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Wild Mushrooms

Wildman Devours Yellow Morel Sculpture

Mushroom Essentials — Read this before you even think of eating any wild mushrooms!

Cooking With Wild Mushrooms

Mushroom Recipes

MUSHROOMS WITH GILLS (Blade-Like Slats Under Their Caps)

Mushroom Groups

The Amanitas (Amanita species)

Hey, Mom... let's put this in the stew we're making for Aunt Tillie...she'll flip!

Amanita Overview

General Information These strikingly beautiful gilled mushrooms include some of the deadliest species in the world. (They remind me of some of the women I've dated.) Because they account for 90% of mushroom fatalities, this is a very important family to learn (also, you never know when the boss may drop over for dinner).

Although it's not always easy to tell species apart, the amanita group itself is not hard to learn or to avoid. Not every amanita species has all the characteristics described below, but all amanitas have enough of them that even a young child can learn to point out amanitas:

A family that had attended a tour where we found lots of amanitas was watching a TV mystery six months later. When the murder victim was killed by mushroom poisoning, the family's 6-year-old son chanted: "It must have been an amanita!"

Habitat With very few exceptions, amanitas grow on the ground near trees, with which they exchange nutrients. Unless they're interacting with evergreens, you usually see them in the summer, when trees are active.

Universal Veil When very young, amanitas are enclosed in a membrane called a universal veil. When the mushroom bursts out, remnants of the universal veil may form an underground sac surrounding the stem's often bulbous base (easy to miss if you carelessly break off the mushroom at ground level), affectionately known as the cup of death.

Or the universal veil may break into patches of tissue that can adhere to the cap, or sometimes to the stem, unless rain washes the patches away.

Partial Veil Amanitas usually have a partial veil that covers the gills before the mushroom is mature enough to make spores. When the cap opens like an umbrella, this delicate partial veil often adheres to the stem, forming a ring or skirt. But not all amanitas have this partial veil.

Gills Amanitas generally have white gills, and the gills are almost always free—there's a small space separating the them from the stem, so you can break off the stem from the cap without tearing the gills.

Spores Amanitas' microscopic spores and their spore prints are white. Stem The stem may end in a bulbous base, sometimes covered by a sac-like membrane. Sometimes there may be ridges near the stem's base, or patches of tissue on the stem.

Look-Alikes Confusing amanitas with other mushrooms is the main cause of mushroom poisoning deaths.

Very young amanitas, called buttons, resemble puffballs, but when you cut puffballs open, they're undifferentiated inside. An amanita button has a cap, stem, and gills inside.

Amanitas share many characteristics with lepiotas (a group with edible and poisonous species). But you can detach a lepiota's ring and run it up and down the stem like a napkin ring. If you try this with an amanita's ring, it breaks apart. Once you've learned these two groups, you'll also notice that the lepiotas are longer and more slender, while the amanitas are shorter and more squat.

Young field mushrooms (Agaricus species), many of which are edible, also resemble amanitas because field mushrooms may have white, free gills when very young (the gills turn brown), sometimes after a pink stage, when the field mushroom matures, but amanita's spores are always white. Field mushrooms' spore prints are brown, while amanitas' are white.

Toxicity Not all amanitas are poisonous, but the edible and deadly species can look so much alike, and there are so many other safer groups, that people should never eat amanitas.

On the positive side, even the most toxic amanitas reportedly taste great, and you don't have to worry about symptoms until 8-12 hours after eating them. Of course, by then it's too late to pump your stomach! And you can eat the most poisonous amanitas with impunity if you happen to be an eastern box turtle. And if a human then eats you, you get revenge—the human dies of amanita poisoning.

The worst of the amanita toxins prevent your cells from making new proteins, and this kills them. Cells in the digestive tract, with the fastest metabolism, go first, leading to days of abominable abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

After a few days of this, new cells replace the dead ones, and the symptoms abate. But the toxins recirculate in the bloodstream. The same fate befalls the cells of the liver and kidneys, and death soon ensues.

Doctors shunt the blood through filters to remove the toxins. They use dialysis to replace the kidneys, and give the patient a liver transplant. Sometimes the patient can be saved.

Alternative practitioners recommend psilymarin, a concentrated extract of the milk thistle, which stimulates cells to produce new proteins. This only helps cells that aren't already dead.

The best way to deal with amanita poisoning is never to eat an amanita!

The Blusher (Amanita rubescens)

The Blusher

The blusher is an amanita with a reddish-brown to yellow-orange cap 2-6 inches across, sometimes with an orange-brown knob in the center.

The Blusher, side view - Note the patches on the cap, and the raised bulge in the cap's center.

Pinkish-white patches, which may be washed off by rain, decorate the pale red-orange and yellow-orange tinged cap.

Immature Blushers - Note the numerous pink-white patches, and the red-orange discoloration on the orange-yellow cap

The white gills are free from the stem.

The Blusher, Older Specimen, side view - Note the stalk's reddish discoloration, and tattered white ring encircling it.

The stem can grow 3-8 inches long. A ring encircles it, and it ends in a club-like base.

The Blusher Unearthed - Note the stalk's club-like base, the space between the (free), gills from the stalk, and the skirt or ring (partial veil) around the upper stalk. This specimen is younger than the one above, so it has fewer reddish stains.

It's called the blusher because the cap, gills, ring, and stem discolor reddish-pink when bruised.

It grows on the ground near oak or pine trees in eastern North America (late June-October), where it's very common, and in California (February-April).

Although non-poisonous, this is not a mushroom to eat. The similar-looking, poisonous, cleft-foot amanita (A. brunnescens), which bruises brown, and other deadly relatives, which also discolor, resemble it too closely for safety.

Caesar's Amanita (Amanita caesarea)

Caesar's Amanita

This mushroom has a sticky, hemispheric red-orange to orange cap (yellowing with age) that becomes convex, then nearly flat, with a knob in the center, and radial lines along the margin; 2 to 5-1/4 inches across. The broad, yellow gills, free from the stem, are close together. The spore print is white.

The yellowish stalk is 3-8 inches long, 1/8 to 3/4 inches wide, stuffed at first, then hollow. There's a yellowish ring or skirt around the upper stalk, and a thick, loose, white, sack-like cup surrounding the base.

There are similar looking deadly amanitas, but none of them have yellow gills plus the underground sack (although other, different-looking amanitas do have the cup-of-death)

The European version of this mushroom was a favorite among the emperors of ancient Rome, accounting for its common name.

The European version of this mushroom was a favorite among the emperors of ancient Rome, accounting for its common name.

And some of my non-imperial friends have eaten this mushroom and lived to rated it among the very best.

I've never tried this mushroom myself, and strongly advise avoiding all amanitas, even one as distinct as this one. Unless you're an experienced expert, you're risking your life.

Amanitas - Cleft-Foot Amanita

Cleft-Foot Amanita (A. Brunnescens)

Cleft-foot Amanita

The cleft-foot amanita has a sticky, brownish cap 1-6 inches across, with white to beige patches, and sometimes with a central knob.

The free gills are white, and so is the spore print. There's a ring on the upper stalk.

Cleft-foot Amanita (from below)

The stalk is 2-6 inches long, abruptly ends in a bulb with vertical splits — a cleft foot.

Cleft-foot Amanita Stalk Basen - Note the vertical splits and brown discoloration

The stalk begins white, but injuries or wear and tear discolor it and it discolors brown, like the rest of the mushroom.

It's common in oak woods, summer to fall, in the eastern half of North America.

It is most likely poisonous (possibly deadly), and it resembles other amanitas, such as nonpoisonous blusher, which has a stalk that tapers into a club at the end, rather than a bulb, and bruises reddish instead of brownish.

There's also a common subspecies of the cleft-foot amanita that's identical to the variety described above in every way, except that it's white.

Cleft-foot Amanita, White Variety, Immature (Button) Stage - Note the patch and the brown discoloration

Cleft-foot Amanita, White Variety - Note the brownish stain on the white stem.

Coker's Amanita (Amanita cokeri)

Coker's Amanita - sculpture, acrylic paint

Coker's amanita is an entirely white mushroom with a cap 3-6 inches across with large, whitish pyramidal patches.

Coker's Amanita, young - Note the raised patches covering the mushroom.

The broad, white, free gills (sometimes tinged with yellow or pink) are crowded together.

Coker's Amanita, from below - Note that the gills end before they reach the stem (free gills), typical of the amanitas (and of some other genera as well).

The spores are white. A large ring, grooved on top, surrounds the upper stalk.

The spindle-shaped stalk (see photo of sculpture, above), 5-8 inches long, roots into the ground (mushrooms, not being plants, don't have true roots). It's also covered with scales toward its base.

Coker's Amanita, side view - Note the three-dimensional patches on the cap and at the base of the stalk.

This mushroom appears in sandy habitats in the summer and fall in eastern North America. It is very likely quite poisonous, but no one has ever been dumb enough to find out (yet!)

There are close to 40 very similar, closely related amanitas, some growing on the west coast, and some which smell like chlorine, that you also should not eat.

Coker's Amanita, Button Stage - Except for its patchiness, this very young and very dangerous amanita resembles a puffball.

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

Fly Agaric, Yellow Variety

The fly agaric has a blood red cap (although there's also a yellow-orange subspecies) 2-10 inches wide with faint radial lines toward the margin. Cottony patches stick to its surface.

The broad white gills are crowded together. There's a fragile, white ring on the upper stalk.

Fly Agaric, Yellow Variety - Note the characteristic concentric rings on the lower stem.

The whitish stem, which sometimes has an enlarged bulb at its base, is circled with concentric ridges toward its base, a very important identification characteristic.

This mushroom is poisonous, but not deadly. The Koryak people, nomadic, shamanistic, Siberian reindeer herders, traditionally used it to hallucinate, although the poisons would leave them quite ill afterwards. Then they'd drink their urine, which contains the hallucinogen, to get high again. When that no longer worked, they'd drown their symptoms in vodka.

The Aztecs would feed the mushroom to their warriors to make them braver.

Aspects of Santa Claus were allegedly inspired by this mushroom. His red coat and white buttons symbolize the red mushroom with its white patches. Santa flies because the mushroom sometimes creates the hallucination of flight. He uses reindeer because they're fond of the mushroom, and herders who eat reindeer that have eaten the mushroom get high too.

The Koryak shaman would bring prepared fly agarics to ceremonies in a sack, like Santa's bag of toys, and enter the yurt (portable circular domed dwelling) through the smoke hole (like a chimney).

Santa lives at the North Pole because for most Europeans, Siberia might as well be the North Pole. And in Europe today, Christmas cards still often depict the fly agaric.

The mushroom gets its name because people used to put it in a glass of milk to kill flies. The fly is supposed to drink the milk, get high, fly around in a frenzy, then drop dead in mid-flight. I don't know whether or not this really works.

The fly agaric may well be the legendary soma, praised in the ancient Vedic texts of India.

It's also the mushroom Alice ate in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. One of the hallucinations it causes is to make things look larger, so Alice got smaller and was able to slip under the door.

In the excellent 1988 nature movie, The Bear, an orphaned bear cub eats this mushroom and experiences an instant replay of the 1960's.

Note: Although not everyone agrees with this evaluation, I think the North American orange variety of this mushroom usually does not cause hallucinations, it just gets you sick!

People who have used it to try to get high rarely try to repeat the experience.

On the other hand, the Japanese (and others) boil it in 2 changes of salted water, get rid of the toxins, and serve it in restaurants! Whether this will work elsewhere, where there may be different species of this mushroom, is anyone's guess, but I certainly wouldn't risk it when there are so many other safe mushrooms.

Grisette (Amanita vaginata)

The grisette is a gray amanita, and gris means gray in French. The word grisette is also 19th century French slang for a working class woman much more conducive to physical intimacy than her middle class counterpart (we won't discuss the behavior of the French upper class here!)

The cap is 2-4 inches wide, with radial lines toward its edge. It sometimes has a few white patches on top, and a central knob.

Grisette Cap - Note the darkened, raised central knob, and the radial lines ending at the cap's margin.

The gills are free from the stalk. They're white, and so is the spore print.

Grisette Gills - The gills are free—there's a space between the beginning of the gills and the stalk.

The whitish-gray, slender stalk is 4-8 inches long. Unlike many other amanitas, the grisette and its close relatives have no partial veil covering the immature gills, and no subsequent ring encircling the stalk.

Grisette, side view - Unlike many other amanitas, no ring ever encircles the grisette's stalk.

Its base is surrounded by a sac-like cup, hence the species name, vaginata, which means sheath in Latin.

Grisette Unearthed - Note the sac-like cup at the stalk's basw, accounting for the specific name, vaginata.

You can find grisettes in open woods or in grass or on lawns near trees throughout North America, all summer on the east coast, and from November to February on the west coast.

Sack-like Sheath Surrounding Stalk Base - For a mushroom hunter, this sack is like the rattle of a rattlesnake!

Although it may be nonpoisonous, and some people, particularly in France, have eaten it and lived to tell, it has many varieties, as well as similar-looking close relatives of unknown toxicity. Some of these may be deadly.

This is not a safe mushroom to eat.

Yellow Blusher (Amanita flavorubescens)

The Yellow Blusher

The yellow blusher's sticky cap is 2 to 4 inches across, with yellowish patches. The free gills and the spores are white.

The thick, club-shaped stalk is 2 to 5 inches long. A white to yellowish ring hangs from the upper stalk. The whole mushrooms discolors reddish where injured.

It grows in oak woods and residential areas in the eastern half of North America from early summer to fall.

The blusher is similar because it also bruises red, but it isn't yellow, and the yellow patches amanita, which also looks similar, doesn't bruise red.

This is definitely not a mushroom to eat. Its of unknown edibilty, and could be deadly.


Sautéed Cinnabar-red Chanterelles

Chanterelles are small to medium vase-shaped to funnel-shaped stalked mushrooms with shallow, blunt-edged gills or ridges that run down the stem. There's no ring around the stem or bulb-like structure underground. Never clustered, they may appear in large troops.

They grow on the ground in the summer and fall. Habitats include oak, conifer, and beech forests.

More resistant to insect attack than most other groups, some chanterelles are among the most prized edibles. Virtually any cooking method works with them. Very few species cause gastric distress, although some very small species are of unknown edibility.

