Archive for Fungi

In search of Woorda

There is not a lot of information around on the fungi eaten by indigenous people in Australia before the arrival of Europeans. One of the few references on the topic is by James Drummond who arrived in the Swan River Colony in the year it was founded, 1829.

James Drummond with grandchild

He was a botanist and a keen observer and recorder of the local flora as well as the diet of the original inhabitants. The following is a snippet from a letter he wrote to the Perth Enquirer in May 1842.

I have often wondered if it might be possible to identify the blue staining bolete that he describes as Woorda. There are many blue staining boletes in Western Australia and I know of several that people have eaten but none of them fit the description he gives. I had long suspected that it might be a Gyroporus since members of that genus are eaten elsewhere on the globe and with one exception they appear to all be edible.

A paper published in 2019 gives us some some useful information about Gyroporus in Australia. It is titled “Three New Species of Gyroporus (Boletales, Basidiomycota) from Australia”. In it is a description of Gyroporus occidentalis with an explanation that it is the only rapidly blue staining member of the genus from WA.

I was fortunate enough to spot one of these on a friend’s property this year and it is shown in the following video and photographs. It is recorded as growing from sandy soil (well, that’s most of the coastal plain!) and it’s range includes Perth. I think that there is a some chance that this is Woorda but see below for further possibilities.

The rapid blueing reaction in real time
In situ view showing cap surface and pores
View showing stipe and pore surface

Some of the features of this mushroom match the description in the paper closely. The cap is described as “dry, floccose to matted woolly to heavily appressed tomentose, yellow-white to yellow buff to dirty yellow, cyanescent, with slightly extended margin”. This close-up of the cap surface seems to match that description. I couldn’s see that the cap margin was extended though.

Cap surface

The pores are yellow and cyanescent and approximately 0.3mm in diameter with a typically pentagonal outline.

Anther interesting aspect of this is the name Woorda. Of course transcriptions of language are subject to errors and interpretations and so forth but the records of Daisy Bates provide for some interesting reading. These are available in digital form here. The many words recorded as meaning mushroom are provided on the site as a map. shown below. It triggers the question of whether the diversity of names matches the diversity of species that were part of the diet.

Map of words for mushroom from digital Daisy Bates site

The term Woorda appears in a dictionary of Balardong Noongar language as meaning fungus. It is difficult to know if this is a generic word or refers to the specific fungus that Drummond mentions. He does seem to infer that it is specific. It is notable that, at the time he wrote to the Enquirer, he had been farming at Toodjay (Duidgee) which is in Balardong country. That would imply that the range of the fungus includes Balardong country. I am not sure if Gyroporus occidentalis extends out this far but it will be interesting to find out.

Noongar groups. Attribute John D. Croft, English Wikipedia

The situation is complicated by the fact that there are other, rather similar looking blue staining boletes within Balardong country. One of these is documented by Doug Sawkins in his excellent record of the fungi of Foxes Lair at Narrogin. His very large blue staining bolete is similar in some ways to Gyroporus occidentalis but it lacks the chambered stem and has red tones where it has been attacked but insects. It matches one of Daisy Bates’ records of Woorda meaning ‘large mushroom’.

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Macrolepiota dolichaula – one of the best of the edibles

Macrolepiota dolichaula in its typical habitat – a grassy paddock (Image credit: Pixie Miller)

Macrolepiota dolichaula is a large mushroom that can often be seen in open paddocks from some distance away. It occurs in the warmer regions of Australia such as the North Coast of New South Wales and Queensland. It also occurs in other countries such as Vietnam, Northern Thailand and China. In all those places it is also considered an edible species. Genetically, the specimens from Australia form a monophyletic clade with the species from China. DNA Barcoding shows a 100% match between specimens from Australia and China. This is shown by specimens lodged by the mycologist who specialises in this genus, Else Vellinga. Genetically, it sits close to Macroplepiota procera, with which it is often confused.

Phylogenetic relationships in Macrolepiota, from :

When it is young, the mushroom has is bell-shaped (campulinate) as shown in the image below.

Young specimen of M. dolichaula shown bell-like shape (Image credit: Pixie Miller)

The centre of the mushroom has a slightly raised area (an umbo) which often has a light tan colour. From the centre, the cap squamules radiate towards the rim, the spacing getting wider towards the outside. These are white to very faint yellow-brown. The whole cap at maturity is between 60 and 160 mm in diameter.

