Mushrooms with Eggs
Thursday, October 25, 2018
By MCHT Steward Kirk Gentalen
Autumn is one of the best seasons to go outside—top four even! (Just try to argue against that one!)
After the heat of summer, the cool fall weather is incredibly refreshing, migratory birds are passing through on their way to wintering worlds, and leaves are changing colors. To make things even better, ferns and other ground covers die back and allow light (and human eyeballs) to reach the forest floor, revealing an incredible diversity of mushroom and slime mold treasures.
Yes, the hills (and flatlands!) are alive with the sight of mushrooms! Fall is where it’s at, and it’s literally where we are at right now.
When poking around for ‘shrooms with a couple of awesome mushroom hunters like Amy and Leif, you never know what you’ll find. And you don’t have to go far in St. George to see all kinds of mushrooms—Boletes, Amanitas, Russulas, Milkies, Corts, Corals, Inkies, Polypores, Puffballs, and Horse Mushrooms to name a few. They seem to be along every trail, in every patch of woods and in every front yard.
Going on a mushroom hunt
Going on a good mushroom hunt—that is, a mushroom hunt rife with fresh mushrooms—takes some discipline. This often means returning to the same areas multiple times over the course of days, weeks, or more.
On these hunts we usually leave the vast majority of mushrooms we come across, not only because we are not going to eat those particular species, but we also don’t have room to spare in our Bolete basket! That’s okay though—on these repeat visits we become familiar with the various mushrooms in an area and watch them change over time, which is pretty cool.
Some species don’t change much once they get to the surface. Russulas, for example, look like mini-Russulas when they arrive on the scene (they are very cute when they are new). Other species may change a little, like a King Bolete that stretches out its baby bulbous stalk over a few days as it grows taller and attains a sleeker appearance. Their pores also change from white to yellow (insert witty comment about teeth here).
Meanwhile, Cort mushrooms (Genus Cortinarus) have a thin, cobwebby membrane called a cortina that extends from the edge of their cap to the stalk/stipe. The cortina covers the gills until the cap grows so large that this protective layer is torn. The remnants of this covering may stay attached to the mushroom’s stipe/stalk, resulting in a veil around the stalk. These kinds of changes are fun to note and photograph.
Is that an... egg?
There are some mushroom species that rise from the ground completely covered in a protective layer, like a capsule. These “eggs” look nothing like the mature, spore-releasing mushroom it will be when mature.
These are super fun to find, and, fortunately, “eggs” of a few species popped up along our mushrooms routes. Watching these go from egg to adult (so to speak) has been extremely rewarding to observe.
Members of the Amanita family (Amanitaceae) rise from the earth in such a protective layer, a stage usually referred to as “amanita buttons.” Maybe to you they look like clown buttons but to me “eggs” seems more descriptive and appropriate.
The Alice-in-Wonderland effect
Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) is an Amanita species commonly seen at this time of the year; their yellowish eggs have been popping up all over! As the fly agaric mushroom grows within the egg, the “egg shell” breaks into pieces, many of which stick to the cap of the mushroom.
This results in the striking Alice-in-Wonderland-effect—a mushroom cap covered with remnant scales. The red mushrooms in the classic Lewis Carroll story are actually a red variation of the Fly Agaric. They shouldn’t be eaten, but the scales on the yellowish/orange cap are cool to see, especially in little gangs of mushrooms.
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Ravenel’s Stinkhorn
When Ravenel’s Stinkhorn “eggs” (Phallus ravenelii) first appear they are whitish, wettish, and soft—somewhat reptilian egg-like. As the mushroom grows within, the protective layer covering the stinkhorn is stretched and becomes increasingly transparent, and the stinkhorn's greyish cap (with its distinctive white, donut-like hole in the middle) can be seen.
Eventually the “egg shell” splits leaving behind a cup-like sac at the base of a hollow stipe holding up the slimy grey cap. The slime is filled with spores and has a rather pungent odor. As the stipe grows and the cap rises, insects attracted to the smell eat or simply get the slimy goo on them.
The insects then act as a spore dispersal agent as they move on from the mushroom. The transformation process from egg to full-grown mushroom can happen within a day (or quicker), and the disappearance of the slime can be even quicker depending on the level of insects attracted! Kinda gross in some regards, but still a very cool way to disperse your spores, which is the name of the game!
The changes some mushrooms go through after they first reach the surface makes mushroom watching (and photographing) fun and different. These changes, however, can also make identification tricky.
Recognizing the various growth stages of a species can require little more than a repeat visit or two. See you out there!
A version of this story originally appeared in Kirk’s“Nature Bummin’” column in The St. George Dragon.