Black Trumpet (Craterellus Fallax)

This black or gray to dark brown, hollow, trumpet-shaped, hollow mushroom is 3/8 to 3-1/4 inches wide and 1-1/4 to 5-1/2 inches tall.

Black Trumpet

North America in the summer and fall, sometimes in great quantity.

The black trumpet grows under deciduous trees throughout

The cap margin is wavy, the outer surface smooth to wrinkled, and the brittle flesh is thin and fruity-fragrant. The spore print is creamy white to ochre-orange. Nothing poisonous looks like it.

Black Trumpets, side view

Also called the trumpet of death because of its appearance, nothing could be further from the truth.

Its rich, smoky flavor makes it ideal sautéed, in soups, sauces, casseroles, mock egg dishes, and a huge variety of recipes.

The Chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius)

The Chanterelle

This bright yellow to orange mushroom has a convex to funnel-shaped cap 3/8 to 6 inches across with a wavy margin. The mushroom may be odorless, or smell like apricots.

Blunt-edged, thick, forked (dividing) yellow to orange gills under the cap run down the stalk a short distance. The spore print is pale yellow to creamy.

The yellow to orange solid stalk is 1to 3 inches long, 1/4 to 1 inch thick, white inside.

Chanterelles - Note the shallowness of the gills, which run down the stalk.

The chanterelle grows throughout North America, on the ground under oaks and conifers, sometimes in great quantity. Look for it throughout the summer in eastern North America, from fall to spring on the West Coast.

Unlike other summer mushrooms, this one doesn't begin to get infested with insects as soon as it comes up, although older specimens pick up lots of grit, especially after they've been rained on, that you need to brush away under running water.

Chanterelles - Note that these are older and dirtier than the pristine specimens shown above.

Other related chanterelle species are also edible, but don't confuse the chanterelle with the poisonous Jack O'Lantern (Omphalotus olearius), a larger mushroom that grows clustered on dead wood, with gills that are not forked or divided.

The chanterelle is one of the world's best-known choice wild mushrooms. Professional pickers strip clean forests in the Pacific Northwest, ship the chanterelles to France in refrigerated pLn.s, can them, and return them to the US as expensive imported French gourmet mushrooms!

Nevertheless, some people experience gastric distress from chanterelles, especially if they're undercooked, so cook them at least 15 minutes, and go easy on them the first time you try them.

Chanterelles are great sautéed in olive oil with a little garlic. Traditionally added to omelets and egg dishes, they're excellent in vegan mock egg dishes as well, and they can't be beat in soups, stews, or casseroles. They also provide vitamin A.

Chanterelle Custard

Giant Clitocybe

This is a large group of mushrooms with white gills that run down the stem, no ring around the stem, and mostly white spore prints. The gills attach to the stem.

The gills aren't waxy, as in the waxy caps, nor brittle, as in Lactarius and Russula. The gills aren't shallow and blunt, as in the chanterelles, and the mushrooms aren't orange, as the Jack O'Lantern and its relatives.

Most are without flavor, such as the giant clitocybe. Some are unpleasant-tasting, and a few are poisonous, but a few, such as the blewit and iris-scented clitocybe, are especially delicious.

Blewit (Clitocybe nuda)


This fragrant, bluish-tinged mushroom (the name blewit comes from the words blue hat) has a violet-gray cap that is 2 to 6 inches across. It begins convex, flattens, and ends slightly funnel-shaped.

Blewit, side view - The blue color of this relatively long-lived mushroom tends to fade over time.

The broad, violet buff gills connect to the stem with a notch. The spores are white.

Blewit, from below - The gills curve upward and form a notch where they connect to the stalk.

The violet gray stalk is 1 to 3 inches long and 3/8 to 1 inch across, with a bulbous base.

Blewit, from below - Note the bulbous base, and the bluish tinge throughout.

Look for the blewit in composted soil and evergreen debris from late summer through late fall throughout North America (or late fall to late winter in California).

The poisonous silver violet cortinarius (Cortinarius alboviolaceus) is similar, but it has brown spores that eventually darken the gills (which are protected by a cobweb-like veil when young), plus a faint ring zone around the mature stem.

The iris-scented clitocybe is less robust and lacks the tinges of blue of the blewit, but it's also a chice edible.

One of the most prized of wild mushrooms, the blewit is so strong tasting, it overpowers some people's palates. You may prepare it simply with few other ingredients, or include it in a recipe with many strong-flavored ingredients. Its rich flavor and meaty texture will always shine through. And virtually any cooking method suits this choice fungus. Cook the cap and stem for 15 to 20 minutes.

Giant Clitocybe (Clitocybe gigantea)

Giant Clitocybe

The giant clitocybe has a huge white to buff cap 4-18 inches across, first convex, then flat, finally funnel-shaped.

Giant Clitocybe Cap - Note the flattened shape in middle age.

The margin begins inrolled and becomes furrowed. I find the odor mildly fishy.

The broad white to buff gills, sometimes forked or branched, and crowded together, descend the stalk. The spore print is white.

Giant Clitocybe, from below - Note the crowded gills that slightly descend the stalk.

The dry, solid, smooth, whitish stalk is 1-4 inches long, 1-2 inches thick.

The mushroom grows in open woods, on disturbed soil, and in gardens, from the middle of the summer through fall, throughout the US.

Giant Clitocybes in the Leaf Litter - The large white caps of these clustered mushrooms, along with their fishy smell, makes them quite distinct.

Although this large mushroom is easy to identify (there just aren't very many mushrooms that get so large, especially white ones with gills descending the stem), it has no flavor, and isn't worth collecting.

Iris-Scented Clitocybe (Clitocybe irina)

Iris-scented Clitocybe

This iris-scented mushroom has a whitish cap 2 to 6 inches across. It begins convex with an incurved margin, flattens, and ends slightly funnel-shaped.

The broad, buff-colored gills connect to the stalk. The spores are white.

The grayish stalk is 1 to 3 inches long and 3/8 to 1 inch across, sometimes with a bulbous base.

Iris-scented Clitocybe

Look for it in composted soil and evergreen debris from late summer through late fall throughout North America (or late fall to late winter in California).

The choice edible blewit is similar, but tinged with blue.

Like the better-known blewit, the iris-scented clitocybe is strong tasting. Prepare it as a simple sautéed side dish, or include it in a recipe with many strong-flavored ingredients. Its rich flavor and meaty texture will always shine through. And virtually any cooking method works. Cook the cap and stem for 15 to 20 minutes.

The Cortinarius (Web-Cap) Homepage

Yellow Spotted Cortinarius

Description Cortinarius mushrooms have a partial veil covering the immature gills that looks like a cobweb.

Gills of Beautiful-gilled Cortinarius with cobweb-like veil

When the cap expands, the threads stick to the stem, where the falling spores soon color this ring of threads reddish-brown. This makes the genus easy to recognize.

Identifying the species is another matter. There are close to one thousand species, some of which are quite large. And unlike other groups of conspicuous living things in the temperate world, many Cortinarius mushrooms have never been characterized and named by science.

Because the group is so large, it might take more than one lifetime to completely study, categorize, and name all these mushrooms. But since scientific interest and funds today focus on biotechnology, not biodiversity, this has not happened yet.

Toxicity When I first began learning about mushrooms in 1980, some Cortinarius mushrooms were edible, others were poisonous. The poisonous ones were slightly toxic to the kidneys. But the kidneys removed the poison from the bloodstream. Unfortunately, instead of excreting the toxin in the urine, the kidneys return the poison to the blood, enduring an unnoticeably small amount of damage that doesn't manifest itself for several weeks, when kidney failure ensues!

Since then, there's been evidence that all Cortinarius species might have some of this toxin, so even the ones that people had been eating without obvious ill effects are suspect. Because of possible fatal kidney damage, because many of the species are so difficult to identify, and because many of the species are still unknown, you should avoid eating all Cortinarius mushrooms.

Ecology and Habitat These mushrooms grown on the ground in coniferous and hardwood forests, where they exchange nutrients with trees. They're very common in the summer and the fall.

Beautiful-Gilled Cortinarius (Cortinarius subpulchrifolius)

Beautiful-gilled Cortinarius

This mushroom has a dry, convex cap 1-1/2 to 4 inches across, gray-buff at first, then reddish, with an incurved margin, slightly earthy-smelling.

Beautiful-gilled Cortinarius, side view

The purplish gills attach to or slightly run down the stem. The spores are reddish-brown.

Beautiful-gilled Cortinarius, gills - Note the cobweb-like veil.

The dingy-white stalk, tinged with red, is 2-5 inches long, 3/8 to 1 inch wide. A few hairs on the upper stem sometimes indicate a ring zone.

This mushroom grows throughout North America in deciduous or mixed deciduous-evergreen forests in the fall.

It's of unknown edibility or toxicity.

Bracelet Cortinarius (Cortinarius armillatus)

Bracelet Cortinarius - Sculpture, acrylic paint by "Wildman"

This large mushroom has a moist, reddish-brown cap bell-shaped cap that becomes convex, then flat; 2 to 5 inches across. The moderately-broad gills attach to the stem. They're cinnamon-colored before the spores color them rust-red.

The cobweb-like partial veil leaves 1 to 4 zones of reddish fibrils that look like a bracelet around the stem, accounting for the mushroom's common name.

Bracelet Cortinarius - Note the characteristic orange bands around the stalk.

The solid, fibrous, brownish club-shaped stalk is 3 to 6 inches long, 3/8 to 3/4 inches thick.

This common mushroom grows in deciduous and coniferous woods throughout the eastern half of North America in the late summer and fall.

Although people have eaten this mediocre-tasting mushroom, with no obvious ill effects, because of the unknown risk of kidney damage in this group, I strongly recommend you avoid eating this species.

Cinnabar Cortinarius (Cortinarius Cinnabarinus)

Cinnabar Cortinarius

This mushroom has a bright cinnamon to rust-colored, bell-shaped cap, sometimes with a knob, sometimes flat, 1-1/4 to 2-3/8 inches wide.

The gills attach to the stalk, colored cinnamon red at first, then rust-red. The spore print is rust-colored.

The cobweb-like partial veil that covers the immature gills leaves no ring on the stalk when the mushroom matures.

The shiny, reddish stalk is 1-1/4 to 2-3/4 inches long, 1/8 to 3/8 inches thick.

Look for it under deciduous or coniferous trees throughout eastern North America from mid-summer through fall.

It's of unknown toxicity.

Inky Caps (Coprinus)

Their mass rotted off them flake by flake
Til the thick stalk stuck like a murderer's stake,
Where rags of loose flesh yet tremble on high
Infecting the winds that wander by.


Inky caps are conical mushrooms with grey to black gills that release their black spores when the cap disintegrates and turns into ink. The hollow stalk is usually white. This group is very easy to recognize, even for beginners.

These saprophytic (decomposer) mushrooms grow on lawns, pastures and manured habitats, disturbed habitats, and empty lots in urban and suburban settings, often in great quantity, returning year after year.

Some species, like the shaggy mane, are choice. One species, the alcohol inky cap, can make you temporarily ill if you consume alcohol within hours of eating it. And some small species, such as the mica cap, are as tasteless as my jokes, nonpoisonous, but not worthwhile as food.

Although some individuals may experience adverse reactions after consuming inky caps, (possible with any mushrooms) there are no poisonous large inky caps. Some species too small for food are of unknown edibility, and some that grow on dung may be poisonous or hallucinogenic.

Pick them before they turn into ink. Ink really isn't good to eat (or drink)! Cook the mushrooms the same day, or you might have a bagful of ink in your refrigerator the next day.

Alcohol Inky Cap (Coprinus atramentarius)

Immature Alcohol Inky Cap - Sculpture, acrylic paint by "Wildman"

This inky cap has a gray-brown, egg-shaped cap 2-3 inches wide, becoming convex, with a pleated margin.

Mature Alcohol Inky Cap - Note the inky, black gills, and the cap's pleated margin.

The free (from the stem) gills are crowded together. They begin light gray, then blacken as they turn into ink and disintegrate.

Alcohol Ink Caps Disintegrating

The spores are black

The white, hollow stalk is 3-6 inches long, 3/8-3/4 inches thick.

Alcohol Inky Cap Split Lengthwise - Note the gills blackening from the bottom up, and the hollow stalk.

A faint ring near the stalk's base soon disappears.

Alcohol inky caps grow clustered, in wood chips and grass, throughout North America (and much of the temperate world), from spring to fall in the east, late fall to early spring in California.

Alcohol Ink Caps Emerging - Note how tightly these mushrooms are clustered.

It's a good edible in soups, stews, and sauces. Use it the day you collect it, while it's still fresh and the gills are still white, before it begins to turn into ink.

Alcohol Ink Cap Cluster - Young, emerging alcohol inkies with white gills like these are the ones to eat.

Caution: Do not consume alcohol for a day or 2 after eating this mushroom. It sometimes contains a substance that prevents your body from detoxifying alcohol.

Drinking alcohol after eating this mushroom may lead to alcohol poisoning. Symptoms include tingling sensations, flushing, and rapid heart beat.

You may also experience the belief that you've eaten a deadly mushroom, accompanied by the mortal fear that your hours on Earth are numbered!

However, all symptoms disappear after a few hours, and recovery is complete.

Mica Cap (Coprinus micaceus)

Mica Cap - sculpture, acrylic paints

This small inky cap. The cap's margin is radially lined, with furrows going almost to the cap's center.

The gills, which attach to the stem, begin dingy white, become gray, and then blacken with the black spores. Although they become inky, they never completely disintegrate.

has a tawny-brown cap only 1-2 inches wide, egg-shaped, becoming bell-shaped, finally convex. When it's young, it's covered with distinctive, glistening granules that resemble sand or mica.

Old Mica Caps - Mica caps are quite distinct as they liquify into ink.

This mushroom lives on dead wood. It grows throughout North America, and you can find it from early spring to late fall, all year in California.

Mica Caps, Top View - Note the tightly clustered tan caps with radial lines running along 2/3 of the caps to the margins.

Although non-poisonous, it's much too small and watery to be worth eating. It nearly vanishes to nothing when you cook it, and it has almost no flavor.

