Pleurotus australis – the native oyster mushroom

Pleurotus australis is not the most common of mushrooms and unfortunately it’s habitat overlaps that of the poisonous  Omphalotus nidiformis, or ghost mushroom. Thats the one that glows in the dark. I have only ever seen P. australis growing on peppermint trees. That is Agonis flexuosa. The first one I ever saw was in the Perth area. I enlisted the help of a venerable mycologist (Roger Hilton)  to identify it. There were a few fruiting bodies on the tree in question and they were huge. The texture of these was like leather and there is no way that they could be eaten. Note the wavy cap margin.

In the region down where I live now, however, the oyster mushrooms are smaller and would be edible if there were enough of them to be bothered with. They also get fly-blown very quickly.

For some further information on locally picked oyster mushrooms, see WhereFishSing.

Here is a picture of some growing at Yeagarup.

They are quite simple to cultivate. The same procedures can be used as one would apply to any other oyster mushroom. Pasteurised straw is a the simplest medium. The rather odd thing about P. australis under cultivation is that it bears little resemblance to the wild fungus. The pinheads are a dark black/purple colour.

When grown on a little further, they are a rather soft mushroom, with a distinctive purple tinge to the upper surface.   I have some pictures of these somewhere and when I find them I will add them to this post.  Ah, here we go.  This is an example of a cultivated one.

12 Years on and here is another picture of a cultivated specimen.  In this case I took the culture from a dried specimen.  It took a while to take off but grew quite well after that.  I fruited this one in my greenhouse whereas the first one was fruited in a rather dark corner of my kitchen.   In any case the result was quite different.

One thing that must be said about this mushroom.  Be very careful not to confuse it with Omphalotus nidiformis.  They are very similar in the wild.  O. nidiformis, however, will glow if you break off a small piece and put it in a jar by your bed.  The oyster mushroom can also be recognised by the fine network of criss-crossed gills that run right down the stem to the point where it emerges from the tree. This is a picture of Omphalotus nidiformis.   It is somewhat variable, but this is typical.

In other places, Omphalotus nidiformis can take on a much more funnel-shaped appearance.  Here is a picture of some from the rainforest at Dorrigo, NSW.

omphalotus dorrigo

Omphalotus nidiformis from Dorrigo

23 June 2013

This year I visited the site of the mushroom shown in the first illustration.   There was a new crop growing and they were in the juvenile stage.   As with the local ones from down here, they had a dark purple cap with a slightly scaly texture.   They were more robust, but otherwise matched the local specimens.  So it is clear that they change as they age.   I am now more comfortable with the identification of both as P. australis.   I again tried to bring this into culture, but without success this time.   I do have some pieces of infected wood though, so I will try to culture those.   A friend in Perth got a culture of the Perth specimen going last year, but he found that it would not grow on straw like his normal king oyster mushrooms.

9 May 2021

It is a long time since I updated this post. I have now moved to Busselton. These mushrooms are everywhere around the town and in the adjacent forest particularly this year. If you go out in the evening with a torch you can see them releasing spores. You have to see this in person to appreciate the vast amount of spores that are released by these mushrooms. They must travel a long distance which makes it surprising that they aren’t more common on Peppermint trees in more inland locations. A friend did send me a picture of some on one of his apple trees in Manjimup and they have been spotted on a grape vine in Margaret River however so it seems that they are capable of occurring on other hosts. Actually, now that I think of it, I have seen these on a Warren River Cedar (Taxandria juniperina) while taking a tour along the Donnelly River and Taxandria parviceps(?) near Capel.

The spores are elongated, rather like grains of rice, about 10.5 x 5.6 microns. This is a microscope image showing the spores along with some sizing statistics. These differ from the spores of Omphalotus nidiformis which are close to spherical.

In the wild, this mushroom is often found to be riddled with larvae. These belong to the fungus fly Tapeigaster cinctipes. The males of this species patrol the tops of the mushrooms, waiting to mate with any females that happen along. The females lay their eggs in the gills and the larvae make their way into the mushroom from there. It is common to see these mushrooms pecked to pieces by birds that are no doubt feeding on the larvae. The images below show a male on the top of a mushroom and a view of one of the larvae under the microscope.

