MUSHROOMS OF THE J. J. COLLETT NATURAL AREA By Lu Piening
I have been looking for and identifying mushrooms every growing season for the past 30 years at the Collett Natural Area. I began collecting mushrooms after taking some mycology courses at the University of Alberta in 1951. I only collected the easily recognizable and common mushrooms in the city of Edmonton, such as the common meadow mushroom (Agaricus campestris) and the Shaggy mane (Coprinus comatus). I knew these to be safe to eat and they could be made into very tasty dishes. I wanted to expand my culinary repertory so began to look at other mushrooms, which forced me to become more familiar with the terminology describing the morphological features of mushrooms and then how to use identification keys. Being aware that poisonous mushrooms grow in Alberta, I routinely consult more than one publication before identifying a mushroom for the table..
In the early nineteen fifties, coloured pictures and even good photographs of mushrooms, were not commonly available. One of the first books I consulted was the 1962 Agriculture Canada publication by J. Walton Groves called Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms of Canada. It contained small colour photographs but these were generally not clear enough to provide accurate diagnoses. This book was reissued in 1974 with some better and enlarged pictures, which made diagnoses somewhat easier. During the past twenty to thirty years, many good publications on identifying mushrooms became available. Many of these were produced in Europe and elsewhere outside Canada, however, from time to time, publications appeared that described Western Canadian mushrooms. These included Eugene F. Bossenmaier’s Mushrooms of the Boreal Forest in 1997 (University of Saskatchewan Press), J. E. Underhill’s Guide to Western Mushrooms in 1989 (Hancock House Publishers Surrey B.C), Karen and Richard Haard’s Foraging for Edible Wild Mushrooms in 1974 (Cloudburst Press, Brackendale B.C.) , Richard and Karen Haard’s Poisonous and Hallucinogenic Mushrooms in 1975 (Cloudburst Press, Brackendale B.C.), Helene M.E.Schalkwyk-Barendsen’s Mushrooms of the Edmonton Area in 1975. The two publications that are probably the best for identifying local mushrooms are Helene M.E.Schalkwijk-Barendsen’s Mushrooms of Western Canada (Lone Pine Press, 1991) and Garry Lincoff and Carol Nehring’s The Audubon Society Field Guide to the North American Mushrooms (Chanticleer Press Inc., 1981.
Mushrooms appear throughout the growing season in the J.J. Collett Natural Area, the first being Ptychoverpa bohemica. It is followed shortly by the morel, Morchella elata, and then the Oyster mushroom Pleurotus ostreatus on standing or fallen dead trees. Many different kinds of mushrooms occur in this natural area because of its diverse topography, such as dry sandy areas, swamps and dense stands of spruce, aspen and other trees. Probably the most common mushrooms in this area are species of Russula, noted for their brightly coloured caps of red, maroon, brown, grey, white and green in the late summer. It is well worth while bringing a camera along to record some of the beautiful mushrooms found here. It should be mentioned that mushrooms and other plants should not be picked in the Area as they serve as viewing specimens for visitors. Many edible mushrooms can be found outside the Collett area and the mushrooms within the area can serve as a learning tool.
Ptychoverpa bohemica: This is the first mushroom to appear in the spring. It is an ascomycete that appears in wet or damp depressions under aspen and poplar trees early in May when the poplar leaf buds are just opening up. It can be very abundant in wet years but has been rare of late due to dry conditions. It can be found over a period of several weeks. They are edible but not of the calibre of the morels.
Morchella elata. Morels appear under and near aspen trees from mid-May to early June. They have been difficult to find lately because of dry conditions. The caps are wrinkled and dark brown and are hard to spot in the leaf litter on the forest floor. Morels are excellent for eating and drying and are expensive to buy. Morels should not be eaten raw.
Pleurotus ostreatus. From mid to late June, shortly after the morels, one can find Pleurotus ostreatus, or the Oyster mushroom, on the trunks of standing or fallen dead and dying birch trees. This mushroom is excellent for the table and the cultivated form can be purchased in some food stores. Korean growers have produced a commercial variety of this mushroom called the King Mushroom which has a very large and thick stem and a very small cap.
Pleurotus dryinus. This is a very sturdy mushroom that grows in clusters on dead and dying trees. In contrast to P. ostreatus, it often has a partial veil on the cap.
MID SEASON MUSHROOMS
From July onwards one can find many other mushrooms, especially after a rain when Fairy rings (Marasmius oreodes) make their appearance in grassy areas. Following is a list of mushrooms that might be called mid season. The following mushrooms are not listed in their order of appearance. Many will appear after a soaking rain.
Boletus edulis. This is a Bolete, which has pores in the place of the gills which are found in most mushrooms. Generally speaking, all Boletus in this area are considered safe to eat though not all are desirable. B. edulis is a very tasty mushroom and is sold commercially in a dried form, especially from Italy where they are favoured. I generally remove the spongy pore structure before preparing it for the table. It has a distinctive brown cap. Early Ukrainian settlers often dried this mushroom by threading them on a string and hanging them behind a stove. They called this mushroom “Red Cap”, based on the colour of the cap.