Once when I found a large quantity of very fresh mica caps a little less small than usual, I tried to get around this problem by cooking them on a cookie sheet with spices and a little olive oil under the broiler. They still shrunk to almost nothing.

When I scraped off the sludge with a spatula, preparing to wash the cookie sheet, I tasted some, and it was good enough to use as a spread. Still, it wasn't worth the trouble.

Mica Caps, side view - Note how the caps blacken from the edges inward.

Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus)

Shaggy Mane - sculpture, acrylic paints

This inky cap species has a white, cylindrical cap 1-1/4 to 2 inches wide and 1-5/8 to 6 inches high, covered with flat, white scales that make it look shaggy.

Shaggy Mane - Note the scaly, egg-shaped cap and the ring toward the bottom of the stalk.

The crowded, white gills, free from the stalk (there’s a space in-between) also become black with ink as they mature and disintegrate.

Shaggy Mane, From Below - Note the blackening, inky gills that don't reach the stalk.

The spores are black. The hollow, bulbous, white stalk is 2-3/8 to 8 inches long, 3/8 to 3/4 inches thick, with a ring about 2/3 way down.

Shaggy Mane, Split Lengthwise - Note the gills beginning to blacken from the bottom up.

One of the easiest mushrooms to recognize, it grows around the world. I even collected shaggy manes in a backyard just before embarking on a ship bound for Antarctica in Ushaia, the southernmost town in South America (the ship's cook, phobic of mushrooms, threw them out rather than preparing them).

This mushroom turns into black ink from the edge inward as it matures.

Shaggy Mane, Old - Note how the mushroom is liquifying into ink.

Look for the shaggy mane in wood chips, grass, or bare, hard-packed soil in the fall (also sometimes in the spring, plus through half the winter in the Southeast) throughout North America. It can appear in unbelievable quantities with hundreds of mushrooms arising and disintegrating over a period of weeks every year.

Shaggy Manes Without End - These mushrooms can come up in limitless numbers day after day every autumn.

The shaggy mane is the best of the inky caps, with a clear yet delicate flavor, and the texture of fish. Its high water content makes it unsuitable for sautéing, but it’s great steamed or in soups, stews, or sauces. If you season it with herbs traditionally used with fish, you can fool people into thinking they’re eating fish dishes. It cooks in about 10-20 minutes.

Use it the same day you find it, before it degrades into ink.

Don’t drink alcohol within hours of eating this mushroom or its similar relative, the alcohol inky cap (Coprinus atramentarius). The combination may sometimes cause temporary but frightening symptoms that vanish after a few hours.

For unknown reasons, this happened after I served the shaggy mane to a girlfriend who never drinks. I had no reaction to the same dish, but she developed a red flush, her gums felt like they were inflamed, she thought she was going to die, and started to shake (with rage toward me).

Within a few hours, most of the symptoms disappeared (except the rage), but there was a long-term, unexpected delayed reaction: the following Valentine's Day, she ran off with another guy!

Shaggy Mane Recipes

General Information and Identification

This is an easy genus of gilled mushrooms to recognize because they all exude a fluid, milky or clear, called a latex, when broken. The latex may be white or colored, and the color may change as the latex dries. This greatly facilities identification.

They're quite similar to the related Russulas, which have no latex, but share all of the other characteristics:

Milky caps all have white gills (which may discolor slightly with age) that attach to the stem (there's no space between the stem and the origin of the gills — Amanitas, on the other hand, have free gills). The spore print is white to cream-colored.

There's never a ring or skirt around the stem.

These mushrooms are so brittle that they crumble when handled roughly.

Habitat and Ecology

All grow on the ground near trees, and each species prefers or grows exclusively with a particular species or group of tree species, which helps with identification if you know your trees. Milky caps exchange nutrients with the trees, so they're most common in summertime, when deciduous trees are most active (those that partner with evergreens have longer seasons).


This large group contains both delicious edible and poisonous (but non-fatal) species, so you must take care identifying the species.

Edibility and Preparation

The edible species may be mild and sweet or moderately strong-flavored, with a meaty texture. Almost any cooking method works, although I prefer sautéing them. Flavored with the same seasonings traditionally used with meat, they make excellent meat substitutes in vegetarian mock meat dishes.

Hygrophorus Milky (Lactarius hygrophoroides)

Hygrophorus Milky Mushroom

This milky mushroom has a convex to vase-shaped orange-brown cap 1-1/4 to inches across. The flesh is white, and the mushroom exudes plenty of white latex when injured.

The broad white to cream-colored gills are attached to the stem but very distant from each other. The spore print is white.

The stalk, orange-brown or lighter, is 1-1/4 to 2 inches long, 1/4 to 5/8 inches thick.

Young Hygrophorus Milky Mushrooms - Notice the convex caps of these young specimens, as opposed to the funnel shape of the older mushroom, above.

Look for it on the ground in deciduous woods throughout the eastern half of North America from early to late summer.

The choice edible voluminous-latex milky (L. volemus) is similar, but the gills are crowded together.

The hygrophorus milky gets its name because its funnel shape makes it resemble waxy cap mushrooms, in the genus Hygrophorus.

This is an excellent edible, with a dry, chewy, meaty texture and hearty flavor, making it an excellent choice for vegetarian mock meat dishes. You can add it to soups, bake it, or steam it, but I find it best sautéed.

Hashed Milky Mushrooms

Home Fried Mushrooms

Peppery Milky Mushroom (Lactarius piperatus)

Peppery Milky Mushroom, from below - Note the gills of this old mushroom have been colored yellowish by the dried latex.

This white to grayish-tan milky mushroom has a convex convex cap 2-6 inches wide that becomes sunken with age. The flesh is white.

The white to cream gills are attached to the stem and closely crowded together.

The dry, white stalk is 3/4 to 3-1/4 inches long, 3/8 to 1 inch thick. It's so short, the mushroom often looks like a stone embedded in the ground.

Peppery Milky Mushroom, side view - Because it's fresher than the mushrooms modeled above, this one's whiter than the sculptures

The whole mushroom exudes a white latex when you break it, and if you touch this latex to your tongue, it's acrid. This makes it poisonous: If you eat the mushroom, it's like swallowing a jar of hot pepper, and you'll throw up.

Peppery Milky Mushroom - Note the white latex exuded by the gills.

The peppery milky mushroom grows on the ground in deciduous woods throughout eastern North America in the summer, where it's very common.

In Russia, people launder this mushroom, repeatedly soaking it in brine and boiling it, to get rid of the poisonous latex. I don't recommend trying this. It's less labor-intensive to learn and find better mushrooms.

Voluminous-Latex Milky (Lactarius volemus)

Voluminous-latex Milky

This milky mushroom has an orange-brown convex cap 2 to 5-1/4 to inches across with an incurved margin at first, becoming flat to vase-shaped. The surface is dry, very slightly velvety. The white flesh stains brown after it's injured.

Voluminous-latex Milky, side view - Note the corrugated (roughened) cap surface.

The white to cream gills, packed quite closely together, attach to the stem, and also stain brown from the latex. The spore print is white.

Voluminous-latex Milky, from below

The mushroom, which smells fishy, exudes a spectacular quantity of white latex that slowly turns brown, staining the flesh (and anything it comes into contact with, including you) that color.

It makes you think the milk is probably a defense to drown any insect that dares bite into the mushroom, and the fishy odor could be a warning.

Voluminous-latex Milky Gills Exuding "Milk." - Note the brown stains the drying milk creates.

The vertically-lined stalk is 2-4 inches long, 3/8 -3/4 inches thick, also orange-brown and very slightly velvety.

This mushroom resembles the choice edible hygrophorus milky, which has widely-spaced gills and exudes less latex.

Look for this mushroom in deciduous woods in the eastern half of the US from early to late summer.

This mushroom is a choice edible, but unfortunately I haven't found it in quantity often enough to perform recipe experiments.

The Lepiotas

Shaggy Parasol

This large, diverse, widespread group of mushrooms' species all have white gills free from the stalk, a ring or skirt around the stalk, and white spores, similar to amanitas, many of which are deadly. Also, there are choice edible and deadly lepiotas, so this is not a group for inexperienced mushroomers to serve for dinner.

How do you tell the two groups apart? The lepiotas are decomposers, while the amanitas are commensual, trading nutrients with trees, but that doesn't provide visible means to differentiate them.

The lepiotas' rings, however, detach from the stalk, so you can slide them up and down like a napkin ring. Amanita rings are more delicate — they break if you try to detach them.

Also, lepiotas are often comparatively tall and slender, while amanitas are short and squat — not something you'll notice until after you've seen many representative species of both groups.

The edible lepiota species are among the best of mushrooms, with strong, earthy flavors and firm textures — excellent meat substitutes — that you can cook with almost any method. Cook them 15 to 20 minutes.

Onion-Stalked Lepiota (Lepiota cepaestipes)

Onion-stalked Lepiota

This white (discoloring yellowish), thin-fleshed mushroom has a bell-shaped cap (which becomes flat when old) 1-3 inches wide, with a central knob, and radial grooves at the edge. It's covered with powdery white scales.

The crowded, free, narrow gills are white, with hairy edges, and the spore print is also white.

The slender stalk, which can be bulbous at the base, is 2-5 inches long, 1/8 to 1/4 inches thick. Covered with white, powdery scales, it bruises yellowish. There's a ring encircling the upper stalk.

Mature and Young Onion-stalked Lepiotas - Note how different the closed caps look in comparison to the mature ones.

Clusters of this species grow in wood chips, mulch, and compost throughout North America, from late spring to autumn.

Cluster of Young Onion-stalked Lepiotas - Note the white, ovoid, scaly caps.

This mushroom had been thought to be edible. After mushroom books reported that people had tried it with no ill effects, more people tried it, and some of them suffered very unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms. Since then, more recent works list it as possibly toxic, and you should avoid eating it.

Shaggy Parasol

This large lepiota's whitish cap is 3 to 8 inches wide, convex to flat, with large pinkish to cinnamon brown patches.

The cap's (and the rest of the mushroom's) whitish flesh turns pinkish when cut.

The broad, free, white gills are close together. The spores are white.

The club-shaped to bulbous white stalk is 4 to 8 inches long and 3/8 to 1 inch thick, turning brownish where injured. A movable ring encircles the upper stalk.

The shaggy parasol grows on the ground in wood debris under conifers in late summer and fall in eastern North America, and from late fall to late winter on the West Coast, sometimes in large quantity.

This is not a mushroom for unsupervised beginners. You could confuse it with deadly Amanitas, and there are other deadly Lepiota species.

There's also a poisonous look-alike with green spores and gills which start white and turn greenish (be sure you get a white spore print to rule out the green-spore lepiota). And some people have adverse reactions to the shaggy parasol.

The shaggy parasol is a very strong-flavored, meaty, choice mushroom that goes well in hearty dishes. Cook the cap and stem 15 to 20 minutes using virtually any method you choose, and you won't be disappointed.

Tempeh Stroganoff with Wild Mushrooms

This is a group of small to medium-sized mushrooms with dark-colored gills and purple-brown spore prints. The gills attach to the stem. There's no ring around the stem, but sometimes you may see a faint circle of fibrils around the stem.

They decompose wood in the fall, especially common toward the end of the season.

Some are good edibles, none are choice, some are inedible, hallucinogenic, or poisonous.

You can use the good edible species is as a minor constituents in recipes that focuses on other ingredients. For example, include them in a chili or other stew. Or you can simply make up for their modest flavor by adding flavors yourself, i.e. pickling them.

Brick Top (Naematoloma sublateritium)

Brick Top - Note the deeper color of this mushroom's cap compared to the photos below, due to loss of color from the latter's exposure to rain.

This distinct brick-red mushroom has a convex to flattened cap 1-5/8 to 4 inches wide, moist with an inrolled edge when young.

Brick Top Caps, Immature Mushrooms - Note the brick red color toward the caps' centers.

The narrow gills, close together, begin whitish, then become purple-gray.

Brick Tops, Side ViewBrick Tops, Side View - Note the whitish gills, and the evanescent veil covering part of the gills.

The spore print is purple-brown.

The whitish, black-streaked stalk is 2-4 inches long, 1/4 to 5/8 inches thick. You may sometimes see a faint ring zone of fibrils around the upper stem.

Brick Tops, Young Mushrooms, From Below - Note the how much whiter these gills are than those of the sculpture, top, modeled after a much older specimen.

The brick top grows in clusters on dead hardwood logs and stumps, sometimes in great quantity. You can find it throughout eastern North America from late summer until late fall.

Brick Top, Immature, From Above

Don't confuse the brick top with the poisonous sulfur tuft mushroom (N. fasciculare, Hypholoma fasciculare), which has yellow gills.

Sulfur Tuft - Not only does this mushroom cause vomitting, diarrhea, convulsions, and sometimes death—but it also tastes bad!

The related smoky-gilled naematoloma, with an orange-brown cap, is also a good edible.

It's a good edible, especially when you find it in quantity in November (it will come up even after there's been a couple of light frosts), when most other mushrooms are gone. However, it's only tasty when it's young, while the gills are still whitish. However, it comes up on the same log or stump year after year, until it's used up all the nutrients, so if you miss it one year, you'll probably snag it the following year.

Pickled Brick Tops

Smoky-Gilled Naematoloma (Naematoloma capnoides)

Smoky-Gilled Naematoloma

This distinct orange-brown mushroom has a convex to flattened cap 1-3 inches wide. From the margin, which is incurved at first, may hang remnants of the partial veil that covered the gills when the mushroom was very young.

The gills, which attach to the stem, are crowded together, grayish at first, then purple-brown.

The light brown stalk is 2-3 inches long, 1/8 to 3/8 inches thick, often with a ring zone of fibrils toward the top. The spore print is purple-brown.

Look for it in coniferous forests throughout North America, especially on decaying wood of Douglas firs, from early to very late fall.

Don't confuse it with the poisonous sulfur tuft (N. fasciculare), which has yellow gills. The related brick top has a brick-red cap.

It's a good edible if you find it before the gills turn purple-brown.

