Lactarius and Lactifluus are two genera of macro fungi that exude a liquid (latex) when the gills or upper stem are cut. They are closely related to the Russula genus. They form a symbiotic relationship with various trees including oaks, beech, and conifers. They fruit from May to October and are most abundant in July through September. Until recently they were all considered to be in the genus Lactarius. Tasting the latex of a milk mushroom is a feature in identification. The mild tasting species are edible.
There are some good edibles here and unlike their Russula cousins, they are usually free of larvae. The brownish orange capped Leather Back or Bradley, Lactifluus volemus has abundant, mild, sticky, tasting, whitish latex which will stain most surfaces (including hands) brown. The flesh and latex have a fishy odor which disappears during cooking. An edible lookalike, Lactifluus hygrophoroides, has gills that are distant to subdistant. Another similar edible species is Lactifluus corrugis, which has a darker, wrinkled cap and has gills that are darker as well. All three of these occur with oaks. Lactifluus hygrophoroides also occurs with hemlock often along streams.
Some Lactifluus species have latex which is variously described as hot, peppery, or acrid. There are four medium to large white ones. These are only edible after special preparation. Lactifluus piperatus has very crowded gills. Lactifluus also has crowded gills but its latex turns greenish after being exposed for several minutes. Lactifluus subvellereus has sub distant gills. Lactifluus deceptivus has intermediate gill spacing. It has a veil of tissue when young that reaches but does not attach to the stem. In age there are usually stretchy remnants of this veil at the cap margin.
Lactarius contains some edible species as well. Lactarius subpurpureus occurs with hemlock. It has as pinkish silver cap. It had red latex which stains the cap flesh greenish. The orange-capped Lactarius deterrimus (sensu American authors) occurs with conifers. It has orange latex which stains its flesh greenish. These are in the Lactarius deliciosus group and typically have very sparse latex.
Both genera are abundant and are good summer to early fall edibles.
Enjoy this addendum from Glenn Kotnik to last month’s blog post about ice flowers:
Last week I was over at my cabin and it suddenly dawned on me that conditions were perfect for formation of ice flowers that night. All of the understory plants were very wet from recent rain, very saturated with moisture, and the temperature was predicted to drop to the teens that night. So first thing in the morning I headed to my nearby Dittany spot with a step ladder, my LED light panels and cell phone. Too precarious to get a real camera up that slope. Sure enough there were the new ice flowers.
Late November had been warm and pleasant. Yet when I was awakened by the guttural vocalizations of my boy Flint, I sensed change. The air in my cabin crackled with crisp chill as though the moisture in the air had crystallized and precipitated while I slept. Flint knew we were in for adventure and he couldn’t wait to get me moving. Soon I was warming my fingers on a mug of hot coffee and my toes in front of the fire in the wood stove. My majestic ash trees, all dead not long after the arrival of the ash borers, were still good for one thing. I was grateful for the many years of sunlight energy stored in their wood being released as it burned.
Flint was insistent on exploring the woods so I loaded him and the other maniac into my Jeep and we drove a short way on gravel roads and parked at the head of a favorite trail. They knew the way and were impatient as I searched the frost covered woodland understory for signs of life.
The solubility of water in air depends on the temperature of the air. When warm humid air very suddenly mixes with colder air, the air can become supersaturated with water vapor. Supersaturation is unstable and sudden precipitation of ice crystals on available surfaces will occur. This was the case with the needles of crystalline water I found on many surfaces in the forest understory that morning. Moss, logs, mushrooms all had glittering deposits of crystallized moisture on their surfaces. The mushrooms were especially interesting, they may have been Galarina marginata, one of the few species beside the Amanitas to contain the deadly hepatic toxin α-Amanitin.
Another crystal formation caught my eye, curled, twisted and contorted, reminiscent of a ram’s horn.
It had been almost 20 years since I had last seen ice flowers, many of them, and in a large group. Now I saw only a single one. The spot I had seen ice flowers many years ago was only a few miles away so we hiked back to the truck and drove to the location where I hoped I once again find these rare formations. After a brief hike, there they were, the exact location I remembered. Why? What was special about this location that these rare ice flowers formed there?
