Saturday, 6 November 2010

Funnel Caps

With the mild misty weather there is some good fungi foraging to be had. Hedgehog mushrooms, for instance. These large funnel caps too are apparently considered by some to be pleasant eating, but I just picked one to bring home and identify. They are quite elegant, standing tall on robust stems, with wonderful rich buff tops the texture of soft kid leather.

With a diameter of 10-20 cm, this Clitocybe spp isn't the biggest of the funnel cap mushrooms, but it certainly isn't one of the many small ones. There is a Giant Funnel Cap mushroom with a diameter that can reach twice this size. There are many species of funnel caps, and many of them, especially the small ones, contain the same poison as the well-known Fly Agaric, to which they are related.
Personally I find mushroom identification to species level fairly hopeless, since no specimen ever meets every single element in the field guide or online guide description, nor do the photographs ever match absolutely perfectly. I am always suspicious that guides do not include every possible species, and they frequently contradict one another about issues such as edibility. Edibility often depends on the individual consumer and the individual mushroom, with some people being more susceptible to gastric upset than others, and mushrooms at some stages of development or season being more prone to set off a reaction. Alcohol can trigger a reaction and raw mushrooms can behave differently to cooked or dried. Even the much loved Boletus edulis (Cep) causes stomach upsets occasionally.

You can certainly never confidently identify an unfamiliar species on the basis of a picture and description in a single field guide. Mushrooms change appearance rapidly as they age and after they are picked, so usually the description in a field guide is more important than the picture. It seems to me that unless you are prepared to make spore prints, examine under a microscope and test for chemical reactions, most mushroom identification using published guides is little more than guesswork.

I love the way the shape of the mushroom is
moulded by the surrounding vegetation.
My guess is that this is C. geotropa.



Keith Eckstein -A Taste of Garlic said...

Susan - great article. I'm not going to try and identify the mushroom as I have a rule not to do that unless the mushroom is actually in my hand (for safety reasons.) Good warning about the dangers anyway.

All the best


Thirsty Kirstie said...

I had no idea (though I should have) that so much of the ID process depended on the stage of the lifecycle of the mushroom. Are there any species that you feel confident in picking and eating since you've been there?

Jean said...

When we visited the fascinating mushroom museum near Saumur, the one fact I will remember forever is that, looking at all the specimens preserved and on display, the deadly poisonous ones look exactly the same as the perfectly edible ones.

I now leave mushroom identification to Mr Sainsbury (or M. SuperU) !!

Susan said...

Keith: It's a good rule, and even if you did ID it from the photo, I would consider that a guide only unless you provided me with all the diagnostic characters to back up your determination :-)

Kirstie: I've picked and eaten morels here. I would be confident about hedgehog mushrooms too.

Jean: It's not the truly deadly ones I worry about so much as the ones that give you renal failure.

Unknown said...


We've been loving foraging for mushrooms here. By we, I mean me and my secret weapons: nature-loving children. They're at the perfect height to spot them.

So far, we're good for trompette de la mort (scrumptious), chanterelle, cepe, oronge, pied de mouton and rose du pre...Pity the weather's shifted!

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