken for the shaggy mane (Coprinus comatus). The cap expands into a classic mushroom shape before flattening out, covered with large or small brown scales.  At this stage it is easily confused with other Chlorophyllum and macrolepiota species. If the mushroom dries in the sun the cap becomes brown again. The fibrous stem is often quite short but can be quite long with a bulbous base, it has a double ring which is movable on the stem. the flesh is white but can stain red. the spore print can be almost white to an ugly olive green. Chlorophyllum molybdites is found growing in parks and lawns, on roadsides and in fields. It is found around human habitation. It is prudent for anyone interested in edible fungi to become familiar with this species.

Australian oyster mushrooms: Pleurotus species

Pleurotus australis, Pleurotus djamor var djamor, Pleurotus ostreatus

Perhaps  Pleurotus djamor var djamor growing on a dead bangalow palm in the rain forest.

I often find these small to medium oyster mushrooms growing on dead wood or wood chips, I also find this same species or a similar one growing deep in the rain forest on dead bangalow palms. This leads me to believe that its a native species as weeds and introduced species very rarely penetrate our pristine rain forests. If it is pleurotus ostreatus then its also possible that the variety on wood chips is feral. Either way the resemblance of the two? species is very clear. This is another one on the list to DNA as I guess its the best way to see if there is a genetic difference. Queensland mycological society has this or another similar species as Pleurotus djamor var djamor.

Australian oyster mushroom growing on wood chips.

Pleurotus sp. growing on wood chips at the north coast botanic garden

It has taken me quite some time to become competent in telling the difference between pleurotus and the more common glowers, omphalotus nidiformus which are toxic to humans. Omphas have a woody stem often darker in colour, they also have colour on the top of the cap, ranging from yellow to purple, grey to black. They also glow in the dark. though sometimes the glow is very very faint and can only be seen in complete darkness. Because omphas have so many different morphs its easy, at least it was for me, to become convinced that the glower is an oyster. Once I ate some ompalotus nidiformus because I had decided it must be an oyster mushroom. Lucky for me my rule about only eating a small amount cooked came into play and I was only mildly affected. It was a good Lesson to learn and now I am more careful.

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detail of the decurrent gills and fine white fluffy hairs at the stem base.

The cap of these oyster mushrooms is white to grey or cream, its not viscid. The flesh is thin and rubbery, there is little if any stem and the gills are decurrent, often tho not always running all the way to the stem base where there is fine white fluffy hair, this stem base will readily regrow mycelium onto corrugated cardboard. The spores are white or cream. This pleurotus species is just one of a cluster of native and introduced species in Australia. I most often find these mushrooms in spring and summer.

Fried in oil with a pinch of salt these mushrooms taste great, they have a slightly chewy texture. These are also a mushroom that i have been able to regrow from stem butts. To have a look at all my oyster mushroom shots follow this link

 

Wine caps: stropharia rugosoannulata

king stropharia, wine cap, stropharia rugosoannulata, SRA

king stropharia, wine cap, stropharia rugosoannulata, SRA

Stropharia rugosoannulata has plenty of common names including the wine cap, king stropharia and the garden giant however many people just use SRA. This is a mushroom that lives with people, in many parts of the world, its a lover of wood chips and is probably becoming more common and widespread in Australia. Its one of the best edibles around and is easy to cultivate in outdoor patches as the name suggests it can be grown in the mulch of a garden and makes a fine companion to many veggies. Locally there are two species of stropharia that are edible, besides SRA there is a pure white variety. DNA was done on them both SRA came back a 100% match for the north american species while the white stropharia came back around 98% which probably makes it a different species . Their features and habitat are very similar.

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Detail of stropharia rugosoannulata buttons

This mushroom grows quick and like many mushrooms its best eaten while young and fresh at the button stage while the gills are still white or light grey, as the mushrooms mature they can get very large, the gills become a deep purple, almost black, the spores are the same colour. As you can see in the photos they have a very distinct cog like ring, this is probably one of the best ID features, however it can fall off as the mushroom matures. The cap colour is quite variable, it can be deep red or paler like in my shots, these ones almost have fine pink scales on the cap and as the mushrooms mature the cap becomes white or tan however they can still have that deep red cap when they are large. The cap is slightly sticky when young. The flesh is firm, thick and white. The stem is fibrous and not hollow. The base is somewhat bulbous but there is no volva. They grow in a wide range of habitats, mostly near people in wood chips. They will also fruit in gardens, compost piles, disturbed soil and uncommonly in aged cow dung.