Cap of M. dolichaula showing radiating squamules.(Image credit Drew Raison)

The gills are white to begin with, but darken to a straw colour over time. They are crowded and are not attached to the stem (free) and the length alternates between long (lamellae) and short (lamellulae).

Gills of M. dolichaula are white at first but become cream coloured over time. (Image credit: Drew Raison)
M. dolichaula, showing alternating long (lamellae) and short (lamellulae) gills (Credit: Jye Zap)

As the cap expands, a partial veil extending from the edge of the cap to the stem breaks away. This membrane has a similar texture to the cap surface. At the edges of the cap, ragged remnants of this partial veil remain.

Expanded cap of M. dolichaula showing partial veil breaking away. (Image credit: Simone Small)

If it is not torn away completely, as in the above image, on the stem, the remains of the partial veil form a ring or annulus. This hangs downwards.

Annulus on M. dolichaula (Image credit: Pixie Miller)

The stem (stipe) of the mushroom is often lightly covered with squamules rather like the cap. It tapers slightly from the base to the top and it is hollow. At the bottom of the stem, when cut or bruised will develop an orange/brown colour. It does not produce a bright red colour and does not form a colour at the top of the stem.

People sometimes refer to these mushrooms as Parasols, or White Parasols but i prefer to avoid terms like this as they can lead to much confusion.

This mushroom needs to be distinguished from Chlorophyllum molybdites. With practice this is easy to do but for the beginner, the simplest test is to wait until a specimen matures and the gills of C. molybdites will be seen to develop a dark grey/green colour.

It also needs to be distinguished from Chlorophyllum hortense, a mushroom with smaller stature but similar appearance. This distinction can be made by the fact that Chlorophyllum hortense stains bright red immediately right through the whole length of the stem. Another feature that is less clear is that C. hortense has a striate margin, that is to say closely spaced lines at the edge of the cap.

In a book recently published by the CSIRO this species is listed as poisonous because of unspecified reports of bad reactions. Given that this mushroom is so easily confused with Chlorophyllum molybdites, I am confident that this mis-identification is the origin of such reports.

Within the Australian mushrooming community (not to mention China and Asia) this is regarded as one of the most popular and tasty of wild mushrooms. I am not aware of a single report of ill effects but I am aware of dozens of glowing reports regarding the edibility and taste.

M. dolichaula, picked and ready for the kitchen. (Image credit: Jye Zap)

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Anatomy of a Yellow Stainer

Within the genus Agaricus, the Section Xathodermatei contains a number of species that are commonly known as yellow stainers and they are known to contain phenol which causes quite nasty gastric upsets if consumed. I have been meaning to put together a post about these but it was only this morning that I found a substantial patch of them on a street  verge to do some images and experiments.  A few members of the patch are shown in the picture below.

Yellow stainers on street verge

 

The yellow staining reaction is seen both on the cap and on the stem of the mushrooms and manifests itself as a bright chrome yellow stain that quickly fades. Once picked, the yellow stain on the cap may not continue to show itself. The picture below shows the sort of stain that occurs when you first pick one of these mushrooms. This was completely gone within 2 minutes.

yellow stain on cap

Yellow stain on edge of cap when first picked

 

The partial veil on these mushrooms has a fluffy appearance that I believe can be called flocculose.   The appearance of the partial veil at various stages is shown in the following set of images.

Partial veil at various stages of growth

The yellow stain on the cut stem can also been seen in these images as can the white core in the centre of the stem, a feature that is also seen in supermarket mushrooms.

Another feature that tends to be a characteristic of mushrooms in this Section is the ‘boxy’ cap shape.   That shape can be seen in the first image above.  This is where the analysis gets interesting.  As I have mentioned elsewhere, the yellow stain can be made permanent on these mushrooms by applying an alkali.  The yellow colour is due to 4,4-dihydroxyazobenzene.    While looking closely at these mushrooms I noticed that they have a very distinct internal structure featuring a very dense section in the cap above the stem.   This is revealed in a sectioned piece developed with Napisan solution which provided the necessary alkalinity and perhaps some oxidizing power that might have had an effect.   An example of a sectioned mushroom developed in this way is shown in the pictures below, compared with a supermarket version.

