Summer Puffballs: Australian Calvatia species

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Calvatia puffballs collected in summer after a visit by the dreaded fungi wreckers

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.

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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.

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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

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

 

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.

The Hedgehog Mushroom: Hydnum Repandum

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The Hedgehog Mushroom: Hydnum Repandum

This is another great edible that is annoyingly uncommon. It is a mycorrhizal fungi that grows with some native eucalypts, so when found it should reappear every season as long as the host tree survives. I have only found them growing twice in the Autumn, both times it was in mixed eucalypt woodlands on a ridge. With the distinctive spikes instead of gills or pores these mushrooms are hard to mistake. The caps are meaty and brittle. The spines are also brittle, they have a mild pleasant smell and a great taste and texture when sauteed. Spines are not altogether uncommon in the fungi kingdom, several other fungi that are not edible could be mistaken for Hydnum Repandum, I have seen small black capped Phellodon niger as well as an unidentified white bracket fungi with spines. I have also heard of, but never found, an edible brown morph of Hydnum Repandum. If you find Hydnum Repandum mark the date and check back the following year. I rate these as one of the better edible mushrooms around.

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.

 

The Horn of Plenty: Craterellus Cornucopioides

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Craterellus Cornucopioides, black trumpets or the horn of plenty

Craterellus Cornucopioides: black trumpets or the horn of plenty

This Autumn I found my first and probably only patch of Black trumpets, Craterellus Cornucopioides or Craterellus australis. 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.

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The horn of plenty!

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!

Omphalotus Nidiformis: The ghost fungus

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Omphalotus Nidiformis The ghost fungus

Ompahlotus Nidiformis  is a common fungus fruiting from summer into winter in these parts. I’m doing this post for a couple of reasons, firstly this fungus is poisonous and i will talk more about this later, secondly its easy to confuse these guys with pleurotus species or oyster mushrooms, thirdly they glow in the dark and finally i have a shot of them glowing that I’m particularly pleased with so why not share it on the interweb, who knows maybe someone else will like it too!

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Omphalotus Nidiformis

The Ghost fungus grows in all kinds of habitats all up and down the east coast and all the way into South Australia. They form big flushes of fruit bodies that are hard to miss in the forest, they have a whole bunch of morphs and colour variations that at times can make them a challenge to ID. When i first became interested in edible fungi I started to find these and pick them, I would bring them home and try to convince myself they were oysters, on one occasion I did such a good job that I fried some up and ate a few bits. They tasted pretty good, later that night I felt a bit crook. I had a second look at them and found they were glowing ever so faintly. Thankfully I only ate a very small amount and did not need to spend the night ridding the porcelain bus.

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Omphaltus Nidiformis

Omphalotus Nidiformis Are wood decomposers, they are almost always found on dead trees or roots. They are a white rot fungus that can be found anywhere from coastal scrub to mountain rain forest, in pine plantations and eucalypt woodlands. For me a key to their ID is the way the gills attach to the stem and the stem itself which is smooth and woody, often tho not always darker coloured. Picking a mushroom and examining the stem is probably the best way to ID these guys. Another key feature is the darker spot of colour in the middle of the cap. the colour itself is changeable but the spot is present most of the time directly above where the stem attaches to the cap. Their spore print is white.

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Detail of O. Nidiformis, note the smooth woody stem.

The Bioluminescence of these fungi is variable. Often in this area it is very faint and sometimes non existent. I generally find that it is a very dull glow tho I have read that it can be very bright in some specimens. Its best to look for the glow at night in a very dark place and the glow will improve as our eyes adjust to the dark and our night visions kicks in. An explanation for the bioluminescence can be found here. its become a bucket list item for Aussie fungi enthusiasts to get that classic night shot which can improve the dull glow. The results can be spectacular. Scout your location during the day then return at night to get the shot.

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My best shot of O. nidiformis glowing.

 

The biochemistry of this fungus is interesting. They contain some novel chemicals with anti tumor and antibiotic properties. The chemical itself is called Illudin and is present in a couple of different forms. As an isolated compound Illudin shows selective toxicity for leukemia and some other types of cancer cells. A drug containing Illudin is able to react with cancer DNA inside the cells. Currently called Irofluven it is in phase two clinical trials. However Illudin in its natural form is toxic and can lead to GI distress and vomiting, which can last for several hours after ingestion. Its not deadly.

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Omphalotus Nidiformis has many faces

Australian Chicken of the Woods?

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Australian Laetiporus sp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Young fresh looking Laetiporus

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

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

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

Mushroom Foraging

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Craterellus Cornucopioides, the Black Trumpet

Australian Edible Mushrooms and Fungi

This Page will be a record of the edible Mushrooms and interesting fungi I find within about 100km of Coffs Harbour, NSW Australia. The coast has a subtropical climate with high rainfall while in the hinterland we have a plateau with mountains that reach up to 1500m with the odd snow fall in winter. the range of climate zones and micro climates along with the multitude of vegetation types makes this area a fascinating place for mushroom hunting. To date I have found over twenty varieties of edible fungi in the area.

In Australia the eating of foraged mushrooms is regarded as dangerous. This is the result of a lack of a foraging culture, 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