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After three days the cap is over 180 mm across

There are a range of mushrooms that grow in similar conditions to SRA, beware of smaller mushrooms with red caps and always be sure to carefully ID your finds and be sure you have not picked any look a likes, multiple mushrooms species can fruit side by side particularly in wood chips. All these photos were taken in my garden, last season I found SRA fruiting in a massive pile of wood chips, I was able to clone them, make spawn then an outdoor patch using grain spawn and sugar cane mulch, less then six months later I give the patch a new layer of mulch, a week later mushrooms appeared.

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young fresh SRA

Sauted in butter with a little salt the texture and flavour are superb similar to button mushrooms but with a slight hint of potato. Any mushroom that grows around human habitation may have come in contact with toxic substances like herbicides or exhaust fumes. Its always worth considering the likelihood of contamination of the mushrooms before eating them. This is one I’m always on the lookout for. Its also a mushroom that will (hopefully) be a feature of my garden for years to come.

Cloud ears, jelly ears and wood ears. Auricularia fungi

Auricularia auricula-judae, Auricularia delicata and Auricularia cornea

Auricularia auricula-judae, Auricularia cornea and Auricularia delicata. Wood ear, cloud ear and jelly ear. Names are in order.

I have been spotting Auricularia fungi for years now but have never found the desire to eat them. They are however eaten with gusto in parts of Asia, at least a. cornea/ polytricha and a. auricula-judae. In fact they were an early export from Australia to China back in the 19th century. I am writing this because I find at least four distinct species of Auricularia locally and I think they are worthy of a mention even if they are about as appetizing as a fresh shucked sea urchin (I can still vividly remember gagging). I will admit that myself along with most of the internet are a bit handicapped when it comes to putting the different species in the correct box, my IDs are best guesses and could probably be improved on. The fact that these fungi fruit freely and often make them one of the most commonly seen edibles in this area. Perhaps after a sample I will become a convert, readily pontificating their health benefits (and mouth feel) to anyone who’ll listen. stranger things have happened. To the pan Jonas!! **groan**

Wood ear, auricularia auricula-judae

Wood ear, auricularia auricula-judae

First to hit the pan is the classic wood ear, auricularia auricula-judae. Fried on oil with a pinch of salt does little to improve the visual appeal, the smell is not to bad. The flavour is subtle but that mouth feel…ummmazing. The texture is half crispy half rubbery, if it was mixed in with other mushrooms and a decent sauce I might even eat it again. The Queensland Mycological society breaks this fungi into two separate species, looking at photos and books its difficult to come to any conclusions about  exactly whats what, Wikipedia lists  thirty species of auricularia globally so its easy to see how subtle differences are missed, they can be found with patience and a microscope, things I sadly lack. In China auricularia auricula-judae and the similar A. polytricha are a very popular fungi, over 1.5 million tonnes are grown annually, they have been cultivated for over 1000 years. They are eaten in soups for their texture and health benefits, its said they help with colds and fevers by reducing the heat in the body. Modern scientific studies show anticoagulant and antitumour properties in the fungi. They are eaten in many other parts of the world, the wikipedia article is worth a look for further information.

Cloud ear or hairy wood ear. Auricularia cornea

Cloud ear or hairy wood ear. Auricularia aff. cornea

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The second type of Cloud ear or hairy wood ear. Auricularia aff. polytricha

Next to meet my taste buds is a. cornea, these are similar but with more crunch, kinda reminds me of celery. These may in be the Auricularia polytricha mentioned above, at least they look the same, and the texture description matches. Qldfungi.org.au calls them a. cornea which is good enough for me, again there may be two species of hairy wood ear. I often find this fungus growing on dead tobacco bush (solanum mauritianum) Note the fine white hairs along the margin of the caps.

