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, the 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 gone straight to the press. He wasn’t having to 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.

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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lentinus sajor caju, Note the ring on the stem, this is a key ID feature

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.

Pioppino: Agrocybe Aegerita

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The black poplar mushroom or Pioppino: Agrocybe Aegerita

Under a big old poplar (Populus Nigra) in a park this winter i found a whole bunch of black poplar mushrooms, Agrocybe Aegerita, some of which were huge, unfortunately the rain had got them and but for one or two they were all soggy and turning to mush. The Pioppino is considered a choice edible in Europe and is widely cultivated as a gourmet mushroom. I find it interesting that they grow with just a few varieties of trees like poplars and willows, but do not appear to be mycorrhizal. Its also fascinates me how they made it half way round the world, mushrooms are after all great travelers, hitching a ride in this case in the roots and soil of a poplar seedling, probably all they way from Europe. Perhaps they grew tired of the cold winters in their native clime.

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Agrocybe Aegerita

The mushroom caps of Agrocybe Aegerita are quite distinct, cream coloured margins with the rust brown flush in the center when young, they also have these interesting little dimples and folds that seem quite common in this species. They can get quite large, some of the specimens I found were more then 150mm across. They have long thin woody stems and light grey gills. The spores are tobacco brown. Fried in butter with a bit of salt the flavor and texture were excellent. I have cloned the wild specimens that I found and hopefully I can get them to fruit in the future. Agrocybe Aegerita are high on my list of quality edible fungi, if only I can find more Poplars!

In Australia we have a few species of Agrocybe mushrooms, Agrocybe parastica grows on some rain forest trees in the area though is not very common. The agrocybe praecox cluster is also present but again is not very common, I have only found one member growing on a grassy bank in my front yard. I have also found what looks like another agrocybe species, edibility unknown, growing at the north coast botanic gardens in Coffs Harbour. Photo below. Not all the members of the agrocybe family are edible and it can be hard to distinguish the different species. As Agrocybe Aegerita is found growing with poplars and willows it is reasonably easy to ID.

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Agrocybe species i found at the botanic gardens.

Cantharellus concinnus: The apricot chanterelle

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Cantharellus concinnus: The apricot chanterelle

We found these bright orange mushrooms in the rain forest, near a stream growing in sandy soil under palms and water gums, basically where i find all the good mushrooms! Being a chef for about 14 years trained my nose well, when I picked one of these tiny mushrooms and gave it a sniff I almost swooned with pleasure. The smell is really something special, a rich mushroom meets apricot at sunset on a tropical shore kinda perfume. I’ve been looking for Chanterelles in Australia for years with no luck, finally this season I found heaps with my only complaint being that they are to bloody small to eat!!

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Cantharellus concinnus

Apart from the odor these fungi can be distinguished by their folds or fake gills. They look a bit more like forking veins then true gills. Locally we have a larger Smooth Chanterelle that has more potential as an edible, Australia also has a handful of other Chanterelle species and morphs that are larger then these tiny apricot chants. Some grow down south others in southern Queensland and FNQ so here’s hoping we find them locally. For more varieties check out the Mushroaming blog.

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A more successful harvest of Chanterelles from a few years ago, picked on an island in Finland!

Volvariella volvacea: The Paddy straw mushroom

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Volvariella volvacea

After driving past a massive pile of camphor laurel wood chips for more then a year I finally stopped to see just what the massive mushrooms that always seemed to be fruiting actually were. To my surprise they turned out to be the paddy straw mushroom, Volvariella volvacea, I was aware of them growing in southern Queensland but this was my first and so far only encounter with them locally. How exactly they got themselves established is anyone’s guess. They are the only edible fungi i have found that will grow on camphor chips to date. Paddy straw mushrooms are widely eaten in Asia and can be found in cans at most Asian food shops. They are canned because they do not have a long shelf life when fresh.

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Volvariella volvacea, best eaten at this ‘egg’ stage.

These musrooms need to be carefully identified as some of the potentially deadly Amanita family also form in these volva sacks or eggs. Volvariella volvacea are saprobic, growing in wood chips, rich soil, compost and gardens. They grow in clusters starting out as a dark brown to almost black egg quickly shooting up to become a large supple mushroom. The gills start out very light pink almost white before darkening, the spore print is salmon pink. The amanita section that forms from a volva includes the infamous death cap so it is very important to know the difference, death caps grow with introduced trees, mostly oaks, they have a pale to olive green cap, white gills and a white spore print, they do not to my knowledge grow from wood chip piles or much further north then around Canberra.

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An Amanita species, not a death cap, at three stages of growth, starting from a volva sack

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Volvariella volvacea, pink to brown gills at maturity, pink spore print.

In the upper right corner of the Photo below are two mushrooms that are not Volvariella volvacea. They look superficially similar but they have white gills and do not grow from an egg. This is an important point because different species of mushroom often grow next to each other and can easily be picked along with the edible mushrooms. In this case I’m not a hundred percent sure what those two odd mushrooms are, they do look a lot like a lepiota species which means they could be poisonous. Volvariella volvacea are only good to eat at the egg stage so here it should be easy to stay safe. As a general rule I never eat a mushroom unless I am sure of its ID and I have verified it as best I can with multiple sources of quality information. if in doubt don’t eat them. Here I would google Volvariella volvacea and look at wikipedia, mushroomexpert and then do a google image search. That way I get multiple photos and written descriptions to compare.

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Volvariella volvacea with two mushrooms from a different species top right

The Lilac Blewit: Lepista Sordida

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Lepista Sordida

Jsun from Mushroaming put me onto these little beauties, found in abundance in suburban lawns and parks over summer and into winter. They form clumps and fairy rings that can get huge, they seem to have a symbiotic relationship of some kind with the grass they grow with as it is tall, lush and green, growing faster where the mushrooms are.

The Atlas of living Australia list these as Lepista Sublilacina however recent DNA analysis found them to be L. Sordida an edible species from the northern hemisphere. Perhaps we have both species in Australia. Whatever the case the fact that they grow close to humans in lawns makes me think they are the introduced species.

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Lepista sordida, more typical colouring

These little Blewits are a pleasure to see, smell and taste. An amazing floral aroma with  great mushroomy flavor. Wild mushrooms should always be cooked before eating, these are good sauteed in butter with a pinch of salt. They grow well from stem butts and from a culture onto grain, I am experimenting with an outdoor patch using sugar cane mulch and grain spawn.

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Pink spore print of L. Sordida

Caps, stem and gills are a fairly uniform lilac colour that fades over time to become a washed out pink or even white with some brown around the edge and on the umbo as they age and are exposed to the sun. They have a pleasant floral odor when picked. The caps are small from 30 to around 100 mm across. Growing in soil with grass, or with wood chips in gardens but unlikely in native bush land. Pink spore print. The mycelium is also lilac!

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Hydrocybe Cheelii

Look alikes: There are a few Cortinarius Sp. that can be purple or lilac, they have rust brown spore print. Some Hygrocybe Sp. are lilac with a white spore print. Both species are more likely to be found in native bush and are not edible.

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Cortinarius Sp. Note the rust brown spores on the stem

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Lepista Sordida

Fungi are very efficient at collecting nutrients from their habitat, they can also pick up nasties like chemical fertilizer, heavy metals and herbicides. Its worth considering where your dinner is growing and what residue is in the immediate area that you may not want to consume. Roadsides and places where herbicides are used are not great places to pick mushrooms.