The ice flowers were up on a very steep slope. It was all I could do to crawl up the incline by hanging onto saplings with one hand. With my free hand I took a few cellphone photos. No chance of bringing a real camera up there. And by the time I returned with the camera, these evanescent blossoms would have returned to the liquid state.
It took a bit of research to get the story of how ice flowers form, why they are rarely seen, and why so often in the same location. They grow from the dry stems of only a few plants, 40 worldwide I’ve learned. In the midwestern United States only Dittany, Cunila origanoides, a wonderful smelling member of the mint family, seems to host ice flowers. After a spell of wet rainy weather, when the air and ground are saturated with moisture, a sudden hard freeze will force watery sap up from the roots and stems of Dittany and out through longitudinal cracks in the stems. This sap freezes suddenly on contact with the cold air. The result are wide, thin sheets of ice which curl into phantasmagorical forms resembling flowers.
I took a few of the dried stems of Dittany back to my cabin with me and photographed the dried plants. Beautiful plants, with very aromatic leaves. Crushing the leaves releases an aroma almost exactly like the Italian seasoning oregano. Should I? Yes! I put a can of tomato sauce into a pan and added a couple generous pinches of crushed Dittany leaves. After some time simmering, I tasted a spoonful. Yuck! Bitter. So much for that idea.
Later I did a low power photomicrograph of the dry Dittany stems. The longitudinal cracks are clearly visible. If cold moisture were suddenly forced out from these cracks into subfreezing air, one can visualize the formation of ice flowers. But only under certain specific conditions of soil saturation, air saturation with moisture, and sudden temperature drop.
According to Indiana botanist Mike Homoya, Dittany is the only plant in the Midwest that seems to produce ice flowers. He calls Cunila oreginoides a “frostweed”. Only about 40 such species of frostweed species are known worldwide.
Now is the beginning of the ice flower season. If there is a sudden cold snap after a warm period of rain, go to the spot where you saw the beautiful flowers of Dittany in late summer. With luck you’ll find them. It’s like hunting mushrooms. But I don’t recommend making spaghetti sauce!
Online pre-registration for our Fall Foray in Stark County is open to OMS members as of September 6, 2022! If you are a current member, check your email for a link to the registration form. (If you don’t see it there, it may have gotten shuffled into your spam folder.)
On a recent visit to our local Heinen’s grocery store I noticed a profusion of choices in mushroom jerky. They had a brand featured on Shark Tank (Pan’s Mushroom Jerky), so I bought a package of their original recipe and passed it around at a mini-foray. It got favorable reviews, so I decided to try my hand at making my own. I know the carnivores in the group are saying really; why waste your time? This is a mushroom blog, after all, so why not? There are any number of websites with jerky marinades and recipes and they all share a common theme of including fat, acid, salt, heat and sugar. I picked this marinade mainly because I had the ingredients on hand and it’s a similar marinade to one I use for a salmon poke bowl recipe.
8 oz fresh mushrooms 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce 2 teaspoons rice vinegar 1/2 tablespoon chili garlic paste 1 tablespoon sesame oil 1 tablespoon brown sugar 1/4 teaspoon smoke paprika 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
My local farmers market sells an Oyster mushroom medley (8 oz for $7), so I used them and tore them into pieces for the marinade. I initially tried slicing them, but it was less work to just tear them. I didn’t need to brush dirt off the mushrooms since they were already pristine from the grower. I kept the pieces fairly large as they will shrink somewhat after they are dehydrated. I soaked the mushrooms in the marinade overnight and almost all of it was absorbed into the mushrooms.
I spread the mushrooms evenly on a couple of dehydrator trays using parchment paper underneath and set the dryer for 140F. After 2 hours, I turned over each piece and waited another 2 hours. The result was semi-moist and chewy. You can go longer if you want a drier result, but this is a good starting point.
The jerky was very tasty and the texture was surprisingly good considering that a cooked oyster mushroom is slimy and flaccid. There was a nice balance of heat and sweet, but the marinade I chose was too salty and overpowering (there is a 1/4 cup of soy concentrated into a few ounces of dried mushrooms). This is similar to beef jerky products I’ve tried in the distant past and it would be fair to say (in this case) that the mushrooms were a convenient fiber delivery system for the marinade. I definitely want to try this again, but I will try marinades that showcase more of the umami flavor of the mushroom itself rather than rely on the marinade to carry the flavor.
