Monday, August 24, 2009

Fall mushrooms are on their way

With night-time temps dipping down into the 50s over the weekend, the fall mushrooms are sure to be here soon. But before you start looking be sure to use extra caution with some of the more popular fall edibles.

Now I normally do not talk much about edible mushrooms that have deadly look-a-likes, but after several reports from many of you I decided I had better say something. The mushroom or more precisely mushrooms, since this is really a whole family of species is the honey mushroom. This is a rather popular mushroom, mainly because it can be found in large masses of clumps and grows quite well in many Missouri woods and lawns.

One of my favorite mushroom identification books is David Arora Mushrooms Demystified. Arora lists five basic characteristics to identify a honey. The mushrooms must:
  1. grow in a cluster
  2. have white spores
  3. grow on wood, or buried wood/roots
  4. have a ring, and
  5. have stringy white pith in the stalk
If any one of these characteristics is not met, then there is a chance that it is not a honey. Pay extra close attention to the second one. A spore print can make all the difference. In fact, I don't recommend even chancing it with honeys, do not eat them unless you spore print every one. Now, I know that sounds awfully tedious, but before you send me an email, let me explain why.

If you have ever come across a mess of honey mushrooms you could see how it would be easy to pick huge bagfuls very quickly. The clusters are usually big with 20-30 mushrooms easily, plus there are usually a lot of clusters around, sometimes even hundreds of them, meaning you could easily come across a field of thousands of mushrooms. In fact, I see this scene almost every fall.

The culprit that ruins the mix is aptly named the deadly galerina (Galerina marginata or older books call it Galerina autumnalis). The problem with this particular mushroom is that it has very similar chaaracteristics. For example, it often grows in clusters and is found on wood. It has a ring and can be the same color as honeys. It also grows in the same places that honeys tend to grow at the exact same time of the year. Granted you can find deadly galerina all year long (making them a ringer for anotehr edible mushroom in winter, the velvet foot, which is another story). As their original scientific name suggests, galerina autumnalis are very common at the same time of year that the honey emerges, in the fall. More importantly, this mushroom can be so toxic that all it may take is one single mushroom to kill someone.

All of these things add up to big trouble in my book. An unsuspecting mushroom collector might easily mistake a cluster or even a single mushroom and mix it in with the honeys they have collected. Once that is done, it is the fungal version of russian roullette as anyone who consumes the wrong mushroom(s) would most likely not realize it until major organ failure had begun to set in. The only real way to tell the two apart is to check the spores, which in the galerina's case should be rusty or brown. Sometimes you can tell just by looking at the gills, which are usually brown. However, I have found young deadly galerina that had perfectly white gills, so the only way to be sure is to take spore print.

Here are a few pictures of the two so you can see how easily they can be confused with each other if you only rely on looking.


Here is a small cluster of deadly galerina, taken by Steo from Ohio. Notice how white the gills appear. The ring on the galerina is very thin and will often fall off (as is the case here), so although these are not a close look-a-like to a true honey, I have included this photo because many might mistake them for the ringless honey mushroom which has been in abundance for the last few weeks.

Here is the honey mushroom that is most common to my parts of Missouri (photo by Jon Rapp). It doesn't look much like the galerina above and you may think that you can easily tell the two apart, but remember there is a lot of variety in the way these mushrooms appear. Compare this photo to the one below from Mushroom Expert.

This one looks pretty darn close to the ones above but it is of galerinas. I have actually seen both of these growing together on the same log and around the same tree. If you aren't extremely careful, it is easy to see how one mistake could be a person's last.

Here is a close up to show you the stringy white pith that is found on the stalk of true honey mushrooms. But before you decide to go by that, look very closely at the galerinas above. From the photo, they almost appear to have a similar pith though it is not so stringy. So, always let the spore print be the final judge. If it ain't white it's not right!!

I hope I have thoroughly discouraged everyone from seeking out this mushroom. The fact that Michael Kuo didn't include it on even the expert list of 100 Edible Mushrooms should tell you something. If you encounter it, do what I do and just let it be. More than likely, they are buggy and personally, I prefer many other mushrooms over honeys. It is best not to bother with this one until you are an expert and trust me, I am no expert.

However, I can't leave this entry on such a downer. So lets talk turkey. Well, ok not turkey but another fowlish freind, the hen of the woods. After several reports of hen finds north of Missouri, I decided to check some early hen trees last week, but I did not see a thing. Though if the rain keeps up, there should be a good batch of them again this year. Last year, you could hardly walk 1/4 mile without stumbling one if you were walking the oak hardwoods and I picked my first one the first week of September, so they are not too far away.

3 comments:

Jenny said...

Thanks for the very informative and cautionary post. My husband just gave me the Arora book for my birthday, so I'm glad to know you think it's a valuable one.

Mike said...

Thanks again for your excellent info. I've often wondered about honey mushrooms (after seeing countless honey-looking clusters last fall) but I don't feel a particular need to pursue them. Glad to hear that the hens will be starting soon. I picked several clusters last year but realized after the fact they were a little old and weren't in peak shape (although they weren't buggy either). I'd like to catch a few clusters in their prime this year. Do you have any particular thoughts about picking hens in city parks? I saw a ton last year and was wondering if they would be safe to eat. I don't know if the grass around those oaks gets any treatments or not.

ahistory said...

I would be cautious of anything growing in manicured lawns (even city property) unless you know if they use fertilizers and pesticides are used. Mushrooms act as a sponge and various species have been used to clean up environmental spills since they absorb all of the toxins leaving only clean earth behind.

That being said, with nice hens on the line, I would call the parks department and ask. With city budgets what they are, there is a good chance they do nothing more than mow, but better to be safe than sorry.