The Russulas (Brittle caps)

Graceful Russula—3 views

General Information

This is a large group of colorful gilled mushrooms with enough characteristics in common to make the genus easy to recognize, although identifying individual species, especially among the many similar-looking red russulas, may be difficult.


Most Russulas have brightly-colored caps (The word Russula comes from the red, as in the word russet, and many Russulas are red).

Russulas quite similar to the related milky caps (Lactarius), which exude a milky fluid, which Russulas never do. Otherwise, they share the same characteristics:

Russulas all have white gills (which may discolor slightly with age) that attach to the stem (there's no space between the stem and the origin of the gills — Amanitas, on the other hand, have free gills). The spore print is white to cream-colored.

There's never a ring or skirt around the stem.

These mushrooms are so brittle that they crumble when handled roughly.

Some non-edible species are so common that I teach kids to administer the test for Russulas: throw the mushroom as hard as possible against a tree. If it explodes, it was a Russula.

Habitat and Ecology

All grow on the ground near trees, and each species prefers or grows exclusively with a particular type of tree, which helps with identification if you know your trees. Russulas exchange nutrients with the trees, so they're most common in summertime, when deciduous trees are most active (those that partner with evergreens have longer seasons).


This large group contains delicious edible species, tasteless ones and poisonous varieties. The poisonous ones are acrid, and will make you throw up. If you taste a tiny piece and spit it out, and it's sweet-tasting, you have a choice species. If it's tasteless, it's not worth bothering with. If you feel like you've bitten into a hot pepper, it's a poisonous species. Only try this test if you're an experienced mushroom hunter, and you're absolutely sure you're tasting a Russula.

Edibility and Preparation

I find the edible species sweet and mild, with a delicate texture. Almost any cooking method works with them. Just avoid overpowering them with strongly-flavored ingredients or spices.

Unfortunately, Russulas are highly perishable. They usually appear the day after a heavy summer rainstorm, the best time to look for them. Two days after the rain is usually too late. Specialized flies lay their eggs on them, and the day after the mushrooms appear, they're already riddled with maggots and inedible.

Almond-Scented Russula (Russula laurocerasi)

Almond-Scented Russula - Sculpture, acrylic paint by "Wildman"

This Russula has a convex, often slimy, yellow-brown cap 1-5 inches across, often indented in the center. The margin is usually incurved, with radial lines near the edge.

The broad gills attach to the stem. They may be close together or distant from each other. They're dingy-white, sometimes tinged with yellowish or orange.

Almond-Scented Russula, from below

The spore print is whitish, tinged with dingy yellow or orange.

Almond-Scented Russula, side view

Almond-Scented Russula, young specimen

It and similar close relatives grow on the ground under deciduous or evergreen trees all summer throughout eastern North America, in forests and yards.

Its distinct almond odor makes it easy to recognize. The pleasant fragrance equals the awfulness of its flavor — it's horribly bitter.

Edible Russula (Russula vesca)

Edible Russula

This spectacularly colored Russula has a dry, pink (sometimes reddish-brown) cap 2-3/8 to 5 inches wide, convex to flat, often depressed in the center, with faint radial lines along the edge. The brittle flesh is white to yellowish.

The broad white (sometimes tinged with yellow) gills, which attach to the stalk, sometimes branch near the stalk. The spore print is white, sometimes tinged with yellow.

The smooth or roughened, white stem, sometimes tinged with pink or yellow, is 2 to 2-1/2 inches long, 3/8 to 3/4 inches long, sometimes tapering toward the base.

This mushroom grows on the ground in deciduous and mixed deciduous/coniferous forests throughout eastern North America in the summer.

Uncommon in my area, I only found it once in quantity, totally fresh and insect-free. It was quite a spectacle seeming a familiar woodland dotted with large, pink mushrooms.

Simply sautéed in olive oil with garlic, salt, and pepper, it was quite good, with the sweet, delicate flavor typical of the best Russulas. Add it to soups, casseroles, stews, or vegetable dishes. Any cooking method works — just don't overpower it with spices or strong-flavored ingredients.

Firm Russula (Russula compacta)

Firm Russula

One of the most beautiful Russulas, this one has a cap that's yellow-orange on the periphery, changing to red-orange toward the center. The convex cap, with its incurved margin and center indentation, is 1-3/8 to 7 inches across, sticky when wet, and quite firm, not shattering readily as do other Russulas.

Firm Russula, from above

The white to pale yellowish gills attach to the stem. They may be crowded together or distant from each other.

Firm Russula, side view - Note the cap's yellowish periphery and reddish center.

The spore print is white.

The dingy white stalk is 1-5 inches long, 3/8 to 1-3/4 inches thick; solid when young, become hollow in age. There's no ring or skirt.

Firm Russula, from below

This mushroom is common in beech-maple and coniferous forests throughout eastern North America in mid- and late summer.

Its taste ranges from unpleasantly bitter to awfully bitter. This is not a mushroom you're going to want to try.

Graceful Russula (Russula gracilis)

This is the most common Russula in my neck of the woods (Greater NY). The convex cap, 1/2 to 2 inches wide, purple or lilac (fading to pink in age) and darker in the sunken center, is incurved at the margin, where there are faint radial lines. You can peel the cuticle (skin) about 1/3 way from the edge of the cap to the center.

Graceful Russula - This is actually part of a group of closely related species which are virtually impossible to tell apart without a microscope.

The delicate flesh is white, with very little odor.

The white to slightly cream-colored gills are slightly forked (branched).

Graceful Russula—3 views - watercolor pencils

The spore print is white.

The spongy stalk is 1-1/2 to 2-3/4 inches long, 3/8 to 1/4 inches wide, of uniform width, whitish toward the top, red below.

This mushroom is very common throughout eastern North America in the summer, growing under hardwoods or evergreens.

It has no flavor, and isn't worth eating. Don't confuse it with acrid-tasting red Russulas, which will make you throw up.

Tacky Green Russula (Russula aeruginea)

Tacky Green Russula

This Russula has a green cap 2 to 3-3/8 inches wide, convex to flat, often depressed in the center, with faint radial lines along the edge. It's slightly sticky when wet, accounting for its common name. The brittle flesh is white.

The broad white (sometimes tinged with yellow) gills, which are close together, attach to the stalk, sometimes descending it slightly. The spore print is orange-yellow.

The smooth, dull yellowish-white stem is 1-5/8 to 2-3/8 inches long, 3/8 to 3/4 inches long, sometimes tapering toward the base.

Tacky Green Russula

This mushroom grows on the ground in deciduous and coniferous forests throughout North America all summer, from late fall to early spring in California.

The green quilt russula (R. crustosa) resembles the tacky green russula, but it's green cap develops a cracked, quilted appearnce, and it's also an excellent edible.

The tacky green Russula imparts a sweet, delicate flavor to soups, casseroles, stews, or vegetable dishes. Any cooking method works — just don't overpower it with seasonings or strong-flavored ingredients.

Individual Species

Enoki Mushroom, Velvet Foot (Flammulina velutipes)

Enoki Mushroom

This mushroom's sticky, convex to flat, reddish brown to tawny cap grows 1 to 2 inches across.

Enoki Caps - These moist, stick mushrooms grow in dense cluster

Its white to yellowish white gills, which attach to the stalk, release white spores.

Enoki Gills - The white gills have more space between each other than the caps do.

The stalk is 1 to 3 inches long, 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide, yellowish white above, and distinctly velvety black below.

Enoki Stems - The rough, black stems are too tough to eat, but provide a good ingredient for making soup stock.

Surprisingly, these features are different from the same species grown commercially and sold in Chinese markets: that mushroom is completely white.

Enoki from Under a Tree's Bark - These mushrooms look more like commercial enokis because they also grew in the dark, under a tree's bark.

The enoki grows clustered on dead deciduous logs and stumps across North America. You can find it from fall to early spring, even in mid-winter if it's above freezing and there's been enough rain.

Enokis Growing on Wood - Enokis grow on dead wood, which they decompose.

Remove the stems, which are too tough to eat (but good for making stock) and use the caps in soups or sauces. The caps will cook in 10 to 15 minutes, imparting a delicate, rich flavor and a silky texture.

Enoki Burdock Soup

Fairy Ring Mushroom (Marasmius oreades)

Fairy Ring Mushroom

There are only a few great springtime mushrooms, and this is one of them. Its cap is 3/8 inch to 1 5/8 inches across, bell-shaped to convex, beige, with a knob on top.

Fairy Ring Mushrooms - These mushrooms usually grow clustered.

Underneath the cap are broad whitish gills, usually free from the stem, sometimes attached. Unlike similar-looking mushrooms or fairy rings, there's always quite a bit of space between the gills.

The gills are also forked; that is, they branch, so that some of the gills don't extend from the edge of the cap all the way to the stem.

Fairy Ring Mushroom, from below - Note the broad, white gills, distant from each other, many of which extend only partially from the cap edge toward the stem.

The spore print is white.

The straight, dry, rubbery stalk is 3/8 inch to 3 inches long.

Fairy Ring Mushroom, side view - Note the straight, dry, white stalk.

The fairy ring mushroom grows on lawns, where the fungus decomposes organic matter. It often grows in a configuration called a fairy ring: a spore germinates, and a fungus grows. When it uses up its food supply, decaying organic material in the soil, it dies there. But there's more decomposing material at the periphery of the fungus' position, so it continues to grow there, forming an ever-expanding ring (some of which — those with very shallow angles — may be hundreds of years old).

When the fungus creates mushrooms, the mushrooms come up in a ring. And because of the uptake of nutrients by the fungus, the grass above the ring barely grows. And when the fungus dies, it fertilizes the soil, and the grass inside the ring is greener and more lush.

Fairy Ring Mushrooms in a Fairy Ring - Note that the mushrooms don't form a perfect circle.

Fairy Ring - Before people understood fungi, they thought that fairies had danced in a ring during the night, producing a ring of mushrooms the next morning.

You can find the fairy ring mushroom throughout North America in the spring and summer.

Although no poisonous mushrooms have the exact same features as the fairy ring mushroom, it's not hard for unsupervised beginners to confuse the fairy ring mushroom with toxic mushrooms growing in the same habitat.

Fairy ring mushrooms are small but very tasty. Try the caps sautéed in olive oil with garlic (the stems are too tough for anything but making stock). And you can stretch your supply by letting the mushroom suffuse its excellence into other ingredients in a soup, stew, or stuffing. Unlike most other species of mushrooms, if you dehydrate this mushroom (or find it dehydrated) and soak it in water, it revives completely within minutes.

Beets Stuffed With Fairy Rings

Fried-Chicken Mushroom (Lyophyllum decastes)

Fried-chicken Mushroom

The fried chicken mushroom is completely different from the chicken mushroom, and it doesn't even taste like fried chicken (at least, not to me). Its cap, which measures 1 to 5 inches across, is convex to almost flat, beige to yellow brown to grayish, with a margin that is in-curved at first, then upturned as the mushroom ages.

Fried-chicken Mushroom - Note the crowded gills.

The broad, whitish gills attach or sometimes slightly descend the stalk.

Fried-chicken Mushrooms, side view - Note how these mushrooms grow in clusters.

The spore print is white. The whitish stalk is 2 to 4 inches long, 1/4 to 3/4 inch wide. You can find shopping bags full of this mushroom anywhere in America, spring and fall (sometimes in the summer), growing on the ground in grassy areas or overgrown places and on disturbed soil, where the fungus decomposes organic material.

Fried-chicken Mushrooms, from above - Note the convex caps of these young specimens, as compared to the upturned cap of the older specimen in the sculpture, above.

Fried chicken mushroom is considered second-rate, and it is when you sauté it with onions and garlic. But Asian cooks consider it first-rate because that's how it tastes when they use it correctly—in soups, stew, and sauces. Its sweet flavor, chewy texture, and slight okra-like thickening effect make it perfect for such dishes. This mushroom cooks in 15 to 20 minutes. Because you can find it in such large quantities, it's often worthwhile to use the caps and stems separately, adding the caps to your best recipes, and keeping the stems for dishes you're going to purée.

Fried-chicken Mushroom Cluster

Sweet-and-Sour Power

Golden Pholiota (Pholiota aurivella)

Golden Pholiota

The golden pholiota has a slimy, ochre cap that is 2 to 6 inches wide, bell shaped to convex, and spotted with flat, brownish scales.

Golden Pholiota - Note the scales on the cap and stems.

Underneath, yellow brown gills attach to the stalk.

Golden Pholiotas, Side View - The entire mushroom is golden-colored

The spores are brown.

The yellowish to yellow brown stalk is 2 to 4 inches long, 1/4 to 5/8 inch wide, and briefly encircled toward the top with an off-white ring that leaves a faint ring zone.

The mushroom grows clustered on deciduous and coniferous trees, logs, and stumps in autumn, throughout most of North America.

Golden Pholiotas, from above - Note the humps in the center of the caps.

Avoid Pholiota biemalis, a similar Pacific Northwest mushroom with slimy scales on the stalk, which is poisonous.

Mushroom hunters consider the golden pholiota good, but a clear rank below the many choice mushrooms featured in this book. Yet it's so abundant in the second half of autumn, I've always wondered how to use it to make first-rate dishes. The trick is to take advantage of this mushroom’s melt-in-your-mouth texture. Wash the slime off the cap and include the cap and stem in soups, stews, and sauces. Let other ingredients provide most of the flavor, and you'll never go wrong.

Golden Pholiotas, from below - These common late-season mushrooms grow clustered on dead trees and stumps.

Steve's Salsa

Hard Agrocybe (Agrocybe dura)

Hard Agrocybe

The hard agrocybe has a beige to brown dry, convex cap, sometimes with a low knob, 1-5/8 to 4 inches wide. The older caps develop prominent cracks, reminding me of the Marvel Comics superhero, The Thing, and making this mushroom easy to identify.

Hard Agrocybe, side view - Note the cap's characteristic blocky texture.

The broad white gills, which attach to the stem, become brown as the mushroom ages. The spore print is dark brown.

The white to beige solid stalk is 1-5/8 to 4 inches long, 1/4 to 5/8 inches thick. A faint ring encircles the stalk (or remnants of this partial veil may hang from the cap margin) when the mushroom is young.

Hard Agrocybe, from below - The gills are forked: they don't all reach from the edge of the cap all the way to the stalk.