Amanita muscaria is often found growing in the same terrain as the B. edulis. A. muscaria is a very pretty mushroom, the cap colour ranging from red to reddish brown to a fox colour, often with white flecks on the cap. This is a poisonous mushroom. As with all Amanitas, it can be recognized by the base of the stem which looks like it is growing from an eggcup.
Amantia vaginata can often be found growing in the same area. This smaller mushroom has a grey cap and is smaller than A. muscaria. It is said to be edible.
Suillus brevipes is distinguished by a sticky cap and spongy underside. Cap may be reddish brown and this mushroom is often found under spruce trees.
Russula spp. These are probably the most commonly found mushrooms in the natural area. The caps range in color from red, grey, brown, green, blue-grey and white. A diagnostic feature of these mushrooms is that the texture is brittle when the cap is broken. Most Russula spp. are not poisonous and are edible but they generally lack flavour. Russula emetica, a red capped species, is poisonous. It has a bitter taste and causes vomiting, hence the name.
Lactarius deliciosus is frequently found close to path ways. This is an orange mushroom with tinges of green colour and, as all Lactarius, will exude a coloured sap when the cap is broken. This species bleeds a white sap from the cut or broken edges of the cap. It is sometimes called Milk cap and is edible. There are records of this mushroom being eaten in Roman times. I have not found it to be delicious and find that parboiling them before preparing them for the table is a good way to use this mushroom.
Lactarius fumosus The sap is white at first and then turns fleshy pink. This mushroom has a velvety brown-smoky cap and is striking in appearance. It should not be eaten.
Lactarius rufus Shaeffer & Fries. Has a red brown coloured cap and the sap is white. Grows under spruce trees. It is considered poisonous.
Lactarius pubescens is a small to medium mushroom.
Leucoagaricus naucinus is a white mushroom resembling the Meadow mushroom (Agaricus ) with white gills that stay white. It is edible.
Macrolepiota rhacodes. This large mushroom is distinguished by its shaggy cap When the cap is broken the colour turns from yellow to red-brown .
Limacella glioderma is a fox coloured mushroom with a slimy veil. The stem has remnants of the veil sticking to it.
Hygrophorus camarophyllus is a smoky grey caped mushroom with white distant gills. Often growing under spruce. Hygrophorus spp. are distinguished by widely spaced gills.
Tricholoma terrium has a felt-like grey cap.
Tricholoma ustale has a dark brown to maroon coloured cap with leaves and dirt on the cap. It has big white stalks that stains pink when injured. Often found growing under poplar trees.
Clitocybe robusta is a medium sized off-white mushroom
Clitocybe geotropa has a large straw coloured cap with a fuzzy growth of mycelium half way up the stem. The mature caps split. Very upright in habit.
Collybia dryophila grows in small clumps on duff. Chestnut coloured cap.
Marasmius oreades,The common Fairy Ring mushroom grows in rings in grassy locations. Buff coloured caps with wiry tough stems. It dries well and is good to eat. Abundant especially after rains. May be called Mouseron in France where one can often see them for sale in markets.
Lepista gilva has a golden to orange cap of medium size. The caps are depressed in the center. This mushroom is sometimes very abundant in the late summer and fall.
Lepista inversa is medium size and has a foxy orange funnel shaped cap. Found under spruce
Lepista irina has a large pale tan cap, flesh coloured gills and is fluffy near the top of the stalk.
Leucopaxillus giganteus is a very large mushroom, being 30 or more cm across. Funnel shaped and has circular cracks in the cap when older. Found growing in large rings in mixed forest.
Leucopaxillus piceinus is a large white mushroom growing in rings near spruce. The hemispherical tan caps with short stems and bulbous base are buried in duff. White dust can be seen on neighbouring plants and on the ground.
Leucopaxillus septentrionalis can be found growing under spruce. It has a massive thick stalk with a small cap and narrow anastomosing gills. It dries well and is good to eat.
Calocybe gambosa has a large cream coloured cap. Found mostly in the fall. Edible
Flammulina fennae, often called Velvet Foot, due to the velvety brown base of the stalk. Grows in clusters. Edible
Mycena pura is a small lilac coloured mushroom.
Mycena leaiana has bright orange caps, found on wood
Hohenbuehelia petaloides has leaf-shaped caps with decurrent gills in irregular form. Grows on dead wood.
Cortinarius purpurascens has a brown to purple colour of cap stalk and gills. Other Cortinarius spp also have purple on the caps. The flesh is purple.
Cortinarius alboviolaceus is a violet mushroom with a silvery coloured veil. Gills turn rusty brown from violet. Edible but not tasty.
Stropharia kauffmanii has a very shaggy cover on the cap, grey gills and cap is reddish-brown.
Pholiota squarrosa is a yellow ochre mushroom grows in clusters at base of trees. The cap scaly. Has a disagreeable odour.
