Amanita marmorata the marbled death cap

In Australia Amanita phalloides known as the Death Cap has achieved almost legendary status and is rolled out almost yearly by the media for their annual ‘don’t eat wild mushrooms’ article. Something that is perhaps less know is that Amanita phalloides is just one member of a larger group of amanitas know as section phalloideae with well over 50 members world wide, some contain amatoxins like Amanita phalloides and are deadly poisonous while a few are actually edible! The rest are somewhere in the middle with more work needed to determine their toxicity. I have been wondering for a while now how many varieties from section phalloideae are found in Australia, then the other day I was introduced to one that has been fruiting at my local nature reserve.

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Amanita marmorata the marbled death cap

Amanita marmorata is a deadly poisonous member of section phalloideae that I have recently become acquainted with. Its not a common mushroom though I have found it a couple of times over the years but it was not until I came upon a facebook ID request about it, when a well known Canadian mycologist IDed the fungi in question I clicked on his link and quickly joined the dots. He later confirmed my mushroom as a. marmorata. I found it growing under coastal Casuarina with which it forms a mycorrhizal relationship. They have been fruiting regularly for some weeks and as I walk past them quite often I stop to have a look or take a photo. I brought one home and went thru the macroscopic traits, apart from the smell not matching the description it seems a good match (the smell may change with age). They are described as having a strong smell while my collection had almost no smell. Growing just a few meters away were some edible white agaricus mushrooms so it was entirely possible that someone (me) could have picked them along with a death cap or two for my lunch, luckily I don’t really like those little agaricus and I am usually quite diligent in checking my collections. It really made me realize the importance of being able to discern the different mushrooms to genus. Particularly the rather distinct amanita genus. The two links above have good descriptions of this mushroom.

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Amanita marmorata the marbled death cap

Eating death caps can lead to a rather drawn out and disturbing demise, if you make it through the first 48 hours a partial recovery may be made followed a few days later by kidney failure, sometimes the liver as well. Its estimated that just 30 grams of mushroom or 7mg of amatoxin is enough to kill an adult. Studies suggest the toxins are not absorbed through the skin so they can be safely handled without gloves, as can any other poisonous mushroom. I Have done a bit of research and so far, listed bellow, are the mushrooms from section Phalloideae that occur in Australia, this is not a full list and much more work can be done on Amanitas in Australia. There are also a number of deadly amanitas in south east Asia and china so its entirely possible that some of those occur here. For a full list of section Phalloideae follow this link. In Australia I can find only two that contain the deadly amatoxins.

Amanita marmorata the marbled death cap, known from many parts of Australia including NSW and Queensland and has been exported over seas. Deadly poisonous.

Amanita phalloides Is know from Canberra south into SA and Tasmania, its an introduced species often associated with oak trees. Deadly poisonous.

Amanita neomurina known from NSW and Queensland no information on toxicity.

Amanita austrophalloides Only know from a single collection with no information on location or toxicity

Amanita eucalypti Is known from WA, no information on toxicity

Amanita murinaster know from NSW and Queensland, unknown toxicity.

Amanita peltigera is known from WA and queensland No information on toxicity.

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Summer Puffballs: Australian Calvatia species

Australian Calvatia aff. cyathiformis

Australian Calvatia aff. cyathiformis at different stages of growth, to the left is the sterile base after all the spores have dispersed.

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.

Update: I have had a sample of the puff balls sequenced, the results came back as a 98 percent match for Calvatia fagilis, which was unexpected. In my opinion a 98 percent match could mean these are a different species so as always more work needs to be done. C. fragilis is very closely related to c. cythiformis so i will just leave my original ID as is. I have since had another sample sequenced, it came back as 98% Calvatia cyathiformis (MF686508)

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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.

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 Australia. 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 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. Another chorophyllum species that is most likely poisonous and occurs in the same habitats as c. molybdites is c. hortense, its a slightly smaller mushroom with a white spore print. The best available scientific paper on Australian macrolepiota and chlorophyllum can be found here. It is prudent for anyone interested in edible fungi to become familiar with these 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. Interestingly the DNA results came back for this one as a pink oyster, a 100 percent match for Pleurotus salmoneo-stramineus.

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

Australian stropharia rugosoannulata

Australian stropharia rugosoannulata

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.

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. To see all my puffball photos follow this link.

 

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 acceptable! 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. The unpleasant smell can become much more noticeable when cooking the mushrooms. These fungi will not kill you however reactions very in individuals and can be severe, stomach cramps and sweating are common.

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 start 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, agaricus aff. moelleri, 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. The more information you post the better chance you have of getting a correct ID. Try the Australian wild mushroom hunters page.

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. To see the rest of my chicken photos click here.

Update: I finally found a sample for DNA analysis and the results are in. 99% Laetiporus
versisporus (KY886723) This match is to a sample from China. The teleomorph of S. versisporum is the well-known Laetiporus sulphureus Bull. : Fr.) Bond. & Sing. (Domański et al. 1967; Ryvarden, 1978; Overholts, 1953). AM Young may have been correct all along! I will still try to get a few more sequenced when I find them.