This decomposer grows on wood chips in great quantity in the spring, throughout the northern US, in the spring.

Although non-poisonous, it's so terrible-tasting, anyone who tries it realizes that it's inedible.

Honey Mushroom (Armillaria mellea)

Honey Mushrooms

This is a yellow or brown mushroom with a moist cap that is 1 to 4 inches across, tightly convex at first, with distinct scales resembling tiny, stubble-like hairs toward the cap's center.

Honey Mushroom Caps, brown variety - Note the stubble-covered, convex caps.

Honey Mushrooms, yellow variety - Note the tightly clustered yellow-capped mushrooms.

Under the cap are white gills that run down the stem slightly. The spore print is white.

The fibrous stalk, which tapers toward the base, is 3 to 8 inches long and 1/4 to 5/8 inch thick. Unlike the similar, edible ringless honey mushroom, there's a white or yellowish ring on the upper stalk.

Honey Mushroom, yellow variety - Note the gills running down the stalk, above the ring.

In the fall, large clusters of this mushroom, connected at their bases, can be found growing at the foot of living or dead trees or stumps, especially oaks, throughout eastern North America

Clustered Brown Honey Mushrooms - Note the stubbly hairs toward the cap centers, and white deposits of spores on some caps dropped from other caps' gills above them.

Actually a complex of species from a microscopic perspective, the honey mushroom is abundant and widespread, but not easy for beginners to identify.

Brown Honey Mushrooms Covering a Stump - The fungus which killed the tree is still feeding off the stump.

A parasite and saprophyte (meaning it lives off dead trees after killing them), the fungus can decimate an entire forest and fill it with mushroom clusters.

The honey mushroom is one of my favorite fall mushrooms. Moist, rich, and meaty, it also adds a slight silkiness to soups, stews, and sauces, the way okra does.

Use it as a meat substitute with those seasonings traditionally used for meat, or sauté it, add it to noodle recipes, grain dishes, burgers, loaves, or stuffings.

Yellow Honey Mushroom Cap, close-up

The stems are somewhat gritty, so some people discard them, but they're fine in soups and sauces if you puree them after cooking.

Cook honey mushrooms for at least 15 minutes or you may become sick, and eat a small amount the first time; they don't agree with everyone.

If you can't find honey mushrooms, the closest commercial substitute is the shiitake mushroom.

Basic Honey Caps

Honey Mushroom Loaf

Jack O'Lantern (Omphalotus olearius)

Jack O'Lantern

The Jack O'Lantern is a very dangerous mushroom with a dry, smooth, wavy-lobed orange to yellow-orange cap 3-8 inches wide, convex to flat, then becoming sunken in the center, with a knob. The margin begins incurved, then turns upward.

Immature Jack-O'-Lanterns

The orange-yellow sharp-edged, narrow gills, close together, descend the stalk. The spore print is pale cream.

Jack-O'-Lantern Mushrooms, from below

The yellow-orange dry, solid, smooth, curved stalk is 3-8 inches long, 3/8 to 5/8 inches thick, tapering toward the blackish base.

This decomposer grows clustered on or around deciduous stumps or buried wood, often in spectacularly large quantities.

It grows in eastern North America and California.

The Jack-o'-lantern is poisonous, causing severe gastrointestinal upset that can last for 2 days.

People have confused it the choice, edible chanterelle, a much smaller orange mushroom that grows on the ground, with shallow, forked (branched) gills.

The mushroom gets its name because it glows dark! Wait until night, keep all light out of a room, go into a closet, close the door (don't lock yourself in!), and wait 5 minutes until your eyes adjust to the dark completely. Then you'll see the gills glowing pale-green!

Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus)

Oyster Mushroom

Here's a mushroom that lives up to its name—it looks, smells, and tastes like oysters. With virtually no stalk, this mushroom's oyster-shaped caps usually grow in layers on dead deciduous wood (or on some supermarket shelves), like clusters of oysters. The moist, hairless, fragrant, white to smoky-gray caps are 2-8 inches wide.

Oyster Mushrooms - Note how this whitish, summer variety, clusters on the log.

The white, hairless gills (which become yellow-tinged with age) descend the short, stub-like, lateral stalk, when it exists. The spores are white.

Oyster Mushrooms, from below - Note how the gills, which are widely separated, run down the short, stubby stalk.

Oyster mushrooms grow throughout North America. If it rains enough and it's not too hot or cold, you can find them any month of the year, although they're most common in the second half of autumn.

Cut out any part near the stem that's so tough you can't pinch through, and save it for stock. Cook the tender parts using any method. 10-20 minutes. They have a soft, chewy texture and it taste a little like seafood. Use seasonings suitable for seafood for a mock seafood effect.

"Wildman" Bites Oyster - Note the much darker color of these mid-November oysters (and the sculpture above) compared to the other photos on this page, taken in the spring.

One day, after lots of rain, my friend Joe found ten pounds of oyster mushrooms on a dead tree on a lawn by a house along the side of a road. He stopped his car, ran across the lawn with his pocket knife, cut down the mushrooms, returned to his car, and sped off with his prize.

Ten minutes later, the state police came after him. He'd been spotted running across the lawn of the State Prison's warden waving a knife.

Certain that he was headed for jail, Joe showed the cops the mushrooms and explained that wasn't an escaped prisoner bent on bloody revenge. They sent him off with a no more than a warning.

Then, two weeks later, after more rainstorms, Joe happened to be driving along the same road when he spotted twenty pounds of oyster mushrooms on the same tree. This time he went and knocked on the door and asked the warden for permission.

The warden scratched his head and answered: "Sure, be my guest. Take all the mushrooms you want. And thank you so much for stopping by to ask. You wouldn't believe the nerve of the last guy who found mushrooms on my tree!"

Watch my oyster mushroom video.

Oyster Mushroom Recipes

Oyster Baked Rice

Oyster Newburg

Simply Oysters

You're Not the Only Oyster Stew in the Sea

Platterful Mushroom (Tricholomopsis platyphylla)

Platterful Mushroom

The platterful mushroom has a brown-gray cap 2 to 5 inches wide. Bellshaped at first, it becomes convex, the flat to sunken in the center. The wavy margin is streaked with dark radial fibers.

The broad, white, widely-spaced gills, which erode with age, attach to the stalk. The spore print is white.

The thick, white stalk is 3 to 5 inches long, 3/8 to 3/4 inches thick. Solid when young, then hollow, it's so fibrous you can strip the fibers vertically.

Platterful Mushroom, side view

Very common throughout eastern North America and rare on the West Coast, it grows on logs, stumps, wood chips, and buried wood from spring to early fall.

Although nonpoisonous, it has no flavor and isn't worth collecting.

Platterful Mushroom, from below

Psycedelic Fantasy Mushoom

Psychedelic Fantasy Mushroom

This mushroom is clearly out of its gourd, with toxic Jimson weed sprouting from the gourd, blue-jean patches and the bluing psilocybe (Psilocybe cyanescens) atop the cap, a double ring (one serpentine) encircling the stalk, and a death cup at the bottom.

"Button" mushrooms sprout from the base, and a happy-but dead-fly attests to its toxicity!

If you find this mushroom growing in the deciduous or evergreen forests in the spring, summer, or fall, anywhere in North America, report to the nearest mental health facility without delay!

Ringless Honey Mushroom (Armillariella tabescens)

Ringless Honey Mushrooms - Note the tightly crowded cluster, and the stubble-like hairs toward the caps' centers.

This is a yellow-brown mushroom with a dry cap that is 1 to 4 inches across, tightly convex at first, then flat to funnel-shaped. Distinct scales resembling tiny, stubble-like hairs tend to grow toward the cap's center.

Whitish gills under the caps have some space between each other. These gills stain pinkish to brownish, and run down the stem slightly.

The spore print is white.

Ringless Honey Mushrooms, side view - Note the spaces between the gills.

The off-white to beige, fibrous stalk, which tapers toward the base, is 3 to 8 inches long and 1/4 to 5/8 inch thick. Unlike the very similar edible honey mushroom, there's no ring.

This mushroom lives on living trees and dead wood. In the late summer and fall, large clusters of mushrooms, connected at their bases, grow at the foot of living or dead trees or stumps, especially oaks, or over buried wood, throughout eastern and central North America.

Ringless Honey Mushrooms, from below - Note the gills running down the stems.

Don't confuse this mushroom with the poisonous Jack O'Lantern, a larger orange mushroom with gills crowded together; or the hallucinogenic big laughing gym (Gymnopilus spectabilis), another orange mushroom lacking the hair on the cap.

This is the first wild mushroom I identified on my own and ate, after finding bagfuls on and around a stump in Forest Park, Queens, NY in 1981. It made me quite nervous, checking the features in mushroom guides over and over again, before I finally cooked it. I was quite happy to wake up alive the next morning!

Sauté these excellent mushrooms, pickle them, or include them in soups, stews, or casseroles. They have a rich, penetrating flavor.

The stems are somewhat gritty, so some people discard them, but they're fine in soups and sauces that you puree after cooking.

Cook this mushroom at least 15 minutes or you may become sick, and eat a small amount the first time — they don't agree with everyone.

The closest commercial substitute is the shiitake mushroom.

Rooted Oudemansiella (Oudemansiella radicata)

Rooted Oudemansiella

This mushroom has a smooth, moist-sticky convex to almost flat whitish to gray-brown cap 1-4 inches across usually with a knob in the center.

Rooted Oudemansiella Cap - Note the shiny texture and central knob.

The broad white gills, distant from each other, are attached to the stalk.

Rooted Oudemansiella Cap from Below - Note the broad, white, widely spaced gills, some of which don't extend from the cap edge to the stalk.

The spore print is white.

The mushroom has a unique stalk that makes it easy to identify. 2-8 inches long and 1/8 to 3/8 inches thick above ground, it also has a long, twisted, tapering brittle underground part that resembles a taproot, which breaks with an audible snap!

Rooted Oudemansiella with "Root" - This root-like underground stem makes this mushrooms identification unmistakable.

This decomposer grows on the ground in deciduous forests, especially around beech stumps, throughout eastern North America, and the Midwest.

Rooted Oudemansiella with Violet Brill - This is the largest rooted oudemansiella I've ever seen.

It comes up from mid-summer through the fall.

Rooted Oudemansiella Stand - Large stands of this species, as seen here, are rare.

In America, mushroom hunters consider the cap (the stalk is too tough to eat) just edible, whereas in France, it's considered choice. I side with the French and consider it quite good, with a delicious delicate flavor (don't over season or drown it out with too many strong-flavored ingredients) and soft texture.

Unfortunately, I never seem to find more than 3 or 4 of these mushrooms at once, not enough for recipe experiments.

Rooted Oudemansiella - pen-and-ink drawing

Sandy Laccaria (Laccaria trullisata)

Sandy Laccaria

The sandy laccaria has a convex to flat, dingy pink to dingy brown cap 1-3 inches across, first convex with an incurved margin, then flat.

Sandy Laccaria, Side View

The broad, thick, purple to pink, widely-spaced gills attach to the stalk. The spore print is white.

The curved, solid, dry, dingy pink to dingy pale brown stalk is 1-4 inches long, 1/4 to 3/4 inches thick.

Sandy Laccarias, Upended

The entire mushroom is covered with sand. It grows, partially buried in the sand, along the Atlantic coast and the Great Lakes coast, from late summer through the fall.

Although it's supposed to be edible (but not very good), trying to eat it can still kill you: you die of old age before you can remove all the sand!

In fact, so much sand fell off the mushroom I used as a model for the sculpture photographed above, I glued the same sand onto the sculpture to complete the piece.

Spring Agaricus (Agaricus bitorquis)

Mature Spring Agaricus

Agaricus mushrooms or field mushrooms have gills that start of pink or white, then become chocolate brown, colored by the brown spores. They all have gills free from the stem. They have a ring around the stem, and they all grow on the ground where they decompose organic material.

Young Spring Agaricus

People sometimes confuse Amanitas, which also have free gills, with field mushrooms, a potentially fatal mistake, although Amanitas have white spores, and their gills remain white.

Other field mushrooms appear in the summer and fall, but the spring agaricus comes up in the spring and fall.

Its convex to flat, dry, brownish cap is 2-6 inches wide.

The narrow gills, free from the stem and close together, begin pinkish and soon turn brown. The spore print is blackish-brown.

The whitish stalk, which darkens in age, is 1-2 inches long, 3/8 to 1-1/4 inches thick. A ring, the remnant of the partial veil that covered the gills when the mushroom was very young, encircles the lower stem. This ring has distinct upper and lower edges, accounting for the specific name, bitorquis, which means 2 rings.

The spring agaricus grows on packed ground in urban and suburban areas. Often it's half-buried in the ground.

Spring Agaricus Mushrooms Emerging from the Eart

The spring agaricus comes up in the spring, and again in the fall, in the eastern US, and from late fall to early spring in California.

The meadow mushroom, A. campestris (the closest relative to the commercial mushroom), also a choice edible, is quite similar, but with a single ring; and it never appears in the spring.

The spring agaricus has a flavor similar to its relative, the commercial mushroom, but much more intense. Any cooking method works with this delicious species, which cooks in about 10-15 minutes.

Unfortunately, it becomes infested with insects the day after it comes up, so you have to collect it right away and prepare it the same day. Fortunately, it tends to appear in the same location year after year, spring and fall, after lots of rain.

I live in a garden apartment complex, and found one or two at a time growing outside my door after my fiancé and I moved in. After a year of patient waiting, there were days of torrential rain. A bumper crop appeared, but the day before, the co-op management had treated all the lawns with chemicals, and I had to leave pounds of choice fungi to rot.

Spring Agaricus — Four Views

Wine-Cap Stropharia (Stropharia rugosoannulata)

Wine-cap Stropharia - sculpture, acrylic paint

This spectacular choice mushroom, which you can find in quantity throughout the United States in the spring and fall (sometimes even in the summer), has a cap that is red brown to tan and can sometimes grow to the size of a dinner plate, but is usually 2 to 5 inches across, bell-shaped when young, flat when old.

Violet Brill Holding Huge Wine-cap

The crowded broad lilac-colored gills attach to the stem. The spore print is a very dark purple brown.