Have you have ever made mushroom jerky? Feel free to share your experiences and recipes with us. – Jerry
Whether you weren’t able to make the OMS Summer Foray last month, or you just need another foray fix, consider adding the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club’s annual foray to your calendar:
Guided morning mushroom walks. Afternoon presentations, cooking demo, and mushroom feast. Guest Mycologists Alan and Arleen Bessette and Stephen Russell. Mushroom display, raffle, and merchandise sales. $50 for WPMC members, $70 for non-members includes 2022-23 membership, $30 for students with ID and kids age 11 to 18. Kids 10 and under free. Registration required at wpamushroomclub.org/lincoff-foray
I’ll start by saying that I have more questions than answers about this elusive fungus. Cordyceps is listed in many “mushroom books,” yet it’s a matter of opinion as to whether or not the fruiting bodies of an Ascomycete, or “sac fungus” should really be called a mushroom. Purists often deny Ascomycetes the label mushroom, however in my neck of the woods, come April, the forest is packed with people hunting “mushrooms” using the term as though Carl Linnaeus himself had created the term mushroom as a royal taxon containing only the Ascomycete the morel. Still stranger is the question as to how the Cordyceps fungus became entwined with predictions of a dystopian future for humanity. So we wonder, what’s a nice mushroom like the morel doing in a Phylum with a harbinger of our dystopian future, Cordyceps? I’m afraid I’m getting ahead of myself here so I’ll back up.
It seems that every time I go on a hike in the woods with my friend Martha Bishop, I learn something new. For example, early last fall we were out searching for the last mushrooms of summer and Martha showed me something she had excavated from a decaying log. Not really mushroom-looking at all. She explained that species of fungi in the genus Cordyceps are parasitic and have unsavory dietary preferences. They grow into, and then out of, the bodies of living insects, usually larvae or pupae which are in rotten logs or underground. Only the ascocarp, the slender fruiting body of the fungus is visible above the surface of a rotten log or the earth.
Of the 600 or so species of Cordyceps found worldwide, some of these, especially tropical species, parasitize the living adult insect. As Cordyceps mycelium grows into the live insect, the fungus doesn’t kill the insect immediately. The pupa, larva, or adult insect retains vital functions needed for life but ceases its normal insect behavior. In the case of certain adult insects, it may climb up a plant or tree, seemingly to a microenvironment where temperature, humidity and light are most favorable to the Cordyceps. Here is where science becomes entwined with mythology, scenarios evolve that would cause Kafka to lose sphincter control, our dystopian future looms.
It’s not hard to understand how fungal mycelium growing inside the living organism disrupts metabolic, neurologic and muscular function with the final result being, as one would expect, death. To complicate matters, a variety of chemicals are released inside the insect by the Cordyceps mycelium. Many of these chemicals have been studied for their medical potential. Traditional Chinese medicine has used extracts of Cordyceps fungus for centuries and as with most folk medicine pharmaceuticals, have been said, at various points in time, to cure virtually all human ailments. In the minds of the hopeful, “used to treat” equals “proven to cure”.
One can see how slowly growing mycelium in one’s innards can cause strange muscle movements and very strange behavior as the hyphae enter and begin to digest the brain and neurons. The digestive process is what it’s all about, really; the Cordyceps just wants a bite to eat — it’s a parasite, after all. The disrupted movements of the insect as it is being slowly digested from the inside out have led to the name “Zombie Fungus.” Imagine a world populated by zombie insects, and from there it’s a short leap of the imagination to consider humans becoming infected with Zombie Fungus. Now you can glimpse the occupants of our dystopian future, animated not by their own brains but by Cordyceps hyphae controlling all of their synapses. A grisly future at best.
Hard to believe? For anyone with too much time on their hands, check out the video game from 2013, “The Last of Us” and its sequel, “The Last of Us: Left Behind.” For those who prefer to get their myco-mythology in a print version, try “The Girl With All The Gifts,” a novel available in Kindle or traditional book form. It’s about a young girl, but a girl living in our dystopian future of course, a future which is dystopian because, among other reasons, almost everyone has had their central nervous systems taken over by a mythical species of Cordyceps fungus.