Yellow stainer (top)  compared with normal supermarket mushroom (bottom), both developed with Napisan solution

In this view it is immediately apparent that there is a significant difference in the internal structure of the two mushrooms.  The hard core in the centre of the cap of the yellow stainer shows up clearly.   I strongly suspect that this structure is responsible for the boxy shape of these mushrooms.   Beyond that however, the flesh of the cap of the yellow stainer remains refractory to the effects of the Napisan while the flesh of the supermarket mushroom saturates and slightly darkens.   The hard core also influences the way the cap separates from the stem.   In the case of the supermarket mushroom the separation is very clean but in the case of the yellow stainer the stem breaks away with a rather ragged edge, as shown in the picture below with two yellow stainers on the right and two supermarket varieties on the left.

Cap separation on supermarket mushrooms (left) versus yellow stainers (right).

I have in mind a few more experiments on these interesting mushrooms but I will finish this post off for now.

A quick postscript.  After about an hour the difference between the two mushrooms became even more stark.

 

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Lactarius deliciosus – Saffron milk cap – an east coast favourite.

The Saffron milk cap is a mushroom that occurs widely on the east coast in pine forests.  Foragers are actively encouraged to pick this mushroom in NSW in places like Oberon.  It also occurs in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.  Reports from Queensland are rare but it is occasionally found there. Sadly, it is not something we see in the pine forests of WA, though there have apparently been unsubstantiated reports of it from the Kewdale area, according to Bougher and Syme (1998).  There is another mention of someone trying to establish this in WA in an earlier paper. I have certainly never seen it in WA.

To view one of these beauties I had to travel to Adelaide on a heads up from some friends there.  These were cropping up in early February of 2017 after some rain, to the general surprise of enthusiasts there.  There were not a lot of them at this time, but I did manage to find this single specimen, to my great joy.  Thanks to Kate et. al. for the heads up!

This is what it looks like from the top.  Notice the pine needles.

saffie
Lactarius deliciosus cap

When cut, the inner surface reveals an orange colour at the margins, as shown below.

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Lactarius deliciosus showing red cut surface

Some texts say that these mushrooms are not particularly good eating and that the name is in fact a misnomer.  To test this out, I took my specimen down to a the barbecue at a local park in suburban Adelaide and fried it up with a little olive oil.  Adelaide is so well endowed with such parks and barbecues and I am sure that they are a popular gathering place. On this particular day however there was nobody else around though, and perhaps that is because it was 42 degrees. All this reinforces the oddity of finding mushrooms at this time of year.

Anyway, back to the taste test.  I found that the smell and the taste were intimately entwined and that it was a pleasant and unusual taste.  It is hard to describe a smell or taste but I kept thinking of vegetables like carrots.  This may well have been influenced by the orange colour.  The other very distinctive and great thing was the firmness. This is easily the most firm mushroom that I have ever cooked and eaten.

I look forward to eating more of these.  Who knows, perhaps they might crop up in WA?  Time will tell.

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Calvatia fragilis – another edible puffball

While driving around in April, I noticed for the first time this year some rather large puffballs growing around the place.  Here is what they looked like.

puffball
Calvatia fragilis

When cut open, these revealed a firm white flesh with a pleasant mushroom smell.  They lacked a ‘sterile base’ which is the bit at the bottom close to the attachment point to the ground.  The lizard skin pattern was also distinctive.  If left undisturbed they develop a purple spore mass and break open.

Calvatia fragilis spore mass

All of these factors together led me to identify them as Calvatia fragilis, which was subsequently confirmed by DNA analysis (97% AJ684871).

The picture below shows the specimen torn open.  There is a slight yellowing when it is bruised. It has a distinct skin.

Calvatia fragilis torn open
Calvatia fragilis torn open

The next picture shows another view of the surface of the puffball.

Surface of Calvatia fragilis
Surface of Calvatia fragilis

I found something similar in March 2021 after some unseasonal rain and humidity. These were a little more aged than the first ones and the skin (peridium) had become a bit more faceted but I believe it is the same fungus. This specimen turned soft overnight.

Calvatia fragilis immediately prior to spore formation

Some people say that all white puffballs in Australia are edible.   This is not true as many years ago I found a massive white puffball growing next to a mulga tree in Hopetoun that had an extremely unpleasant smell.  When I heated some up it caused us to evacuate the kitchen!

Calvatia fragilis is edible though and I sliced this one and fried it in butter.  The taste reminded me a little of eggs.

