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.

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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.

 

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

Australian Chicken of the Woods?

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Australian Laetiporus sp.

There is a sweet full colour Photo of Laetiporus sulphureus in AM Young’s field guide to the fungi of Australia. Now the truth is L. sulphureus has bright yellow pores and its likely that what we have in Australia is actually something different. But in the Northern hemisphere they eat a whole cluster of the Laetiporus family, none are considered poisonous and some have white pores. However some stomach upsets have been reported, probably from under cooked specimens. Chicken of the woods needs to be cooked well at a high heat and eaten while the mushrooms are young and still growing as they become tough and leathery with age and are more likely to host potentially problematic bacteria and other parasites which love to eat fungi as they age.

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A young Laetiporus, best eaten at this stage or a bit bigger

The truth is I’ve only eaten these a handful of times mostly because until recently i didn’t know that they need to be eaten before the leathery stage when they are fully grown. This last summer season when they are fruiting i only found old dried out specimens so I’m still waiting to eat one in its prime. Even when mature they have a great meaty flavour that tastes a bit like well, chicken.

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A massive flush, by this stage the fungi are tough and leathery though still edible

I find them mostly growing close to watercourses on large dead logs in the rain forest, they seem to like the big old Brushbox logs that are often found in our creeks and on their banks. They can produce a massive flush of fruit that is almost impossible to mistake with the bright orange tops and perfectly white pores, that colour fades with age, they become pink or apricot then white as they rot. Australia has a few other Laetiporus species one interesting one can be seen here.

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An old specimen, the colour fades as they age. This is certainly to old to eat.

Laetiporus species are always found growing on wood, usually dead logs or roots tho I have found one on a living tree. The tops are generally brightly orange that can have bands of lighter colour and white along the edge. They are tough and leathery but not brittle. The thickness is about 5-10mm tho they can be thicker near the base, they can be large, over 300mm across, generally there will be a whole bunch on the same log. the pores are very fine and white, the flesh is white and a bit stringy becoming woody towards the base. Spores are white. They cause brown rot. Harvest only young supple specimens, the outer section of the fungi is the best bit.

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A Young fresh looking Laetiporus

When eating a new mushroom its important to proceed slowly and carefully. Firstly be sure of your ID, verify it with multiple sources if possible. Select a fresh, clean sample, enough for ID purposes and a taste. With ‘chicken of the woods’ its recommended to cook well at a high heat. For example saute them in oil for at least five minutes in a medium to hot pan. Ensure they are cooked evenly and all the way through. Boiling in a soup is not a good idea unless they are sauteed first, regardless, chew a small amount and spit it out. If you feel happy to proceed eat a small piece and wait a few hours. It’s not a great idea to eat a large amount the first time. The reality is all fungi have the potential to cause GI distress in some individuals.

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This one was growing on a living blue quondong and seems a bit different to the above species

I have found a nice sample to send away for DNA analysis later in the year, hopefully this will put a name to these guys. my hunch is that they will be more closely related to the Asian Laetiporus Cremeiporus but it may well be closer to L. Cincinnetus or even a new species. Edibility of this fungi in Australia would probably be disputed by most mycologists. That is mostly because we don’t have a history of it being eaten. I have come across quite a few anecdotal accounts of it being eaten by others in Australia without incident and I add my own experience to the list.

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. Identifying a new fungi is often an interesting and exciting process. Its well worth while to take the time to learn the basics.

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 species is it?” and not “is it edible?”  Most mushrooms are not edible and many that are have look alikes with unknown edibility. I never eat a new mushroom species unless I am one hundred percent sure I know what it is and I have double checked, generally it will be the second or third time I have found this species that I try it, then its only a very small taste of cooked mushroom. Its never safe to assume a mushroom is edible and its not reliable to have someone else ID the mushroom for you, on a facebook page for example.

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 Queensland Mycological Society has an excellent online field guide. Fungi map also has one. The Australian Wild Mushroom Hunters Facebook page is good. Mushroomexpert is a North american website that is helpful.  wikipeadia and a google image search once you have a name are also useful. I also like using the Atlas of living Australia to search for records of fungi.  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