The Milk Mushrooms

contributed by Walt Sturgeon

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.

Lactifluus volemus, Pisgah NC
Lactifluus hygrophoroides
Lactifluus corrugis

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.

Lactarius subpurpureus

Both  genera are abundant and are good summer to early fall edibles.

Ice Flowers follow-up

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.

Ice Flowers

contributed by Glenn Kotnik

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!

Mushroom Jerky

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

Ingredients (Brown sugar not shown)

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.

Marinade & Sliced/Torn Mushrooms
Marinate Mushrooms Overnight

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.

Mushrooms Ready to Dehydrate
Finished Jerky

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

Cordyceps: The Myth and the Mushroom

contributed by Glenn Kotnik (Zaleski, OH)

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.

Parasitized wasp with ascocarps


The wasp after the ascocarps fell off is shown in Figure 2; mycelium can be seen on the
exoskeleton, presumably Cordyceps mycelium.

Wasp with external mycelium


The dried, shriveled ascocarp is seen in Figure 3.

Ascocarp

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.

Thin slice of Infected wasp
Thin slice of Infected wasp
Thin slice of Infected wasp

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.

The most interesting part of a fungus may be underground.
These little stalks, similar to Cordyceps, grow from a fallen plant seed. They are probably a species of Xylaria.

June Rainstorms Make Fungi Form

contributed by Lonelle Yoder

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.

Coprinopsis sp
This Coprinopsis species has been popping up in all the beds I mulched this spring – perhaps it arrived with the mulch? I love the way it deliquesces. I also love the word “deliquesce.”
Parasola plicatilis?
Here’s another coprinoid that I often see in abundance after a rainy period, probably Parasola plicatilis, pleated inkcap
Peziza sp
This cup fungus (Peziza) is a new one for me – apparently they’re difficult to ID to species without a microscope.
Xylaria polymorpha
You might find it surprising to see Xylaria polymorpha growing in grass – I would too, if my neighbor hadn’t told me there was a large sycamore tree in this part of the yard which was cut down before I moved in. This is the first year I’ve seen the buried roots send up Dead Man’s Fingers, but they have appeared several times this spring.
Candelleomyces candelleanus
Here’s another gift from those buried sycamore roots: Candolleomyces candolleanus (formerly Psathyrella), Pale Brittlestem
Laccaria sp
Laccaria sp. growing on mulch
LBM with coprinoid lurking in the background
I’m not sure what this guy is, but he has a coprinoid buddy keeping watch over him
unidentified white mushroom
Another unknown species pushing its way out of a log. It was gone a couple days later when I went back to see if it had grown; perhaps eaten by a squirrel?
Trichia decipiens & Arcyria cinerea?
Another log in a shady spot produced multiple slime molds! The orange and brown globes at the bottom are possibly Trichia decipiens in two stages of maturity, and the white fuzz at the top later developed into what you see in the next photo:
Arcyria cinerea & Stemonitis splendens
The same log, three days later: Arcyria cinerea at the top and Stemonitis splendens, chocolate tube slime, at the bottom.

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?):

Geastrum saccatum? Aug. 2021

Waiting for Morels

Pete Richards

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!

Of Slimes and Slimariums

contributed by Crystal Davidson

Sneakily slithering, seeking sustenance, single celled slime molds slowly slide through the forest…

It takes a keen eye, and a good amount of moisture to catch a myxomycete! These tiny friends of fungi are often found on dead wood, but can sometimes even be seen creeping across your lawn.

The first myxo that ever caught my attention was Arcyria denudata, which I first saw in a field guide. I immediately loved the common name “Cotton Candy Slime Mold”. Getting to meet one in real life, however, was even more thrilling, as the tiny pinkish red fruit bodies really do evoke memories of the fluffy fair food! One of the most prolific slimes in our area is Fuligo septica, which has the stomach-churning common name of ‘dog vomit slime mold’. Since I’m not a dog owner, I can’t speculate as to the visual accuracy of this name, but I’d guess it exists for a reason. You’ll often find it creeping through a flower bed in urban areas, though it can be found in the wild as well.

There are also many species of Trichia, Hemitrichia, and Metatrichia that frequent Ohio. Careful examination of the subtle features of the fruiting bodies can sometimes aid in distinguishing them. For instance, this specimen is most likely Hemitrichia clavata, which looks very similar to, but has a more elongated cup at the base than H. calyculata.

Hemitrichia clavata

Another common myxomycete is Physarum polycephalum. “Polycephalum” means “many headed”, and the fruiting stage makes it clear from whence this name came. In the plasmodial stage, P. polycephalum can be difficult to distinguish from Badhamia utricularis and other myxos, but most slimes can’t be identified solely from this stage. Once they fruit, however, the differences are obvious. P. polycephalum usually fruits upwards, away from gravitational forces, whereas B. utricularis typically hangs down.