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Rhizopogon – a taxonomic challenge

A walk in a pine plantation in WA during winter will often reveal a truffle-like fungus lying on the top of the ground or sometimes almost buried.

rhizopogon-pseudoroseolus

Rhizopogon pseudoroseolus

This is Rhizopogon, introduced with the pine trees and a very effective fungus for assisting the pines to grow.  The mycelium from fungi such as these acts as an extension of the roots of the trees, drawing in nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable to the trees.

Many sources report that the species occurring here are Rhizopogon luteolus but DNA results on the specimen pictured above match R. pseudoroseolus (GQ267483).  This species, an introduction from the USA is also very common in New Zealand, though the appearance does not appear to match either the image nor the key published by Jerry Cooper of the Fungal Network of New Zealand. There are many different species, lots of variability and many published revisions of this genus so it does make identification difficult.

In Japan, a member of this genus, Rhizopogon roseolus is much prized as a food where is it known as Shoro.  The Kiwis, always much more proactive on these matters than we are, have done some comparisons on the species growing in New Zealand with those in Japan and have gone so far as introducing the Japanese species into NZ as a potential agricultural product.

This is not an easy fungus to identify visually and there is sparse information about edibility.  My friend Jsun has eaten a species that grows in Queensland and while visiting here he pickled some that I had collected.  These are shown in the picture below.  He has selected specimens that were firm and had a white interior when cut in half. When pickled, the outside became quite distinctly reddish.

rhizopogon-jar

Pickled Rhizopogon pseudoroseolus

I have eaten small quantities of these and must say that they are rather bland. Jsun reports that he likes to add them to stews and so forth and that they soak up the flavor of the dish.

See also: https://mushroaming.wordpress.com/2015/12/26/rhizopogon-rubescens/

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Laetiporus portentosus -White punk, poor tucker indeed

There have been many reports from the times of early European settlement, all from Tasmania, of the Aboriginal people eating a white’ punk’ growing on trees.  It has been widely assumed that this is Laetiporus portentosus, formerly known as Piptoporus portentosus.

This June I chanced upon a specimen of this lying on the ground in Bridgetown.  It was quite a massive thing, weighing several kilos and it was saturated with water.  That is why I assume was on the ground, having fallen from its position because of its weight.  Here it is sitting on my dining room table.

Laetiporus portentosus desk

Fallen Laetiporus portentosus on table

 

Here is another shot of it, this time showing the inside after I had cut it open with great difficulty.  I don’t think this would have been possible with primitive tools.

Laetiporus portentosus cut

Laetiporus portentosus cut open

You can see that the inside looks sort of cottony.  In fact it more closely resembles polystyrene in texture.  An attempt to eat a small piece of it revealed that it was about as edible as polystyrene too.  Not even in an emergency could anyone possibly eat and digest this fungus.  Perhaps the story is different with very small specimens but I am doubtful.

It is quite difficult to get a picture of one of these in-situ on a tree because they tend to grow quite high up.  I was lucky enough to spot one by a road cutting near Donnybrook that enabled me to scramble up and take a picture with my phone.  Here it is.

laetiporus donnybrook

Laetiporus portentosus in situ

The fact that these are relatively few and far between and so high up on the trees is further evidence against them being used as food.

It is however widely reported that they were used as tinder and to carry fire.  Some experiments revealed that a dried specimen could be ignited very readily and that it would smolder for a long time.  By judicious control of the fire front on a smoldering specimen it could easily be kept aglow for hours.  Uncontrolled burning of half a specimen lasted about 40 minutes.  I made a short video of a small piece smoldering after it had been ignited. A still from that video is shown below.

laetipurus glowing

A piece of Laetiporus portentosus smoldering

 

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Macrolepiota clelandii – after some careful consideration

This is a common mushroom around the karri forest and other places during the early part of the rainy season.  It used to be listed as Macrolepiota konradii in guides until quite recently until Else Vellinga renamed the group in 2002.  Almost all sources list this as edible, except for Tony Young who says that this Australian species is of unknown toxicity.

IMG_0725

Macrolepiota clelandii

Its edibility seems to be  based on the fact that is was thought to be the same as the edible M. konradii from Europe.  It has also been mistakenly called Macrolepiota procera both here and in New Zealand where it also occurs.   In reality, Macrolepiota procera occurs in neither place. 

Here is a picture of the top surface.