Agaricus augustus is a large (30cm) cap with brown scales. It often has a double ring. Good to eat.
Agaricus campestris, the Common field or meadow mushroom Same as the commercial variety. It has a white cap with gills that turn brown with age.
Agaricus haemorrhoidearius has a reddish brown cap and flesh that turns red when cut or broken.
Agaricus arvesis, called the Horse Mushroom presumably because of its large size. Can be found in grassy areas. It has a double ring and very firm flesh. Very good to eat.
Agaricus silvicola, looks like the Horse Mushroom but grows under spruce and fir. Common and good to eat.
Agaricus comptulus, is a very slender mushroom, unlike the other Agaricus spp.
Coprinus micaceus can be found growing in masses near bases of trees. The brown caps dissolve rapidly.
Coprinus atramentarius is a silvery Coprinus the occurs in clusters near the base of trees. The caps dissolve rapidly.
Psathyrella uliginicola is a medium sized mushroom with a silky grey cap.
Lycoperdon perlatum. Small globular puffballs with small spikes over the surface. Found in large groups.
Bovista plumbea. Small white to grey spherical puff balls.
Vascellum pratense. A medium sized puff ball on a short stem. Puff balls in this area are considered safe to eat.
Clavatia booniana is a large puff ball with a scaly covering.
Earth stars, probably in the genus Geastrum,can be found. I have not identified them as they have little value for the table.
Sparassis crispa, often called the Cauliflower Fungus Occurs near the base of coniferous trees and is edible.
Sarcodon imbricatus is a large brown mushroom with dark reddish-brown scales on the hard cap. Called the Hedgehog Fungus because of its scaly appearance.
Hericium ramosum is a white coral-like fungus which often grows in large bunches on dead wood. Good to eat.
Gyromitra infula, is found later in the year and may be mistaken for a morel. The cap is pale brown and twisted with an irregular stem. The cap may be saddle shaped. Grows near to, or on, rotting wood. Poisonous.
Gyromitra esculenta resembles a morel at times. Cap is brown and very wrinkled on a white stem.
Helvella crispa has a fluted, white stalk and a saddle shaped head.
Thelephora terrestris is often found growing in groups near spruce trees. It has a dark brown fruiting body.
Sarcoscypha hiemalis is a very small, beautiful fungus with a bright red cup-like cap.
Hypsizygus marmoreeus has tall stalks and grows in clusters of old wood.
LATE SEASON MUSHROOMS
Mushrooms appearing in September or later are identified as late season mushrooms. Armillaria melea and Coprinus comatus are examples of this group.
Armillaria mellea. Commonly found in the fall near bases of trees and on roots A parasite on trees. Brown to dark brown cap and often grows in clusters. Good to eat. Sometimes has a yellow tinge on the stalks.
Coprinus comatus. Commonly found in grassy areas and along roadsides. The gills dissolve rapidly leaving a black inky mess. Caps are white with some shaggy strands. Good eating when young.
The list of mushrooms described above is not meant as an accurate guide to identifying mushrooms. I would ask that you use a key in some of the above references to provide an accurate identity.
The above is only a partial list of mushrooms growing in the J.J. Collett Natural Area. There are many small mushrooms growing on wood or in damp areas that attract little attention and have not been mentioned. Identifying mushrooms and other fungi in the Area is an on-going project.
Identification of mushrooms is based on various morphological features, such as cap colour, size and shape, colour and spacing of the gills and how gills are attached to the stipe. The shape and colour of the stipe is also important. A spore print, made by placing the bottom side of a cap of the mushroom on a piece of paper half of which is white and half is black to record the spore print colour is a major help in identifying mushrooms. Other lesser features include be the texture of the cap, ( Russula are very brittle) presence of latex, (Lactarius spp) colour when bruised, and sometimes the smell. There are many keys available but they all basically use the morphological features mentioned above to identify a mushroom.
Collecting mushrooms for the table is an enjoyable hobby and it must be emphasized here that collecting mushrooms should be done with much care, that is, not to over pick. The continuation of a species depends to a great extent on the amount of spore dissemination from the fruiting bodies and over picking can reduce the chances of the species reproducing itself. . Many species such as Fairy rings are abundant so these may be gathered in larger quantities and others have fewer fruiting bodies and so fewer should be collected.
It is important to emphasize that no mushroom should be eaten unless one is absolutely certain of its identity. Some mushrooms can cause death or serious illness while others can cause mild stomach upsets. Some, such as Coprinus spp should not be eaten if alcohol is consumed as this combination can make a person ill. Also some people may be sensitive or allergic to some species that are safely eaten by others. There are numerous cases in history where emperors or other important officials in ancient history have been poisoned by eating poisonous mushrooms. Some mushrooms are bitter to taste but not poisonous and poisonous mushrooms may taste good.
The writer will be pleased to try to identify mushrooms found by visitors to the Natural Area. For identification purposes you should, if possible. photograph it (top and bottom of cap), record the date it was seen, and its habitat. The writer may be contacted through any of the executive of the Natural area.