Back to reality, dystopian as it may seem at times. My hiking companion Martha Bishop was generous enough to give me the Cordyceps specimen she had excavated from a decayed log in a deep Appalachian hollow. First, I did some photographs of the wasp with the ascocarps growing from its head. (Figure1) Ascocarps are the fruiting bodies of Ascomycetes, like the frying pan part of a morel. The ascocarps contain perithecia, a structure which in turn houses asci, the finger-like projections which contain spores. When the spores are released from the ascocarp, some will find their way by chance to another insect host which will be parasitized as well.
The wasp after the ascocarps fell off is shown in Figure 2; mycelium can be seen on the exoskeleton, presumably Cordyceps mycelium.
The dried, shriveled ascocarp is seen in Figure 3.
Next, I attempted to cut thin sections of the wasp after embedding it in paraffin. I put some of these on microscopes slide and stained them with phloxine. I don’t claim to be a trained microscopist; although I did view many specimens with a microscope in college, my technique for preparing specimens is poor. It does appear that fungal hyphae can be seen both inside, and external to, the exoskeleton of the wasp. Note the bristles which identify the exoskeleton.
There is much more that can be learned about Cordyceps and other closely related fungi. Those who have not been frightened away or who dread the night when their dreams will be visited by hungry mycelia can find a huge amount of information available, some reliable, some more prone to myth. I hope that anyone who hikes the mushroom woods will become aware of the possibilities of finding extremely interesting and unexpected mysteries below the most banal and unpromising little sprouts. Always consider that it could be the ascocarp of Cordyceps.
Early June here in central Ohio was WET and HOT! As miserable as the torrential rain, heat, and humidity (and accompanying power outages) was for us humans, the mushrooms loved it and came forth en masse – perhaps, like me, you’ve found things growing around your home and woods that you don’t usually see. A mini foray around my urban yard last week yielded an array of fun finds.
This week’s dry heat has sent all the mushrooms and slime molds back underground, but I hope to see more of them when the rains return. I’m especially keeping an eye out for these earth stars I found in my “way-back” last August (possibly Geastrum saccatum?):
I have a very good friend in Slovenia with whom I share interests in mineral collecting and in enjoying edible mushrooms. Mirjan and his wife Marija roam the local forests, collecting a great variety of edible mushrooms. Some are familiar to me because of closely related American species, and many are not. Mirjan often sends me pictures of the results of their latest foray – a table full of one or several kinds and colors of the currently available species.
But Mirjan has always been jealous of any morels that I find (I report my successes, of course). He always says that no matter how hard they look, they never find any. Apparently they don’t grow around there, he says.
So about the beginning of April, I got the following message from Mirjan, with the subject “unbelievable”:
You would probably recall my lamentations on morel mushrooms that we couldn’t find in spite of all our efforts.
This morning Marija told me that some strange mushrooms were sprouting in our garden. As a matter of fact we had four days of a steady rain that was hardly expected because not a single drop fall in March. When I stepped out I couldn’ t believe my eyes. There were true morels growing in our garden – subspecies Morchella conica var. Costata. As of today, nine of them. The largest on the photograph is about 7 cm tall.
Last year we decided to revive our garden a little bit and changed a green layer of I-don’t-know-the-name-of-green-plant that covered that portion and covered it with tree bark. It seems that the morels were always there but we didn’t noticed them under the green cover. It is, namely, obvious that they grow from under the slabs. I’ll wait for a day or two to see if they will get larger, otherwise they will end on a plate. I look forward to eating them.
And a couple of days later:
It was evident today that the morels had gained in size, but I couldn’t resist any longer so they fell victim to my appetite. Marija prepared them with spaghetti and cream — delicious.
I made two photographs on April 3 and today, and put them side by side in approximately the same scale. See the attached file. I’d say that the largest one gained about 25% in four days, which was not enough to wait any longer. Who knows, maybe a wicked and greedy snail would come by and eat away all of my decades long efforts.
It may comfort some Ohio morel hunters to know that the frustration of a failed search is widely shared. Still, I would not recommend the strategy of waiting for them to appear in your garden!