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Macrolepiota clelandii top surface

The size of this mushroom varies a bit.  In the SW of WA it is a rather pretty and delicate mushroom that will sometimes spring up in the oddest places.   I had one come up once half way down a post hole that I had left open. The specimen pictured is about 150mm high with a cap 100mm across.  That is a typical size for around my area.  Further north I have seen pictures of larger specimens.  They don’t occur as a small mushroom.  In fact, there are some small Lepiootas that look rather similar and some Lepiotas are deadly.

Update: August 2016

My fellow blogger Jsun and I picked some of these during July and he was able to confirm that they were the same as those he had eaten in the east.  I watched him cook and eat some and being thus encouraged I had a small portion myself.  I am now much more confident about these.   One thing he pointed out to me was the ‘snakeskin’ pattern on the stem which also flares out at the base.

 

snakeskin

Snakeskin pattern on stem

The ring or annulus is quite distinctive also,  breaking up in radial splits and being attached at first, but moveable with some encouragement.

macrolepiota ring

Detail of ring

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Leucoagaricus leucothites -with caution

Leucoagaricus

Leucoagaricus leucothites

 

 

Leucoagaricus leucothites was formerly called Leucoagaricus naucinus and with the state of flux in taxonomy at present, it might have another name next year.  It is a mushroom of worldwide distribution, widely known as an edible species but often recommended as a species to be avoided because it shares so many features with a couple of deadly Amanitas. For this reason nobody should attempt to eat these unless they are completely confident in being able to distinguish an Amanita.

I spotted the specimens above by the side of the road, which is a common place to find them.  The caps are bright white with a satin texture.  The shape of the large specimen in the picture is characteristic of this species.   The underside features a hollow stem that widens a little at the base, but does not have a sac or volva like Amanita or Volvopluteus.  The gills are at first white but darken a little at maturity. The spore print is bright white.

It is always a little scary eating something new but even more so when it is something with white gills and a white spore print.   Nevertheless, after much checking and re-checking I fried some up and did a taste test.  From descriptions elsewhere I had expected something more; it tasted just like Volvopluteus gloiocephalus.  The mature specimen even looks a little like Volvopluteus.

One can only wonder how species like this manage to spread so far and wide.   Apparently the spores of this one germinate very readily in a wide range of media so perhaps that has something to do with it.  Anyway, another of our introduced species that is edible for what it is worth.

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Volvopluteus gloiocephalus – a common roadside species

I was doing some research and maintenance today when I realised that I didn’t have a blog entry for this mushroom, though it is a very common one that I have been eating for 30 years.  Perhaps I accidentally deleted it. It used to be known as Volvariella speciosa until quite recently when some DNA studies indicated that it should be placed in a new grouping.

If you are driving around Perth in wintertime, you will see this everywhere growing on roadside woodchip mulch.  It also occurs on waste ground.  It is not generally a good idea to eat mushrooms that grow by roadsides as they can accumulate various toxins.  However, these are so widespread that it should be possible locate some that are growing in a safe spot.

One of the important things to know about this species is that it looks very similar to an Amanita.  On the east coast, people have died after picking and eating the deadly Amanita phalloides, mistaking them for Volvariella volvaceae, the paddy straw mushroom of Southeast Asia and Queensland.  It would be very easy to make a similar fatal mistake here in the West, confusing Volvopluteus with other species of Amanita.  I have seen the two growing very close together and they are nearly impossible to tell apart.  It is only when the mushroom reaches maturity and the rusty orange gills become evident that Volvopluteus becomes easy to identify.

Now for some pictures.  I had to recover these from an old computer in the shed that I first bought in 2003.  That was an interesting exercise in itself, requiring removal of the hard drive and taking it to the computer shop.

This first picture shows the mushroom just as it is emerging.  It looks just like the hard boiled egg that I have placed beside it.

eggs

Emerging mushroom beside a boiled egg

As it grows, it begins to take on some shape.  You can clearly see the sac or volva at the base.

volvariella5

Beginning to grow, showing volva

 

 

At maturity, it takes on a classic shape.

two volvariellas

Typical Volvopluteus gloiocephala at maturity

 

The gills, which are white at first, take on a rusty orange colour at maturity.  It is at this stage that identification is most accurate.

vovariella pair

Mature specimens, showing gills

 

This mushroom has an unusual and distinctive taste.  I often cook it in a sauce that I add to silverbeet and serve it with roast chicken.

All of my numerous attempts to cultivate this mushroom have failed, resulting in a slimy bacterial looking mess.  It is possible, as others have done it, so I will give it another go next time I find it, with my more recently installed laminar flow hood.

 

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