Tapeigaster cinctipes

Tapeigaster cinctipes larva

13 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    ClareSnow said,

    So I should tell my brother to steet clear of it!

    • 2

      morrie2 said,

      Hi Clare. Your brother should be careful about Pleurotus australis. That is all. It is not difficult to distinguish from Omphalotus nidiformis, but it is not a mistake I would like to make. Eating O. nidiformis will make you very sick, but it is not likely to kill you. I have heard a couple of first hand accounts. It is a very common mistake for those used to Oyster mushrooms from other places.

      I will get together a page of references that might be of interest to you. Please feel free to correct them if I get the syntax wrong 🙂

      • 3

        Rhys said,

        On my block in the hills near Bunbury Pleurotus australis grows prolifically and in places is present on almost every peppermint tree. I rate these mushrooms very highly; sliced then fried untill they start to brown in light oil they are fantastic. However, Omphalotus nidiformis grows prolifically down on the sandy coastal plain mainly on tea trees but also on peppermints. I checked for a glow and none was apparent so in the pot they went. The result was a couple of hours of vigorous vomiting but no lasting after effects. On further inspection I noticed that millipedes infest the bases of Pleurotus australis but do not seem to be present anywhere near the Omphalotus nidiformis. Conclusion:- millipedes are smarter than me.

        I have some decent pics if anyone is interested.

      • 4

        adam g said,

        A belated thanks for this post Morrie, and Rhys, thanks for the first hand account of eating Omphalotus nidiformis!!

  2. 5

    Left Hand said,

    A company called Australian Exotic Mushrooms Pty Ltd
    is attempting to cultivate these for supermarket shelves.
    I wonder what they taste like.

  3. 6

    celia said,

    I found a huge amount of common(I think) mushys growing after lots of rain and warm conditions, they are white on top and dark brown gills, smell like an ordinary mushy ,I tried to peel but they were difficult so washed them instead, their tops went a bit yellow so not game to eat and threw them out, what do you think?

  4. 8

    Fi said,

    Morrie – I really enjoy following your mushroom eating adventures. You are way ahead of me but I am enjoying learning and tasting my own finds too. Would it be possible to do a post on cultivating mushrooms? You\’ve mentioned a few times about establishing cultures and it\’s something I\’m (obviously!) curious to learn about and try.

    • 9

      morrie2 said,

      Hello Fi,

      I’m pleased to hear that you are enjoying the blog.

      I have been thinking of doing just such a post on cultivation. As soon as I get the decks clear I will put something together.



      • 10

        Fi said,

        Awesome to hear there’ll be some cultivation tips coming. Also thought you might be interested to hear that thanks to your talking about oyster mushrooms, I stumbled across some myself for the first time within days of reading your post. There’s a little bit about my mushroom adventure here:

      • 11

        morrie2 said,

        Hi again Fi,

        Thanks for that link to your site. I think it is wonderful.

        I had a peek earlier on and was intrigued by your story of the purple treats. There are some mushrooms on the east coast that we don’t get here and that is one of them. I have been toying with doing a page with links to sites such as yours if you would be in agreement.

        I am still puzzling over the identity of my Pleurotus with the purple cap. I am seeing images identical with mine from North America that are calling it P. ostreatus. One thing is for sure, the specimen I have found here is a wild type.

        I will slowly put together the cultivation page. I will need to follow through the method from start to finish. Some things of course cannot be simply cultivated. Boletes and Chanterelles and others that need tree roots.

        I have a big pile of horse manure here that I got recently. It has Coprinus mycelium in it. The challenge is to get from there to edible product.

        I wish I was half the cook that you are.



  5. 12

    forthferalz said,

    nice post – lovely picture of the colour. I see have an oyster that goes a deep blue colour in the cold ( like my lips!)- is it this one? in the meantime i have a blog that has cultivation links for australia and a bitly collection of bookmarks that is constantly added to. milkwood permaculture are running expensive courses for interested parties.

  6. 13

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