Updated: Jan 23
Around the time I found my first morels in the wild earlier this month, I also found some other edible mushrooms nearby. I say "I think" because, as with all mushrooms, it comes down to an accurate identification of the species, and I'm pretty much still a greenhorn when it comes to that.
The 'shrooms in question were feeding on a what was left of a huge Tuliptree stump, now thoroughly rotted and mostly hollow inside. I had glanced over at the stump several times as I walked the trail this spring, but with the relatively dry, cold weather, mushroom finds had been few and far between until recent rains and saw none there. This time, as I passed by the stump, I saw a Lilliputian audience lined up in several rows, looking as if they were waiting for a performance to begin. The mushrooms were only a couple of inches high, with gilled caps, as I found when I got closer. They looked like ink caps (Coprinus genus), with black gills on the underside of their caps.
Trying to avoid the taxonomy rabbit hole I went down with morels, I just checked my favorite local mushroom guide, Mushrooms of West Virginia and the Central Appalachians, by William C. Roody, and tentatively decided they were Glistening Coprinus (Coprinellus micaceus). They were certainly glistening, but it had also just rained. They were growing on a layer of rotting wood from the stump, making them seem to be a terrestrial species rather than one that grows on trees, as mushroom expert Michael Kuo notes. (For more on their taxonomy, visit his website, MushroomExpert.com.)
As Kuo also notes, this "common and beautiful mushroom is widely distributed in North America." He also writes that more than one species goes by this same species same name). Although I was pretty sure these mushrooms were edible "one of the first edible gilled mushrooms to appear in spring," Roody writes, I still stuck to my rule of not eating a mushroom that I don't know well until I had it checked out by an expert. Mushroom ID can come down to checking spores and, these days, even DNA testing. With Virginia still in lock-down because of the coronavirus, I didn't want to try to entice any experts I know over to confirm the ID, , so I contented myself with taking lots of photos, which is always my main reason for hunting mushrooms anyway.
As I wandered around the stump, I found two more mushrooms of another species on its backside. They reminded me of Dryad's Saddle, aka Pheasant-back Polypore (Polyporus squamosus), which had been growing on another rotting Tuliptree stump a few yards away for years. But sadly and somewhat ironically, another big Tuliptree blew down across the trail and stump during Winter Storm Riley in 2018, destroying what had been one of my favorite fungus host stumps, with several species of mushrooms living on it as well as the polypore.
The color of this new polypore—a mushroom with a sponge-like underside of its cap, with many pores instead of gills—was similar to P. squamosus. But the pattern on its cap was different. The two fruiting bodies, stacked on top of each other on the stump, were also smaller than the Dryad's. Still, I was much less sure about this ID than the Coprinus mushrooms.
More cruising through Roody's guide led me to Polyporus craterellus (no common name). He points out that the species name means "goblet-shaped," and these did curve up a bit from the center. He adds that the odor and taste of these edible mushrooms are "not distinctive or somewhat fruity like melon rind." I'll have to take his word for that, assuming my ID was correct, since the rain brought on a good bout of rhinitus, a chronic problem, so my sense of smell was not reliable. I definitely wasn't going to taste this mushroom, either, without an ironclad ID.
Kuo offers a key for helping with the identification of "stemmed, pale-fleshed polypores" such as this one, but I was too busy with trying to get this blog site up that I didn't use it. I hope to try it before the polypores disappear, which the Glistening Coprinus did within a few days.
© 2020 Pam Owen