Herself's Houston Garden

Conservation through cultivation

Shrooms and fungus




I recently attended a talk by Sherri Angels on mushrooms. The most important message of the talk was ‘Phds in mushrooms buy them at the local grocer they don’t pick them and eat what they find. Ever.’ Why? Because there is not a whole lot of difference between toxic and not toxic mushrooms and even experts guess wrong sometimes. The mushrooms at the grocers are factory grown.

What happens if you eat a toxic mushroom? Well in 4 hours you’ll need a liver transplant, In 6 hours the first symptoms will show up.

Mushrooms all have a cap, gills, stem and some have a volva and or ring. The cap, gills and stem I’m sure you can identify. The ring (aka annulus ) is on the stem and can help you to id a mushroom. The cups ( aka volvas ) is a cup like ring around the base of the mushroom. This might be above ground and visible or below ground and not visible with out digging up the mushroom. Most mushrooms (95%) with a ring and or cup are toxic. This does not mean the absence of a ring and cup makes a mushroom safe to eat.

Other than color, size and the presence or absence of a ring or cup the color of the spores varies and can help id a mushroom. To see the color of the spores you’ll need paper that is part black and part white. Remove the cap and gently press the cap, gill side down on to the paper and wait an hour or so. The color spores you think you see looking at the mushroom are not always what will appear on your paper.

In general and there are exceptions, blue mushrooms are your hallucinogens. Some like, Lactarius remain blue even when cooked. It has a milk that leaks out when the mushroom is cut that is also blue. These mushrooms can commonly be found in Mexico for sale. You should be able to find it in the woods here or anywhere besides the west coast in the US.

Jack O Lantern mushrooms are orange and have gills that glow green in the dark. They are only found in the fall. Because this one so closely resembles the non toxic Chanterelles it is responsible for many mushroom poisonings each year. This one is generally found anywhere east of the rockies.

Corn smut fungus ( Ustilago maydis ) grows on sweet ears of corn. It ruins the corn, but many consider the mushroom a delicacy. In Mexico it is used to add a smoky flavor to many foods. You might find it in canned form at your local Mexican grocery store.

The bright yellow slimy mold that shows up in your garden after a rain here is Fuligo septica. It’s here to stay, if you have it there not much you can do. It does vanish once things dry out. Or if you are really desperate I would think a fungicide would help at least temporarily. It is actually a plasmodium. All protoplasm, no cells. I understand it can be cooked and eaten like scrambled eggs but I don’t recommend doing so.

If you want to forecast the weather with mushrooms look for an earthstar ( Astraeus hugrometricus ). It is star shaped and often found at the base of pines and other trees in sandy soil. The legs of the star close up around the mushroom in dry weather and unfold in damp weather. There are many varieties of this mushroom throughout the US. The spores of this mushroom can be toxic in high doses. So should you find one and bring it home to play with, use a bit of caution.

The shelf like fungi you see growing on dead trees that looks like a seashell is Bracket fungi, aka shelf fungi.

Lichens are symbiosis between a fungus and an algae or bacteria. Some of the more commons ones you’ll see are: Trichoderma which causes green mold and kills other fungi; Aspergillus which is a human and plant pathogen and causes fruit rot; and Penicillium which gives your blue cheese its flavor and can be converted to penicillin.

As far as the mushrooms you eat, wash them thoroughly and store them in paper bags to keep fresh. When buying mushrooms look for tight, closed caps and don’t buy any slimy mushrooms. The slime is caused by bacteria.

More information:
7 Glow in the Dark Mushrooms Species Discovered
While fact checking this entry I ran across Tom Volk’s Fungus of the Month pages. If you want to know more that’s a fun place to start. And Lichens of North America has a great photographic collection of lichens if you need help id’ing a lichen. If you want to know where your grocery store mushrooms come from check out Monterey Mushrooms‘ How they grow’.

Time lapse video of slime mold and mushrooms
Extreme close up photos of slime molds