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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!