A fun thing to do with myxomycetes is to capture them and bring them home to start your very own personal slimarium! To create one, you’ll need an enclosed container to keep in both your slime and any unexpected visitors that may sneak home with you. An old fish tank with a bit of plastic wrap over the top worked quite well for me, although any clear enclosure will suffice. I added some large rocks, well decayed pieces of log, a few handfuls of live moss, a bit of water at the bottom, and I periodically misted inside to maintain humidity. When you’ve found a specimen, simply remove a small bit of the substrate along with the myxomycete, and carefully transport it back to the tank. In a pinch, you can even use a clear plastic food container with a moist paper towel at the bottom as a living area.

While slime molds love oats, and they are a consistently consumed food source, I’ve found it to be more interesting to offer them a variety of foods and see what they prefer! They typically love mushrooms, though they have strong preferences on which they will eat. Pleurotus spp. are always a favorite, Postia sp. was not a big hit, they only eat the bacteria off the surface of the Trametes versicolor, and they absolutely abhor Rhodotus palmatus. Additionally, they will eat pasta and the bacteria on the outside of acorns, but despise raspberries and broccoli. This is an example of how slime molds navigate to make choices and select food source.

If you’re wondering how this blob-like organism moves, it does so through a pulsing locomotion. The slime forms “veins” which are wrapped in proteins that squeeze, creating a wave like effect. The waves move forward and recede slightly less with each pulse through the finger-line extensions known as pseudopods. You can see the progress over time here, as well as the ripples of the waves in the second photo.

Since I was eager to find out exactly what my most recent slime pet was, I forced it to fruit by denying it food. Despite the fact that myxomycetes can perceive light and typically avoid it, when they are ready to fruit, they will sometimes climb up to a high point, which may help to increase the range of the spore dispersal. I was quite pleased to discover upon fruiting, that this specimen was in fact Physarum polycephalum, which is often used in lab studies, including the semi-famous study of slime molds solving mazes.

Physarum polycephalum fruiting body

Now you might have thought this story was over at the fruiting, and I did too! Imagine my surprise when after a few months of not introducing anything new into the slimarium, a second slime suddenly appeared! Remember, they are sneaky! In the plasmodial stage, this Arcyria cinerea doesn’t look much different than its roommate, P. polycephalum. Once it fruited, however, the differences were obvious.

Arcyria cinerea fruiting body

It is also interesting to note that there are some fungi that feed off of slime molds. I only discovered this Polycephalomyces tomentosus feeding on this Hemitrichia calyculata once I got home and was editing my photos. Next time, I’ll try to be more observant of the even tinier things.

Polycephalomyces tomentosus feeding on Hemitrichia calyculata

To learn more about these fascinating life forms, consider also joining the Facebook group Slime Mold Identification & Appreciation, which was even mentioned in the recent NOVA special on PBS, “Secret Mind of Slime”.

Notable Events in 2021

by OMS board of volunteers chairperson Debra Shankland

Your volunteers in the Ohio Mushroom Society were happy to return to offering in-person forays in 2021.  Although we took another year off from large, full-weekend forays, nine limited-participant mini forays were conducted in Ashtabula, Columbiana, Darke, Hancock, Lorain, Perry and Portage counties.

In addition to our own events, our members were informed via email about local mushroom-themed movies and regional events hosted by others, such as a two-hour mushroom ID webinar hosted by OSU Extension.

Our Mushroom Log newsletter had undergone a change in editors in the past year.  We appreciate Bob Antibus for taking on this huge task, and thank Dave Miller for his many, many years of putting together this interesting and informative read.  We conducted a survey of our newsletter readers to gauge their interest in the Log’s different departments, and importantly, their willingness to receive the newsletter electronically only.  A large majority welcomed the change, which will allow us to feature full-color photos, resource links, and even more pages without the limitations of print starting in 2022.

In addition to our formal newsletter, six blogs were posted to this website in this past year, providing recipes, humor and timely tidbits.

If you value all of these services, don’t forget to renew your membership for 2022.  OMS memberships run from Jan 1 – Dec 31, and lifetime memberships are offered as well.  Another benefit of OMS membership is a discount on the North American Mycological Association membership, saving you $5.  You can check out NAMA at https://namyco.org

Finally, I’m going to boast that OMS was listed as an important resource in a two-page color spread in the 6 Oct 2021 issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, leading their “Taste” section.  We take pride in helping people further their knowledge and appreciation of fungi, and it feels good to be recognized for our efforts.

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