The white stem is 4 to 6 inches long, 3/8 to 3/4 inch wide, emanating from an enlarged base.

Wine-cap Stropharia Mushrooms

Penetrating the wood chips, where the mushroom grows, you'll see threads of white fungus coming from the mushroom's base.

Wine-cap Stropharia Fungus in Wood Chips

A distinctive membranous ring with radial lines on the mushroom's upper surface grows on the upper stalk.

Wine-cap Stropharia Partial Veil - Note how this membrane that protects the gills while the cap is closed resembles a cogwheel.

This large decomposer mushroom doesn't take to traditional Western onion-garlic seasonings. Cooked with a minimum of oil and ample quantities of lemon juice, wine (it is a wine-cap, after all), nutmeg, and fennel, its flavor is outstanding. Braise it, bake it, or add it to soups. It cooks in 15 to 20 minutes.

Young Wine-caps

Unless you're using this mushroom with other ingredients, it gives off too much liquid to sauté properly, but it dehydrates well, and after cooking it, you can also freeze it for up to 2 years in a very cold freezer.

Wine-cap Stropharia - pen-and-ink drawing

Wine-cap Recipes

Spiced Wine-caps

Wine-caps and Cauliflower Indian Style

Wine-caps in Wine

MUSHROOMS WITHOUT GILLS (Blade-Like Slats Under Their Caps)

Mushroom Groups

Bolete Overview

General Information: The boletes are among the most common, widespread groups of wild mushrooms, including some of the best-tasting.

Identification: Boletes have three features that, in combination, make them distinct:

1. They nearly all grow on the ground, near trees.


That's because these fungi form commensual relationships with trees: they provide minerals and water (and sometimes even provide growth hormones) for the trees in exchange for food (the fungus actually interconnects with the tree's microscopic root hairs).


Because of this, except for those species associated with evergreens, the mushrooms are most common in the summer, when the trees are active.

2. Virtually all boletes disseminate their spores through pores, tiny holes on the undersides of their caps. When the mushrooms are very young, you may need a magnifying lens to see the pores. Spores travel down closely-packed, vertical tubes to reach the pores.

3. Most boletes are umbrella-shaped, with a cap and stalk, not shelf-like, although there are exceptions with short, off-center stalks.

Similar Groups: Don't confuse boletes with polypores. The latter generally grow on wood and are shelf-like, not umbrella-like. You can usually peel the layer of tubes that lead to the pores away from the cap of a bolete; you can't do this with polypores.

Edibility: Some boletes are among the best-tasting, most mushrooms in the world. The two-colored bolete is one of my favorites. Some, such as old man of the woods, are as tasteless as some of my jokes. Others are so bitter that one piece of one mushroom can ruin any dish. And some may cause very unpleasant gastrointestinal distress - vomiting, cramps, or diarrhea — from which you eventually recover.

Precautions: Even though there are no deadly boletes, because some are poisonous, this is not a group of mushrooms for unsupervised beginners to prepare for dinner (or for lunch or breakfast, for that matter).

Boletes are very perishable, especially in the summer. Discard any stems infested with insects, and cook or dehydrate the mushrooms the day you find them.

Boletes often appear the day after the rain, and by the following day (even if you refrigerate them!), they may be crawling with maggots.

Poisonous Species: The poisonous boletes turn blue instantly when you bruise the flesh. Many of these have red pore surfaces, although some of these, such as Frost's bolete, have turned out to be non-poisonous. Some boletes, such as the edible two-color bolete, turn blue slowly when you bruise or tear them. The undersides aren't red, and they're nonpoisonous.

Even some edible species (in the genus Suillus) have a slimy layer on the cap surface that gives some people diarrhea if they don't peel and discard this layer.

Cooking: The best boletes have a strong, rich, meaty flavor and soft texture. You can sauté the caps in olive oil with garlic or onions (or other original or traditional ethnic seasoning combinations), roast them, or brush with seasoned oil and broil.

Some people discard the stems, which aren't as tender as the caps, but if they're free of insects, I simmer these flavorful morsels in soups, sauces, and casseroles.

Some people peel off the pores, especially if it looks like they might be infested with insects, others don't:

What Would Hamlet Say?
by Joe Brandt

To peel, or not to peel? That is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mouth to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous flavor,
Or to take knife against pore,
And by opposing, end them? To taste, to savor,
No more; and by tasting to say we end
The endless debate; and a thousand other questions
Form in our minds regarding it's consummation
Devoutly to be enjoyed. To savor, in a meal;
To eat, perchance for dinner- aye, there's the rub:
For in that myco-fantasy meal, what dreams may come,
When we have extra-virgined the olive oil,
Which must give us flavor- there's the respect
That makes no clamity of so fine a meal.
The judgement may be wrong,
Our eyes may deceive us,
The patient merit of sparing the blade,
When bugs may linger below the surface?
Shall we bare the flesh, cast off the pores?
But that the dread of something underneath
The undiscovered critters who may lurketh,
Absorbing quietly the fine-flavored oil,
No epicurean palate will solve the puzzle-
But the fear of that which lays concealed still
Consumed by others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is weakened by the thought of what may be hiding
To leap, unbridled into our imagination,
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With this regard these pores do linger,
And we lose the name of action. Soft you now,
The fair bolete! Heaven in my dinner!
Be all my meals remembered.

Bay Bolete (Boletus badius)

Bay Bolete

The bay bolete has a reddish-brown to yellow-brown, smooth, convex to flat cap 1-1/4 to 4 inches across, sticky to dry. The flesh slowly bruises purplish brown.

The tubes may be sunken near the stem or slightly run down the stem. The small, dull yellow pores slowly bruise blue, then brown. The spores are olive-brown.

The stalk is 1-5/8 to 3.5 inches long, 3/8 to 3/4 inches thick, yellow-brown to reddish-brown.

This mushroom grows under deciduous or coniferous trees throughout eastern North America in the summer and fall.

Although nonpoisonous, it's not at all tasty. I tried it once, and found it better as a model for making sculptures than for the table.

Burnt-Orange Bolete (Tylopilus balloii)

Burnt-orange Bolete

A bright orange, flame-colored cap makes this bolete distinct. The convex to irregularly-flat cap, which ages brownish, is 2 to 4-/3/4 inches across. The white flesh discolors from pinkish to reddish-brown.

The tubes attach to or descend the stalk slightly. The white pores discolor brown. The spore print is light brown.

The stalk is 1 to 4/3/4 inches long, 1/4 to 1 inch thick, beige to brownish.

It grows in sandy soil, under oaks and beeches, throughout the eastern half of North America, in the summer.

Although nonpoisonous, it's unpleasant-tasting.

Chestnut Bolete (Gyroporus castaneus)

Chestnut Boletes - Notice how the pores abutting the stalk of the specimen on the right are deeply sunken

This bolete has a dry, convex to flat, chestnut-brown cap 1-1/4 to 4 inches across. The white flesh doesn't change color when bruised.

Chestnut Bolete, side view

The pores, deeply sunken around the stem, are white at first. Later on, the yellow spores color them yellow.

The light-brown, hollow stalk is 1-1/4 to 3-1/2 inches long, 1/4 to 3/8 inches thick, but much thicker near the base.

Chestnut Bolete, from below - Notice that the pore surface of this young specimen is white, while the sculpture (top, right) was modeled after an older specimens with yellow pores

This mushroom grows under hardwoods from early summer to early fall in eastern North America, and occasionally under live oaks on the West Coast.

This is a choice mushroom, especially delicious, but you usually find too few to make a meal, and you have to collect it while the pores are still white. By the time they turn yellow, the mushroom is full of maggots.

Common Scaber Stalk (Leccinum scabrum)

Common Scaber Stalk

This bolete has a dry, convex cap 1-5/8 to 4 inches across, sometimes sunken in the center, with white flesh, sometimes bruising slightly brown.

Common Scaber Stalk

The whitish tubes, which become brown in age due to the brown spores, are attached to or deeply sunken around the stalk.

Common Scaber Stalk from below

The stalk is 2-3/4 to 6 inches long, 1/4 to 5/8 inches thick, beige, club-shaped, covered with tiny, blackish scale-like scabers, typical of the genus Leccinum.

Common Scaber Stalk, side view

It grows under birch trees throughout North America in the summer and fall.

This is an excellent edible — cook it the same way you'd cook other boletes.

Frost's Bolete (Boletus frostii)

Frost's Bolete

This all blood-red bolete has moist, convex to flat cap 2 to 6 inches across, with yellowish flesh. The tubes are sunken around the stalk.

Frost's Bolete, Older Specimen, from below - Note how much of the red color has been washed away by heavy rain, as opposed to the sculpture (top), modeled after a fresher specimen, and photo of the fresher mushroom below.

The stalk is 1-5/8 to 4-3/4 inches long, 3/8 to 1 inch thick, covered with a web pattern called reticulation.

Frost's Bolete, Young Specimen, from below - Note the amber-colored drops of condensed water decorating the red pore surface. This is the best way to tell this mushroom apart from similar, closely related species.

The spores are olive-brown.

Then entire mushroom turns blue instantly when you bruise or cut it.

Frost's Bolete, Split in Half Lengthwise - Note the whole mushroom turning blue where cut.

More and more people have gotten away with eating this bolete, which is sold in Mexico as "sourbellies," because of their sour flavor, while a few people experience gastrointestinal poisoning (vomiting and diarrhea), although they may have eaten closely related toxic species. I might actually be tempted to try this one one day (although in very small amounts)!

Gilled Bolete (Phylloporus rhodoxanthus)

Gilled Bolete

This mushroom has a cap from 1 to 3 inches across that may be convex to slightly funnel-shaped, dry and slightly fuzzy, usually cracked, reddish-yellow to brownish, and with yellow flesh.

Although it's a technically a bolete, the tiny pores near the stalk aren't always visible, and it also has gills — quite a curiosity. The yellow gills, which sometimes branch, descend the stalk, and bruise blue.

The stalk is 1-5/8 to 3-1/4 inches long, 1/4 to 3/8 inches thick, narrow toward the bottom, and colored the same as the cap.

Gilled Bolete

Look for it under deciduous or coniferous trees throughout North America in the summer and fall.

Although nonpoisonous, it's a bad-tasting mushroom — not edible.

Old Man Of The Woods (Strobilomyces floccopus)

Old Man of the Woods

This perfectly-named bolete has a spectacular convex to flattened cap 1-5/8 to 6 inches across covered with coarse, shaggy, black and grey, warty scales.

The whitish flesh slowly bruises pink-orange, then gray. The tubes, pores, and stalk have the same color as the cap, and go through the same changes.

Old Man of the Woods, split lengthwise - Note the orangish stain that appears gradually after you injure the mushroom.

The spore print is black.

The scruffy stalk is 2 to 4-3/4 inches long, 5/8 to 1 inch thick. A grayish, membranous veil or skirt covers the pores when they're very young. Its remnants may adorn the mature cap's margin, or wrap the stalk in evanescent rings, or ring zones.

Old Man of the Woods - The bumpy cap makes this mushroom easy to recognize even from a distance.

Look for it from mid-summer to fall under hardwoods or conifers in the eastern half of North America.

Unfortunately, this nonpoisonous mushroom tastes bad when it's young, and gets even worse later on.

Ornate-Stalked Bolete (Phylloporus rhodoxanthus)

Ornate-stalked Bolete

This bolete has a dull yellow-green to olive, convex to flat cap 1-/5/8 to 8 inches across that's sticky when wet. The flesh and tubes (which are attached to the stalk) are bright yellow, as are the pores, which stain orange-brown. The spore print is olive-brown

The yellowish stalk, covered with a network or darker ridges, is 3-1/4 to 6 inches long, 3/8 to 1-3/8 inches thick.

Ornate-stalked Boletes, from below - Note the deep reticulation (netting) on the stalks.

Look for it from the middle of the summer until the beginning of fall under oaks and beeches in Eastern North America.

Listed in field guides as mediocre, I find it quite good.

Slippery Jack (Suillus luteus)

Slippery Jack

This mushroom is a member of the Suillus group, boletes with a slimy cap. This one's cap is dark reddish-brown to yellowish-brown, convex to flat, 2 to 4-3/4 inches across. The white flesh becomes yellowish.

Slippery Jack Cap - This bolete exchanges nutrients with evergreens, so it comes up in late fall, when most other boletes are long gone, as the tree partners of those mushrooms are dormant.

The tubes, which attach to the stem, may be whitish, yellowish, or olive-yellow. Yellow pores become flecked with brown. The spore print is dull cinnamon.

The stalk is 1-1/4 to 3-1/4 inches long, 3/8 to 1 inch wide, with a membranous veil that covers the pores when the mushroom is very young and becomes a sleeve-like skirt around the stalk later.

Slippery Jack from below - Note the slimy, black ring encircling the stem, and how the large yellow pores are sunken where they attach to the pores.

This mushroom grows under pine and spruce trees in Eastern North America from early to late fall, one of the last choice mushrooms you can collect.

Slippery Jack Caps - You can often find large quantities of slippery jacks under large stands of pine trees.

The first time I got to gather this mushroom in quantity occurred when some mushroom lovers and I drove to a seashore habitat that had lots of pine trees. We were so happy to bag so many mushrooms, we left one person behind when we left (he was one of those slim, quiet, unobtrusive people who easily escape notice, and the car was quite crowded!)

After we returned and rescued him from complete oblivion, I went home and sautéed the mushrooms. They became a slimy, tasteless mess.

Next I peeled away the slime layer (which gives some people diarrhea) and made a cream soup with more of the mushrooms, pureeing them in blender with the other cooked soup ingredients. They were superb, and that's how I now recommend preparing them and other Suillus species.

Two-Color Bolete (Boletus bicolorus)

Two-color Bolete

This bolete has a convex to flat, soft, rose-red cap 2-6 inches wide, sometimes yellowish toward the edge, with thick, pale yellow flesh that slowly bruises blue, as does the rest of the mushroom.

The tubes, which become sunken around the stem, are yellow, as are the very tiny pores. The spore print is olive-brown.

The yellow stalk is 2-4 inches long, 3/8 to 1-1/4 inches thick, sometimes colored reddish toward the bottom.