Auricularia aff. delicata, jelly ear

Auricularia aff. delicata, jelly ear

I can not find much information on the edibility of a. delicata, so I’m not going to recommend it as an edible but for the record I have fried some up and given it a chew, a very small piece. Its is similar to the others tho its thicker and more gelatinous. Think of a gummy bear sandwiched between two layers of cardboard. Qldfungi tells me there are two species or at least variations of a. delicata in Queensland. I have found at least four variation of this species, the colour along with other features tends to be very changeable. Some are almost white while others are rich brown. The colour also changes as they age, they tend to bleach out becoming paler, they can also swell after wet weather. Again it will take patience and a microscope to figure it all out. DNA would be another option tho some tests seem to support variations rather then multiple species. Above and bellow, the photos show a big difference in appearance, the specimens bellow are some of the best I have seen, with a slight hairy top and fine white hairs along the margin similar to a. cornea. Also note how different these two photos are to the sample of a. delicata in the right of the photo at the top of this post. All three photos are of fresh young fungi before they have become bleached or otherwise effected by the environment.

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Auricularia aff. delicata a hairy jelly ear

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Pelictania camylospora, a possible look alike.

There are a range of cup fungi mostly in the genus peziza and jelly fungi in the genus tremella that could possibly be confused with Auricularia species, so as always please be cautious and diligent with ID. Never eat a fungi without a positive ID and only eat a small amount the first time. I have put a bunch more Auricularia photos on Flickr including another freakish member of the Auricularia delicata clan.

Polyporus squamosus The Dryads saddle

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Polyporus squamosus The Dryads saddle

The dryads saddle or Pheasant Back mushroom is one I’ve become familiar with from overseas mushroom groups on social media but is not a mushroom I expected to find in Australia, that was until the other day when we saw a giant cluster of fungi about 15 meters off the ground in a big old ficus, they were too high to climb to so instead I looked down and sure enough found some more growing on dead wood from the fig on the ground. We found these in mid October after good rain. Many reports say that these fungi fruit in the spring.

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The Australian p. squamosus on a dead branch in a Morten bay fig

This is one of the rare polypores that is soft enough to be palatable. Most polypores are so woody or leathery that they are inedible even if they are not necessarily toxic to humans, they can however be used in other ways, teas, tinctures, extracts, dyes, felt and tinder can all be made from certain polypores or bracket fungi. Another edible polypore is chicken of the woods. The Australian p. squamosus differs from the northern hemisphere variety in that the brown scales on the cap surface are much smoother and less defined. The Australian variant has a pleasant if slightly mealy odor, is soft and supple to the touch and has quite spongy pores underneath. A more detailed description can be found here. As far as I remember this is the only location that i have noticed this fungi, I suspect that this is a sub tropical species that may be more common further north, it is also a type of fungi that until recently I would have not paid much attention to.

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A young fresh dryads saddle

The species in my field guide that could be mistaken for P. squamosus is neolentiporus maculitissimus but I am unable to find much info on them. They look much more leathery and they have larger pores then the dryads saddle. The young fresh caps of P. squamosus are considered edible but not great in the books I have. Its generally accepted that polypores are quite safe and unlikely to cause poisonings but as with all generalizations this is not quite correct. There are bracket fungi that can cause illness , this is just one example. As always proceed with caution, ID carefully, don’t accept folk lore or generalizations and do your own research before eating a new fungi. Having satisfied my brain, I fried up a few slices, cooking well with some oil and salt. I found the taste and texture appealing and not at all rubbery, in fact they were tender. As it was my first time eating this mushroom I only ate two small pieces. This is a fungi that I will be on the lookout for in future.

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, they 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, went straight to the press. He wasn’t having 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. To see my other m. crassa shots click here.

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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Note the ring on the stem, picked at this stage the mushrooms are more tender but still chewy.

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. To see my other photos of lentinus sajor caju follow this link.

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lentinus sajor caju, don’t expect to see just one of these fungi when they fruit.

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

Saffron milk caps are 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 Lactarius deliciosus 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 and Pinus pinea 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. Worldwide there are a number of lactarius species some of which are eaten and in Australia we also have a range of native lactarius of unknown edibility. L. deliciosus 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.