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Tuatara: Volume 16, Issue 2, July 1968

Some New Zealand Mushrooms

page 123

Some New Zealand Mushrooms

The Coloured plate shows some conspicuous mushrooms found in New Zealand. Evidence from their distribution suggests that these four species are likely to have been brought here from overseas, because in this country they grow either in association with exotic trees, or in farmland, or in gardens. Our truly indigenous fungi can be expected to associate mainly, although not necessarily exclusively, with the native vegetation. After so many years of European occupation it is now very difficult to be sure of the status of individual species.

These mushrooms are taxonomically diverse, but they share a common feature in that all are edible. This will be a surprise to some readers, who will be accustomed to regard only the field mushroom and the horse mushroom as edible, and all other kinds as deadly poisonous. In fact, the shaggy ink cap and the yellow bolete are very highly regarded delicacies in the Northern Hemisphere, and are easily recognisable on sight. They might well be considered an interesting addition to the local diet. On the other hand, amateurs should adopt a more cautious attitude towards the shaggy parasol and the velvet foot, because there is a chance of confusing them with dangerous species. Their identification needs to be in no doubt.

Coprinus comatus

Shaggy ink cap or Lawyers wig. Habitat: Rich garden soil, Wellington.

The young mushroom of this species has a tall, cylindrical or oval cap which expands when mature into a bell shape. It is almost white at first, then the colour deepens to blueish grey with a brown apex. The surface is rough with numerous loose, shaggy scales. The cap darkens as the gills change from white through pink to purplish black, and it finally melts from the margin into an inky liquid containing spores. This self destructive process aids in the progressive shedding of the spores. The stem is white, hollow and extremely tough, and in youth is encircled by a movable ring. Both stem and ring usually collect a dusting of the black spores.

Young caps in which the melting process has not yet begun are the best for cooking, and the stem is discarded.

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Suillus luteus

Sticky bun mushroom or Yellow bolete. Habitat: In soil under pines, Oamaru.

This is the New Zealand equivalent of the famous French “cep.’ Its cap is brown with a smooth convex surface, and is covered by a sticky shiny layer which sometimes weathers off in old specimens. As it pushes up through the pine needles the mushroom looks like a glazed yeast bun, and hence its popular name. The stem is usually stumpy, paler above the ring, and stained darker yellow or brownish below. In the button stage the ring is a whitish membrane under the cap covering the pores. As the mushroom grows the membrane is stretched and then torn from the cap edge, when it collapses around the stem like a collar. In age. the ring sometimes shrivels into a dry brown structure, or may even flake away altogether. The spore bearing tissue looks like yellow sponge, consisting of tubes or pores instead of gills. The pore layer is seen to be joined to the stem when the mushroom is seen in vertical section, and the flesh is white, with no change or only a faint yellowing when cut.

There are other species of yellow bolete similar to S. luteus but without the ring. These should present no difficulty as they are also edible.

To prepare this mushroom for cooking peel off the skin with its sticky layer, remove the pore tissue and discard the stem in all but the most tender young buttons. They are delicious fried gently in oil or butter, and unlike the shaggy ink cap which resembles the meadow mushroom in taste, the yellow bolete has a mild flavour all of its own.

Flammulina velutipes

Velvet foot. Habitat: An old garden stump, Oamaru.

The velvet foot grows typically in clusters sprouting from rotting wood. It has a smooth, moist cap of a tawny yellow or orange colour, pale flesh, and a very tough, fibrous stem. The stem has a distinctively velvety surface, pale coloured at first near the gills and darkening downwards, but becoming dark brown to almost black in age. The pale creamy gills curve upwards at their inner end to just touch the stem, and the colour of shed spores is white or creamy white. The velvet foot is not harmed by frost and can be found growing in the cold weather long after the season for other mushrooms is over.

Beware of confusing this species with a number of other tawny fungi from rotting wood which have brown or purple-black spores.

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Plate 1: Top left, Coprinus comatus; Top right, Suillus luteus; Middle right, Flammulina velutipes; Bottom, Lepiota rhacodes.

Plate 1: Top left, Coprinus comatus; Top right, Suillus luteus; Middle right, Flammulina velutipes; Bottom, Lepiota rhacodes.

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Lepiota rhacodes

Shaggy parasol mushroom. Habitat: Pasture, Oamaru; also commonly under pines.

The young button of this species has a chestnut brown cap which cracks during development to produce a network of white areas surrounding shaggy brown tipped scales. A more or less circular island of brown usually remains unbroken in the centre. The cap edge has pieces of ragged white fringe hanging from it, which correspond with the fringed double edges of the ring. At maturity the white gills are seen to be free from the stem, and the cap and stem can be easily separated. The base of the stem is swollen into a bulb, but there is no cup or volva, a most important structure to watch for in mushrooms. The deadly Amanita species, also with free, white gills, are distinguished from the parasol by possession of their basal volva known as the “death cup’. It is the remnant of a membrane which completely enclosed the young Amanita button, and takes the form of a white membranous cup with a torn upper rim, or a series of white torn ridges encircling the base of the stem. Dig up all mushrooms very carefully, never pulling them by the cap, or you may wrench off the volva and be misled into eating an Amanita. This mistake is almost always fatal.

In the shaggy parasol the flesh changes from white when first cut, to pinkish, as shown on the sectional illustration. The shed spores are white and show a colour change to deep mahogany red on addition of an iodine solution. This dextrinoid reaction is best seen under the microscope.

All illustrations half natural size, spores magnified x1,000.