Caution: Don't confuse this mushroom with the brick red bolete (B. sensibilis,) which may be poisonous. It has a brick-red cap and turns blue instantly when bruised.

Two-color Bolete

Look for the two-color bolete from early summer to early fall, mainly under oak trees, sometimes under aspen and pine, throughout Eastern North America.

This abundant (I'll never forget a tour on August 15, 1986, where we found 30 pounds of this mushroom along a trail called The Cow Path in Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx!), easy to recognize mushroom is great-tasting. Prepare it like other boletes.

Unpolished Bolete (Boletus impolitus)

Unpolished Bolete

This large bolete has a dry, sometimes slightly velvety, convex, to flat, ochre-brown cap 4-1/2 to 9 inches across, with an uneven margin. It becomes rusty-brown where bruised. The flesh is pale yellow but becomes greenish after having been damaged, as do the pores.

The pale yellow tubes are sunken near the stalk. The light yellow pores become darker yellow, brownish where bruised. The spore print is olive brown.

The irregularly grooved, yellowish beige stalk is 4-6 inches long, 3/4 to 1-7/8 inches thick. It bruises slightly blue.

This mushroom grows under hemlock or oak trees in Northeastern North America in the summer.

It's a rare species. I only found it once, while leading a tour in Clove Lake Park in Staten Island, but an entire hillside was covered with them, and the participants were thrilled: It's a choice edible, and the flavor is as spectacular as the spectacle it creates.

Morels (Morchella species)

Yellow Morels

Morels (Morchella species) are among the most prized of wild mushrooms. The cap, honeycombed with pits and ridges, is continuous with the stalk, so if you cut one lengthwise, it's hollow from top to bottom, with no division between the cap and stem.

White Morel, cut longitudinally

False morels (Gyromitra species), which are sometimes poisonous, and thimble-caps (Verpa species), have a separation between the stem and cap. They aren't hollow all the way through when you split them lengthwise.

False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta) - painting by Michael Kuo

Morels grow in the spring in a wide variety of habitats throughout North America. A roofer friend was at work in an affluent neighborhood in Queens, NYC, when he saw a troop of morels on his client's manicured lawn. He was so shocked, he almost fell off the roof. But he did bring the mushrooms home and enjoyed them thoroughly. People also find morels in woods, and along the edges of trails.

Old apple orchards, areas near dead elm trees, and regions with limestone in the soil are especially good places to look. Morels sometimes come up in the same place year after year.

Living just north of NYC, I find large quantities of a variety of mushrooms in our many parks, but morels are rare here, or I don't have the eye for them. We find them only rarely on my tours, and people who know where they grow don't give away the locations.

Aware of my situation, my friend Joe, who lives in Connecticut and has way more success with morels, sent me this very immorel photo!

In the Midwest, morels are so prolific, they have morel-hunting contests. Morels are also common in the Pacific Northwest.

And they come up after forest fires. In the 19th century, the Russian government had to pass a law making it illegal to burn down the forests in order to harvest morels the following year.

German folklore attributes the origin of morels to the Devil. Offended by a very wrinkled old woman, he transformed her into this mushroom. Ever since, calling a woman a morel in Germany has been a major insult.

It can be difficult to distinguish one morel species from another, but their rich, earthy flavor makes them all especially good. You can sauté them, include them soups, casseroles, or stews.

Caution: Don't eat morels raw or undercooked (cook at least 15 minutes) or you may get quite ill.

Black Morel (Morchella elata)

Black Morel - Sculpture, acrylic paint by "Wildman"

The whitish stalk is 2-4 inches long, 3/4 to 1-5/8 inches thick.

It grows on the ground in coniferous or mixed coniferous and hardwood forests, in sandy soil, and in recently burnt areas. Look for it in the spring. It grows throughout North America.

This narrow, elongated morel has an irregular cap with a conical to oval shape, 3/4 to 1-5/8 inches wide, 3/4 to 2 inches high. Its horizontal and vertical ribs are black or dark gray, with long, yellow-brown pits in between. Whether it's part of a complex of closely related species or 1 species, it makes for great eating, and it's the first morel to appear in the spring.

Half-Free Morel (Morchella semilibera)

Half-free Morel - sculpture, acrylic paint

This morel has a conical cap 3/8 to 1-5/8 inches tall, and just as wide at its flaring base. Unlike other morels, only the top half of the cap attaches to the stalk, the rest hangs free.

Half-free Morel - Note the relatively short cap and large pits, typical of this species.

Still, if you cut it lengthwise, a hollow cylinder extends from the top to the bottom of the mushroom.

The irregular longitudinal ribs are brown to blackish, the pits are beige.

The whitish, scruffy, faintly ribbed stalk is 3-1/4 to 4 inches long, 3/8 to 3/4 inches wide, with a thickened base.

This mushroom grows in open hardwood forests throughout North America in the spring.

Not as flavorful as other morel species, this one is still a good edible.

White Morel (Morchella deliciosa)

White Morel

This morel has a round, oval, or conical cap 3/8 to 1-3/8 inches across and 5/8 to 1-3/8 inches high. It's margin is often tucked inward.

The widely spaced, uneven, mostly longitudinal ridges are whitish tan, blackening with age.

The uneven pits, often vertically elongated, are dark brown to beige, blackening with age.

White Morel

The scruffy, whitish stalk is 5/8 to 2-3/8 inches long, 1/4 to 1-1/4 inches thick, sometimes enlarged at the base.

White Morel

This morel grow in gardens, orchards, woods, and edges of woods throughout North America in the spring.

Some experts the white morel is really an immature form of the yellow morel, but no one seems to have had enough patience to leave it and see whether it would mature. They always ate it first! True to its scientific specific name, it is delicious!

Basket of Morels

Yellow Morel (Morchella esculenta)

Yellow Morel

This morel has an irregular, elogated oval yellow-brown cap 1-5/8 to 2 inches wide, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2 inches high. Its irregular, vertical, yellow brown ribs surround yellowish pits which darken with age.

The whitish stalk, which enlarges at the base, is 1 to 2 inches long, 5/8 to 1 inch thick.

It grows throughout North America, in hardwood forests and a large variety of different habitats including dying elm trees, in old apple orchards, and in burned areas.

The white morel is one of the best-tasting foods in the world.

Beaked Earthstar (Geastrum pectinatum)

Beaked Earthstar

Description: Earthstars (Geastrum species) are stalked puffballs supported by star-like rays that look a little like legs. This one has a gray, rounded spore sac (the puffball part) 3/8 to 3/4 inches wide with a narrow neck underneath, and a long, beak-like opening (through which the spores eventually emerge) on top

Beaked Earthstar - The sac of this old earthstar, which contains the spores, has already degenerated.

The inside is white at first. When the spores mature, they turn into a brown powder.

The 5 to 10 curved rays are 5/8 to 3/4 inches long. As with other earthstars, they may curve upward to partially surround the spore sac when the mushroom dries out, and return to their standing positions when you moisten the mushroom—especially fun for kids.

Look-Alikes: Other earthstars lack the beak. Other puffballs don't have "legs."

Habitat: This mushroom grows in the east and parts of central North America, but not west of Michigan. Look for it in open woods, especially near cedars, and in sandy places, such as fields near the seashore.

Season: Look for the beaked earthstar from early summer to early fall.

Edibility: No earthstars are edible.

Gem-Studded Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)

Gem-studded Puffball

This small, white to brown, pear- to top-shaped puffball, 1 to 2-3/8 inches across and 1-1/4 to 3 inches tall, is easy to recognize because it's covered with tiny spines. It develops a pore on top when mature, through which the spores escape. It rests on a stalk-like, chambered, white to brown base.

Gem-studded Puffball, young specimen - The spines make this white puffball easy to distinguish from other small puffballs.

The inside of the puffball begins soft and white.

Gem-studded Puffball, young specimen, split open - Note the undifferentiated, white interior.

Then the inside becomes an unappetizing green-brown. The mature spores are olive brown.

Gem-studded Puffballs, young and old specimens - Note the color change inside.

Look-Alikes: The pear-shaped puffball, also a choice edible, resembles this mushroom, but the former is lacks the spines and grows on dead wood.

Poisonous earthballs (Scleroderma) begin white inside, but they soon turn black, and they're always hard, whereas this puffball is always soft.

Always cut open small puffballs to make sure there are no gills or stem inside, indicating possibly deadly amanitas.

Habitat: Look for this mushroom on the ground, where it decomposes organic material, in the woods and in cultivated areas, throughout the US. It often appears in the same place year after year, sometimes in great quantity.

Gem-studded Puffballs - This mushroom often grows in clusters.

Season: You can find this mushroom from early summer to fall.

Cooking: Slice this choice mushroom, sauté it, steam it, or simmer it in soups, like other mushrooms.

It has a mild to moderate flavor intensity, so don't drown out with other strong-flavored ingredients. It dehydrates well.

Giant Puffball (Calvatia gigantea)

Giant Puffball

Description: The giant puffball is a whitish, Styrofoam-like globe as small as a softball or as large as a beach ball, with short, root-like mycelial (fungal) fibers connecting it to the ground.

Giant Puffball - Note the white interior showing between the cracks. This is when you should cook this mushroom.

It's white, soft and undifferentiated inside at first, like other puffballs, then sickly green-brown.

Giant Puffball, old specimen - The green interior is on its way to becoming trillions of spores.

Finally maturing, trillions of microscopic spores emerge as a puff of dark brown powder when kids kick the mushroom.

Giant Puffball and Samantha Brandt - photo by Joe Brandt

A similar, equally-huge western giant puffball (Calvatia booniana), covered with spectacular polygonal white to buff warts, grows in semi-arid and sagebrush areas in South Idaho, adjacent states, and the Cascade mountains, from June to August. It's also a choice edible, as is the sculptured giant puffball, (C.subsculpta) which is even more warty, and has a sterile base.

Sculptured Giant Puffball - photo by Eric Nyberg

Caution: Beware the false giant puffball, a.k.a. the poison goalpost fungus, common in grassy fields throughout much of the Earth.

False Giant Puffball (Poison Goalpost Fungus) - Note the cracked surface about to erupt, ejecting enough spores to victimize up to 22 people at once!

This mushroom is so deadly, merely inhaling the spores rearranges your brain's neural synapses, making you race endlessly back and forth across a field, stopping occasionally to jump up and down and cheer or curse insanely, never resting until death from exhaustion ensues. Poisoning is so virulent, relatives of the victim, especially the parents, have been known to succumb as well!

Except for this species, the large puffballs have no poisonous look-alikes, so they're fair game for beginners.

Habitat: Look for giant puffballs on the ground in well-fertilized fields or pastures where the underlying fungus has plenty of underground manure to decompose.

Giant puffballs also grow on the sloping areas of bare earth in urban areas, places where people tend to discard litter. Here the puffballs hide, disguised as Styrofoam.

I once led a tour that first met at the base of a wooded hillside in Queens, NY. We piled into cars to carpool to the park's interior. I got in last, to make sure no one was left behind. Just as I was about to close the door, I noticed that the entire hillside where we had been sitting for 20 minutes was covered with giant puffballs, which I announced at the top of my voice.

Everyone raced to the hillside, and there were enough enormous giant puffballs for everyone to get one, except for me. But after the tour, I raced home on my bicycle, dumped all my gear, and continued in the opposite direction to a park where I'd found a large number of rotting giant puffballs the year before. This time, in failing light, I got them all, filling up shopping bags, backpack, carrier rack, and panniers.

Season: and Range Look for giant puffballs from late summer through mid-fall anywhere in North America.

Cooking: This mushroom is a choice edible. Trim away the cuticle (covering) if it's encrusted with dirt, and cut out any bad parts with a paring knife. Try not to wash this mushroom under water, or it will become too soggy to sauté.

Slice the puffball, sauté it, steam it, or simmer it in soups, like other mushrooms. It's also great baked or grilled. It has a rich, earthy flavor with a texture of marshmallows.

This mushroom doesn't dehydrate well. To store it long-range, cook it and freeze it.

Pear-Shaped Puffball (Lycoperdon pyriforme)

Pear-Shaped Puffball

Description: This is a small, beige, roundish to pear-shaped puffball 5/8 to 1-3/4 inches across that develops a pore on top when mature, through which the spores escape.

Pear-Shaped Puffball - Note the stringy mycelia comprising the fungus' body.

The puffball begins soft and white inside.

Pear-Shaped Puffball, split lengthwise

Later it becomes yellow-green, and finally dark olive brown inside.

Pear-Shaped Puffballs, mature - Note the hole at each mushroom's tip, for expelling spores.

Under the mushroom's base, the fungus looks like white string.

Look-Alikes: The gem-studded puffball, also a choice edible, resembles this mushroom, but the former is covered with tiny spines and grows on the ground.

Poisonous earthballs (Scleroderma) begin white inside, but they soon turn black, and they're always hard, whereas this puffball is always soft.

Always cut open small puffballs to make sure there are no gills or stem inside, indicating possibly deadly amanitas. However, amanitas grow on the ground. This puffball always grow on dead wood.

Habitat: Look for pear-shaped puffballs on logs and stumps (or emerging from buried portions of stumps), where they may grow in great numbers.

Pear-Shaped Puffballs Growing on Log

Season: Although this mushroom may appear as early as midsummer, it's more usual from mid- to late fall. They can come up year after year in the same place, until the fungus has used up all the nutrients it needs in the dead wood.

Cooking: This mushroom is a choice edible species. Slice the puffball, sauté it, steam it, or simmer it in soups, like other mushrooms. It has an especially rich taste that you can't drown out with other ingredients. Because of this, you can use the mushroom sparingly and it will still flavor a recipe effectively. It's great for flavoring grains or beans, for example. And it dehydrates well.

Pigskin Poison Puffball (Scleroderma citrinum)

Pigskin Poison Puffball

Description: This thick-skinned, beige mushroom, rounded but flattened, 3/4 to 1-5/8 inches across, is not a true puffball, but an earthball. The generic name, Scleroderma, is also that of a skin disease. It refers to the mushroom's warty surface.

When you cut this earthball open, it begins white, but soon turns purplish-black, and it's always hard. When mature, the powdery spores become blackish-brown.

