Look! In that field! Are those horses or crocodiles?

contributed by Pete Richards

Well, of course, they’re mushrooms.

For the last several years, I have found large mushrooms of the Agaricus group very late in our season – mid-October to mid-November.  I have seen these primarily near my home in Oberlin, but also at several locations along Route 2 from Maumee State Park to Oberlin.  Individual “buttons” can reach a pound in weight, and they often occur in rings where it is possible to gather several pounds of mushrooms from a single ring.

Mushrooms are white, typically slightly scaly, and tend to occur in clusters.  Unopened caps can be the size of softballs; the stems can be several inches in diameter.  The cap separates from the stem during growth, leaving a prominent ring.  The gills, when first exposed, are tan-pink, and become almost black with age.  The odor is of almond, but not as strong as what I think of the typical Agaricus arvensis, the horse mushroom.  The spore print is dark chocolate brown.

In attempting a better identification of this Agaricus species using MushroomExpert.com, I was surprised to discover that there are hundreds of species (nationally).  I was thinking in terms of three species –  A. arvensis; A. campestris, the meadow mushroom; and an uninteresting woods-dwelling species that I thought I remembered seeing pictures of.  Working through the lengthy key of 100(!) species, I encountered A. crocodilensis, noted for its large cap.  It seems to be a better choice for my specimens because of its scaly cap – the key indicates that A. arvensis tends to be smooth.  But the distinction based on field characteristics is very minor, and may not always be reliable.

So, are those horses or crocodiles in that field?  I really do not know.  Given my resources, I cannot know with certainty.  I do know that they are locally and seasonally abundant, large, pretty distinctive, and, for me, edible and tasty. These mushrooms sauté very nicely when cut into spoon-sized pieces.  The almond smell is conspicuous early, but apparently cooks off, as it disappears before most of the liquid is boiled away.  The resulting mushrooms have a nice solid texture and a good flavor, and they freeze well. Given the right place, it is easy to gather a winter’s supply of frozen mushrooms in one outing.

This commentary should not be construed to invite casual eating of mushrooms that the reader may think are the same species.  Neither the author nor the Ohio Mushroom Society warrant the edibility for you of this mushroom, or a mushroom you may find and think is the same.  The actual species in this commentary is not known.  It is known to be edible to me, but others may not have the same experience.  If you think you have found the same mushroom and wish to eat it, follow the standard procedures:

* Use all resources available to you to identify what you have found
* If you choose to eat the mushroom,
– cook it well
– eat only a small bite for the first time; imbibe no alcohol
– if you have no bad reaction, try a bit more, but still be cautious
– keep a sample of the mushroom to give to poison control if you have problems

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