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.

DSCN0934.JPG

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.

Calvatia aff. cyathiformis.jpg

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)

cropped.JPG

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

Advertisements

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.

DSC_0038.JPG

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.

DSC_0632.JPG

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.

stropharia rugosoannulata

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.

SRA.jpg

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.

DSC_0717

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.

Saffron Milk cap, Lactarius deliciosus

DSC_0067.JPG

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.

DSC_0065.JPG

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.

Lycoperdon Puff Balls

DSC_0061.JPG

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.

DSC_0191.JPG

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.

 

Volvariella volvacea: The Paddy straw mushroom

DSC_0003.JPG

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.

DSC_0352.JPG

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

These mushrooms 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.

DSC_0050.JPG

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

DSC_0004.JPG

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. They may also be Leucoagaricus aff. americanus. 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.

DSC_0006.JPG

Volvariella volvacea with two mushrooms from a different species top right

Australian Morels

Australian Morel

Morchella esculenta

Its not widely know that Australia has a handful of native and introduced morels (Morchella) species. I am fortunate to have found a yellow morel Probably a member of the Morchella esculenta cluster. I found them locally growing by a river under small leaf privet, ferns and rain forest regen, they fruit from sandy loam. I’ve found them two years in a row after a wet period in September or early October. Recently i have seen some photos of a similar species from a bit further north. I think its likely that the yellow morels are reasonably common in this part of the country.

DSC_0005.JPG

Morchella species ready to fry

Morels are one of the worlds most sought after gourmet mushroom. I was well pleased that my find has great taste and texture when cooked, in my opinion this rules out M. rufobrunnea as a possibility. We sent some away for DNA analysis but unfortunately we were unable to get a result. I am hopeful to find some more this season so I can try again. A quick search on the Atlas of living Australia yields over twenty records from Australia from the esculenta group. Some in southern Queensland, others further south in NSW and Victoria.

Update: I have got DNA results back on these morels, the results were a 98% percent match for Morchella palazonii a new species from Spain. A 98% match is a long way from being the same species and the consensus with my morels are that they are probably a new species. I now have a contact in France for a morel expert who actually did the work on naming Morchella palazonii so I hope to send him a sample this year. Last season was a bust and I only collected about ten so heres hoping that this season is better!

Field Mushrooms Agaricus Species

DSC_0303.JPG

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!

DSC_0067.JPG

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.

DSC_0304.JPG

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.

DSC_0061.JPG

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.

DSC_0080.JPG

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.

Mushroom Foraging

DSC_0148

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, some would call it full-blown Anglo mycophobia (I find this a bit strong). The loss of indigenous knowledge of fungi, fear based on misinformation and an exaggeration of the risks largely because the media loves to report on mushroom poisonings. Poisonings are rare and deaths are very rare, almost all deaths come back to one mushroom species, amanita phalloides, the death cap. The majority of non lethal poisonings are from a handful of easily identifiable species.

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 mycotoxins, 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, use it but don’t expect to always get a clear cut answer on edibility.

That’s enough for now, Happy Foraging!

Jonas