Pigskin Poison Puffballs - Note the warty surface.

Look-Alikes: True puffballs are soft and white inside. Other earthball species (Scleroderma species), which are also poisonous, lack the warty skin.

Smooth Earthball (S. cepa) - This upended mushroom exposes the white mycelium that makes up the body of the fungus.

Smooth Earthball (S. cepa), cut open - This very young specimen hasn't turned purple-black inside yet.

Habitat: This mushroom is common, sometimes growing in groups, in the woods, on sandy soil, and in wood chips, throughout North America.

Season: You can find pigskin poison puffballs from early summer to late fall.

Edibility: This poisonous mushroom and its relatives cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, and chills. Looking at the bright side, it won't kill you!

Nevertheless, people have used it to adulterate truffles! These underground mushrooms (burrowing or digging mammals eat truffles and spread the spores in their droppings) are so flavorful and hard to get at, they're the world's most expensive fungi. And victims don't always suspect that their illness stems from eating such prized mushrooms!

Purple-Spored Puffball (Calvatia cyathiformis)

Purple-Spored Puffball

Description: This large, roundish, puffball, often somewhat flattened puffball can grow from 2-3/4 to 7 inches across, and from 3-1/2 to 8 inches tall. Its beige surface, smooth at first, later develops cracks.

Purple-Spored Puffball - This puffball is certainly shaped like a skull, and you really have to wait until the purple spores form before you can be sure this isn't a skull-shaped puffball (which is also edible.) I usually eat the puffball first!

The inside is soft and white at first. As the spores mature, they become violet-black to yellow-brown, then dark purple-black. Finally, the top of the puffball erodes and a large cup remains.

It can be hard to tell the immature mushroom apart from the skull-shaped puffball, which is also a choice edible, but there are no poisonous look-alikes.

Habitat: This mushroom grows in grassy pastures and suburban lawns throughout eastern and central North America.

Season: The mushroom appears in the summer and early fall, and persists through late fall.

Cooking: This mushroom is a choice edible. Trim away the cuticle (covering) if it's encrusted with dirt, and cut out any bad parts with a paring knife. Try not to wash this mushroom under water, or it will become too soggy to sauté.

Slice the puffball, sauté it, steam it, or simmer it in soups, like other mushrooms. It's also great baked or grilled. It has a sweet-savory flavor and a soft texture.

This mushroom doesn't dehydrate well. To store it long-range, cook it and freeze it.

Skull-Shaped Puffball (Calvatia craniformis)

Skull-Shaped Puffball

Description: This large, whitish to beige, skull-shaped mushroom grows from 3-1/4 to 8 inches across and from 2-3/8 to 8 inches tall.

The inside is soft and white at first. As the spores mature, they become greenish-yellow to yellow brown, and the spore mass persists for a long time.

The mushroom's thick, pointed base connects to the fibrous fungus that penetrates the ground.

Skull-Shaped Puffball

It's difficult to tell this mushroom apart from the immature mushroom apart from the purple-spored puffball, which is also a choice edible, but there are no poisonous look-alikes.

Habitat: This mushroom grows in the woods, especially near oaks, throughout North America.

Season: Look for this mushroom from August to October.

Cooking: This mushroom is a choice edible. Trim away the cuticle (covering) if it's encrusted with dirt, and cut out any bad parts with a paring knife. Try not to wash this mushroom under water, or it will become too soggy to sauté.

Slice the puffball, sauté it, steam it, or simmer it in soups, like other mushrooms. It's also great baked or grilled. It has a rich, savory flavor and a soft texture.

This mushroom doesn't dehydrate well. To store it long-range, cook it and freeze it.

Stalked Puffball-In-Aspic (Calostoma cinnabarina)

Stalked Puffball-in-Aspic

Description: This bright red-orange false puffball (not related to true puffballs) stands on a stalk. It's covered with a thick, clear jelly. The jelly disappears and the color fades when the mushroom gets old, as depicted to the left.

The mushroom is 3/8 to 5/8 inches wide, 1-1/4 to 2 inches tall. There's a cross-like opening at the tip of the puffball-like spore sac.

Stalked Puffball-in-Aspic

Look-Alikes: On a tour with the Manitoga Day Camp in Garrison, NY, councilors who spotted these bright red gelatinous globes embedded in the earth (before the stalks had elevated them), warned the kids not to disturb the "salamander eggs" (Of course, as amphibians, salamanders lay their eggs in water)!

Stalked Puffball-in-Aspic, very young specimen - The stalk has yet to appear.

Habitat: Look for the stalked puffball-in-aspic in the woods. It grows throughout the eastern half of North America.

Season: This common mushroom comes up in the spring, summer, and fall. Old specimens last into the winter.

Edibility: Although it contains no poisons, this mushroom is not edible.

The Stinkhorns

General Information: There's no polite way of saying it: stinkhorns are gross, and they stink so strongly you usually smell them before you see them.

Identification: These distinctive mushrooms have a single, unbranched, erect stalk, sometimes gaudily colored, leading to Linnaeus aptly placing them in a genus he called Phallus (which has since been split into additional unsavory genera). The stalk is slimy, especially toward the tip, where the spores are concentrated.

And the entire mushroom hatches from an "egg," which, unlike a puffball, reveals layers of slime cut open.

Reproduction: The mushroom spreads its spores, which are present in the slime, by attracting flies and other creatures that like decaying flesh. The slime sticks to the insects, which then transport the spores.

This is quite an advanced method of reproduction, paralleling flowering plants (which didn't evolve until toward the end of the age of the dinosaurs), the most advanced members of the plant kingdom, which use insects for pollination (not all flowering plants depend on insects — some use less efficient wind pollination).

Beetles Finishing Off a Stinkhorn

Ecology: Stinkhorns are saprophytes: the fungus under the stinkhorn or egg grows through wood chips or organic material in the ground and decomposes it.

Habitat and Range: Stinkhorns tend to grow in cultivated areas, i.e., urban parks, wood chips, and composted soil, throughout the US (and around the world).

Season: Sniff for (or look for) stinkhorns in the summer and fall.

Edibility: Stinkhorns are too disgusting to eat, although none that I know of are poisonous. Nevertheless, people have tried eating the cooked eggs of some species after removing the slime layer. I reluctantly tried one bite of a cooked stinkhorn egg just once, so I could speak about the experience first-hand. I noticed very little flavor and a markedly unpleasant texture before I spit it out!

Then a friend astonished me by telling me that shop people were selling dried stinkhorns in New York City's Chinatown (they're supposed to be a delicacy in China once the slime is removed). He even went so far as to buy me a package of dehydrated Chinese stinkhorns, an odorless "food" I had no way of identifying (I don't speak Chinese) that people in China have been eating for centuries.

I added this to a soup, and found it to have no flavor, and a weird squishy texture that people in China apparently like, but I found very unpleasant. Perhaps with proper seasonings, you could use this species to make a vegetarian mock squid dish!

Caution: Never eat, or even pick stinkhorns in New Guinea, where the Iban people (former headhunters) call it ghost penis fungus. It's the member of a warrior who was decapitated in battle, and the twice-mutilated fighter will rise from the ground and pursue you until he cuts off your head with his headhunting sword!

Uses and Misuses: The best use of stinkhorns is for professional naturalists to use for lecture-demonstrations, but even this can be problematic:

In 2001, I found the front yard of a house near where my fiancée Leslie lived covered with Ravenel's stinkhorn. I should have left them there for Ravenel, but put a bunch in a bag and stored that in Leslie's refrigerator for a few days, since I would be departing from her place to give a presentation in a library.

Stinkhorns are one of nature's most foul-smelling creations, but they're nothing compared to decomposing stinkhorns! After a few days, Leslie noticed that she couldn't open her refrigerator without coming close to passing out.

After she identified the source of the putrescence and threw out the bag, she still had to scrub the refrigerator thoroughly and wait a few months before the smell went away. Miraculously, she still married me in 2002!

Elegant Stinkhorn (Mutinus Elegans)

Elegant Stinkhorn - Note the absence of the olive-brown slime near the tip of this stinkhorn, which is older than the ones shown below.

This red to pink, pointy-tipped, cylindrical stinkhorn is 4 to 7 inches tall, 5/8 to 1 inch across, covered with greenish-brown slime toward the tip when young. It's generic name refers to Mutinus Titanus, a Roman god of fertility. I'll let you guess why!

Elegant Stinkhorn - Note the white, egg-like immature stinkhorn in front of the base of the mature one.

It arises from a whitish sack at the base.

Elegant Stinkhorn "Egg" - Note the network of white mycelium, the body of the fungus, infiltrating the wood chips.

The white, thread-like mycelia (the body of the fungus) descend from the sack into the wood chips or leaf litter where it grows.

Elegant Stinkhorn Unearthed - Note the brown slime on top, and the remnants of the sac at the base.

The sac looks like a puffball (which is undifferentiated inside), but when you cut it open, you can see (and smell) the tube-shaped immature stinkhorn inside.

Elegant Stinkhorn "Egg" Cut in Two - Note the hollow orange cylinder of the immature stinkhorn inside.

You can find this very common mushroom in cultivated areas throughout the eastern half of North America in the second half of the summer.

Old Elegant Stinkhorns - Note how the stinkhorns collapse as they age.

This stinkhorn may be elegant, but it's not good to eat! People in China cook and eat the immature stinkhorn sacs. I tried cooking the aptly named "Devil's balls" of this species once. They had no flavor, and a very unpleasant, slimy texture. I flushed them down the toilet, with an exhortation that they return to the Devil!

Ravenel's Stinkhorn (Phallus ravenelii)

Ravenel's Stinkhorn

This less-than-appetizing, obscene-looking mushroom has a gray-black head 5/8 to 1-5/8 inches, wide, 1-1/4 to 1-3/4 inches high, long-oval shaped, with a small, white mouth at the tip. Its lower end is partially free from the stalk. The head is covered with olive-green slime, containing the spores.

Ravenel's Stinkhorn, top

The yellowish-white cylindrical stalk is 4-6 inches long, 5/8 to 1-1/4 inches thick, ending an a sac like cup at the base, with white runners (the body of the fungus) extending into the ground. It usually falls over soon after it emerges.

Like other stinkhorns, it hatches from an egg-like sac.

Ravenel's Stinkhorn "Egg"

Layers of stinkhorn and slime lurk inside this "egg," unlike puffballs, which are smooth inside.

Ravenel's Stinkhorn "Egg," split lengthwise

Sniff it out throughout Eastern North America in the second half of the summer and in the fall. It grows in wood chips, sawdust, and around stumps, sometimes in great numbers.

Ravenel's Stinkhorns and "Egg" Infesting a Suburban Lawn

This putrid-smelling mushroom is not edible. The best thing to do with a Ravenel's stinkhorn is to return it to Ravenel!

Individual Species

Aborted Entoloma (Entoloma abortivum)

Aborted Entoloma, Aborted and Unaborted Forms

This misshapen, fragrant mushroom comes into being when the aborted entoloma fungus parasitizes a developing honey mushroom (Armillariella mellea), aborting its normal development.

Aborted Entoloma, Aborted Form

So it comes in two forms, the unaborted form and the aborted form.

A Bagful of Aborted Entolomas

Aborted Entoloma, Unaborted Form

The grayish white stalk is 1 to 4 inches long and 1/4 to 5/8 inch thick, with white threads (the fungus) emanating from the base.

Aborted Entoloma, Unaborted Form - Watercolor pencils by "Wildman"

The distorted ball-shaped, spongy aborted form is 1 to 4 inches wide and 1 to 2 inches tall. Whitish outside, the whitish inside is marbled with pinkish veins. Aborted forms often grow clustered or fused together.

Look for it in eastern North America west to Texas. It appears in the late summer and fall.

Both Forms of Aborted Entoloma

Pick this mushroom only when you find both forms growing together. Other similar entoloma species that don't form abortions will make you throw up.

This top-rated mushroom is great sautéed; simmered in soups, stews, or sauces; baked; or even cooked in cocktail sauce as mock shrimp. Use the caps and stems of both forms.

Aborted Entolomas, Aborted Form

Pick this mushroom only when you find both forms growing together. Other similar entoloma species that don't form abortions will make you throw up.

This top-rated mushroom is great sautéed; simmered in soups, stews, or sauces; baked; or even cooked in cocktail sauce as mock shrimp. Use the caps and stems of both forms.

Aborted Entolomas, Aborted Form

Caution: Never serve aborted entolomas to George W. Bush, Jr. — he's strongly opposed to abortion!

Shrimp-Free Cocktail

Splash Cup Bird's Nest Mushroom (Cyanthus striatus)

Splash Cup Bird's Nest Mushroom

This is a tiny mushroom that resembles a bird's nest. It's tan to deep brown, woolly, and goblet-shaped, only 1/4 to 5/8 inches wide, narrowing toward the bottom. When immature, each cup is sealed by a white cover.

Inside are what look like whitish miniature flattened eggs, 1/32-1/16 inches wide — actually spore cases ejected into the environment by raindrops!

Splash Cup Bird's Nest Mushrooms - Note the tiny mushrooms, some closed, and one open with whitish spore cases inside.

You can find these mushrooms on all manner of dead wood throughout North America in the summer and fall.

They're not edible, but the mushroom were lots of fun for me to model: the entire sculpture photographed above is only 1-1/2 inches long, and I used needles to mold some of the features.

Buy an Edible Mushrooms T-Shirt!

Twas A Night.....
By Joe Brandt

Twas a night deep in Winter
and I lay in my room,
half dozing, half sleeping,
with dreams of mushrooms.

I had stored dried boletes
in the cuboard with care,
I searched for them last week,
but I hadn't looked there!

I was thinking of lobsters,
all orange and fat,
and cinnabar reds....
I like colors like that!

I can see in my mind's eye
the fungi to come....
Those big meaty polypores!
I must have some!

I'll just mope around
and wait for the Spring,
deprivation, I tell you...
I must have fungal things!

I'll dash out to the woods
by the first week of May,
hunting for the morels...
please don't get in my way!

Oh, how I miss foraging!
It's really a bummer
to be trapped here all Winter
just waiting for Summer!

6 Ways Mushrooms can Save the World, by Paul Stamets